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Montague's Mount

(Polypusher Studios; US: 9 Oct 2013)

Montague’s Mount calls itself a thriller and its screenshots would certainly have you believe that it’s a tense game, but those screenshots would be lying. Montague’s Mount is anything but tense.


First off, Montague’s Mount deserves praise for its style. The world is washed out, nearly black and white, as if it’s been drained of anything even remotely upbeat. The night and shadows and rain only add to the relentlessly bleak atmosphere. The stylistic effect of lightning is particularly neat. Instead of illuminating the world for a brief moment, it causes the edges of the screen to dim, giving you tunnel vision. This is such a dreary place even the lightning can’t brighten it. Everything, your character included, moves uncomfortably slow, like the darkness and sadness are literally weighing the world down.


Even from a technical perspective, the art is impressive. The island is dense place overgrown with foliage. Simply following a trail feels like cutting your way through a jungle, and it manages to make you feel lost even on a linear path. It’s the perfect environment for a thriller, but it gets completely wasted here because there’s no discernible danger at any point in the game. Even when ghost kids and corpses start adding up, it’s never scary or thrilling. Sure it’s dark and moody, but without a sense of danger, that moodiness becomes drab and the game becomes boring.


Even if the ghosts and bodies were somehow threatening, Montague’s Mount could hardly be considered a thriller. It’s more of a slow-paced mystery in the vein of Myst. You wake up with no memories on an empty island filled with convoluted puzzles. Also like Myst, some of the puzzles demand a pencil and paper be at hand to translate Morse code or copy clock positions for future reference. These puzzles achieve an old-school charm, and if all the puzzles used this kind of outside-the-game thinking, Montague’s Mount might have actually been good.


Unfortunately you’ll spend most of the game pixel hunting for objects hidden in the shadows. Sometimes you’re looking for keys, sometimes combinations, but most of the time, it’s just random crap like candles and “ornate carvings” that somehow unlock a door. These items are scattered about the world, mixed in with other junk, and everything that initially made the environment interesting now turns the game into an interminable slog.


The drabness of the world helps to hide these important items that are already well hidden. You’ll spend much of the game with your nose to the ground, backtracking over areas again and again, looking for the one item that you’ve missed. The slow movement of your character becomes infuriating, the neat effect of the lightning becomes a curse, the impressive density of the world becomes an arbitrary obstacle, and when you do finally find that lost item—lying innocuously in the middle of the road, hidden in the shadow of a fence that you’ve walked past a dozen times—you’ll hate the game for what it’s become.


Then there are the technical issues. Solving one puzzle out of order prevents you from moving on, forcing you to reload a checkpoint. Reloading a checkpoint turns all items in your inventory invisible. You also can’t drop items, yet you can pick up items that never get used: By the end of the game, my inventory had shrunk from five spaces to three thanks to these bugged trinkets.


Finally, just to dig the knife a little deeper, Montague’s Mount isn’t even a complete game. It builds to a personal revelation,your character makes a determined declaration to discover “The Truth,” and then it ends. Oh, don’t worry there’s more . . . coming soon. Episodic gaming is pretty common nowadays, especially among independent developers on the PC, so it’s not uncommon or offensive to play first chapters of an ongoing series. However, Montague’s Mount doesn’t advertise itself as an episodic series. Oddly, its long-since-concluded indiegogo page makes no attempt to hide its episodic nature (apparently it’s going to be three episodes long), but this isn’t mentioned anywhere current. Not on its title screen, not on its website, not even in its press materials. It sells itself as a complete experience.


The story tries to present itself as a sensitive exploration of a damaged mind, but the gameplay and story are largely separate entities. There’s no symbolic connection between the two, and the puzzles don’t represent anything deeper than gameplay obstacles. For all our brain-bending mental exercise, we ultimately just find some photos and get some expository narration.


Montague’s Mount opens with a lot of promise thanks to its strong setting. The air is so thick with sorrow that you’re compelled to find the source of this sadness. That curiosity will drive you for the first hour or until you get stuck on your first item hunt. In the grand scheme of things, the technical issues can be solved with an update and the lack of resolution can be forgiven if the game acknowledges it is a series, but the item hunt puzzles are unforgivably bad and core to the design of the game. They retroactively ruin the great setting and style, turning the game from an intriguing and moody exploration of a place to a boring and frustrating test of your patience.

Rating:

Nick Dinicola made it through college with a degree in English, and now applies all his critical thinking skills to video games instead of literature. He reviews games and writes a weekly post for the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, and can be heard on the weekly Moving Pixels podcast. More of his reviews, previews, and general thoughts on gaming can be found at www.gamehounds.net.


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