Lust for Darkness PC Review
Lust for Darkness is a short horror game that plays much like ‘Layers of Fear’ and attempts to mix Lovecraftian existentialism with dark sexual imagery. It’s probably quite commonplace to imagine these themes have always been heavily connected, considering the shrouded, hooded secrecy of cults and the masked intimacy of more carnal-centric sects, such as the orgy in the film ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, that the game also seems to take a lot from, but it couldn’t be much farther from the truth. See, H.P. Lovecraft was not only, to put it lightly, a bit of a nutcase, but he is also known for his avid aversion to any sexual subject and kept any passionate matters deeply private. In other words, he would probably be considered an incredible prude. It was only after his death that many other writers expanded on his harrowing worlds. Since then it has become slowly more influenced by a sort of dark erotica based around sadomasochism and has spawned many sub-genres of its own. The sin of ‘lust’ in these tales is an incredibly powerful, mystical tool and, in a Lovecraftian way, is used to express the deepest, most primitive workings of humans behind the societal facade. It’s about letting go of control and that’s exactly what Lust for Darkness tried to create a story around.
Unfortunately, as the gameplay is mostly just a walking simulator with one or two puzzles thrown in and the need to occasionally run an enemy around, the writing really needed to carry a lot of the weight here. Sadly though, it’s pretty lackluster and, much like the gameplay, goes all in on the ‘shock factor’ using rape and full sex scenes to create desolation, instead of aiming to replicate the intricate subtleties in the story or game design that all praised horror games seem to adopt. For one, the player never feels weak or powerless, or feels at risk of anything at all because briskly jogging away from the rare enemy is all it takes to escape. It’s more like an extended quick time event to open a door, see a monster that is already far too human-like to be considered scary in a lovecraftian sense, and have to run away down the correct route to get away. The game never changes or tries to surprise.
Another important tool for causing fear in games is to force the player to go back somewhere they’ve already been scared away from, usually by having them walk around and collect things to solve puzzles or find keys. Lust for Darkness, however, is oddly much more linear, so there’s never any stress on the player to be fast, or have to navigate past patrolling demons, or worse than anything – turn around, which is perhaps the scariest part of any first-person horror game. There was one part of the experience that did handle the ‘fear of the unknown’ well, though – right before the player enters a portal for the first time and has no idea what lies beyond what was previously the location for the practice of a sexual ritual, but is now a ghoulish scene of the dead sacrifices, slaughtered by the hellborn tentacles that seem to have writhed their way through a tear in space. Bodies are ripped and disfigured around the glowing entrance and there’s no way to know what’s on the other side – it’s a pretty great moment in all honesty. The problem is that using the portals becomes mundane after a few trips to whatever alternate universe they lead to – the player knows what the other world is like, they’ve experienced being chased a little, and then there’s no reason to fear it again.
What I would have loved to have seen here, once again considering the impact of Lovecraft, is a lot more tricks on the player’s mind. Like seeing things out of the corner of one’s eye, only to turn and see nothing, like in Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Maybe turning around to find oneself somewhere completely different, only to turn and back be returned to normality. This shows the player that there is no security – that nothing is concrete, which causes a lot of stress and helps build tension. Instead, when the player looks at a statue of a centaur having sex with a goat (a real example from the game), we get a brief moment of the screen-warping that Amnesia: The Dark Descent uses to showcase that the player is losing sanity. It might just be me but looking at something that shouldn’t exist, such as demons and portals, would definitely cause me to have a head-dizzying moment of existential crisis over seeing a statue of a heavy body with large breasts and two penises (another real example).
These types of ‘horror’ games seem to be more and more common over the last few years, with only a few of them truly understanding the tension and release cycle used for creating excitement or dread. Opening hundreds of draws and cupboards, looking at beautifully modelled forks and ornaments is just not what the player should be doing. It’s not fun, nor is it scary, and it in no way builds tension, especially without a time limit. Then there are these tiny indie games that come out and seem to just sweep the gaming world with their incredibly basic mechanics, but a firm grasp on what makes horror work, such as Slender: The Eight Pages and Five Nights at Freddy’s. These games have nothing in the way of story but still terrify anyone that dares play them. Lust for Darkness and many others, like Layers of Fear for example, instead have to try and create anxiety through their atmosphere (and unearned jump scares).
And to be fair, the Giger-esque world of ‘Lusst’ghaa’, is wonderfully themed as the erotic, hellish wonderland that it’s supposed to be. The problem, though, is that the story doesn’t do it justice as we never learn too much about the villain other that he wants to fall into this lustful underworld where death and ecstasy are infinite. So why not just go there himself? Why kidnap the protagonist’s wife? Does he need her specifically for a ritual? Why? Is she part of some special bloodline? Why did he do what he did in the final confrontation? So many unanswered questions that the story just falls apart on. It doesn’t help that the game is under two hours long meaning there’s precious little time for any exposition. Still, underneath it all there’s genuinely something interesting here – it just needed to be more focused, polished, moulded into a vision instead of left as a loose idea. The gameplay and story need working on heavily in their own way. I’d definitely come back to check on a sequel but it would be out of wary curiosity, not excitement. Still, I think a lot can be done in this space and hope to see something special come from it in the future.