I’ve always been a bit of a scaredy-cat, and yet the past few months have seen me complete the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, and a playthrough of Man of Medan (albeit online with a friend). Monstrum instantly reminded me of Man of Medan, with the primary setting being that of an abandoned ship, so whilst on a crest of besting horror games I took the plunge on this intriguing survival horror title.
Monstrum is a first person procedurally-generated horror title where you find yourself on an abandoned ship and must escape. Nothing is known about why you are on this ship, only that you have three methods of escaping: helicopter, submarine and life boat. Oh, and you will be pursued by one of three monsters whilst collecting the necessary items to aid your escape. Get caught and immediately it’s game over, and there are no save points to continue a run: once you start, you either escape or die trying.
Your starting point always contains a torch, and usually a lighter and a fuse. As for all the other equipment you require, that’s hidden around the ship. Objectives for each escape vehicle are always the same – for example to escape via the helicopter you will always need to find the ignition keys and bolt clippers, likewise the submarine needs new lights and a welding job done on it – but the locations they will be found in are different every time. And it is easy to get lost in the innards of the ship; drab corridor after drab corridor will disorient you. Whether the ugly interior was a purposeful design feature or just a lack of graphical fidelity is up for debate, but it is certainly not a place you want to spend anytime exploring.
Textures are also very disappointing. Having come out in 2015 on PC you would have expected some graphical update as Monstrum has made its way to Xbox One, but it appears to have just been ported straight over without any lick of paint or update. Even the draw distance is abysmal. And yet, each time you start a new game a massive initial load is required that takes around a full minute before you can start playing.
Further to that are the monsters hunting you down: The Brute, The Fiend and The Hunter. Each one looks scary and varied enough, and half the fun with Monstrum is not knowing who is stalking you, as this information is as random as the rest of the game. They are all sensitive to sound though; the louder you are, the quicker they will find you. There are enough decoys around the ship that can thankfully lead them off the scent. For a brief period at least.
Unfortunately, these are the only enemies to be found, which means the rest of the ship is desperately empty and boring. The enemy will stalk you in a similar fashion to the Xenomorph in Alien Isolation, but there is very little tension when they do. You will hear the occasional noise from them – or may even see a shadow appear – but many of the times if they find out where you are it is already too late.
There are a number of reasons for that, and the main one is down to your walking speed being so painfully slow. You can sprint using the LT button, but that obviously causes more noise and draws more attention. Lockers can be hidden in, but rooms can be few and far between with corridors taking up the majority of the map. And if you are stuck exploring the shipping containers outside the ship, you’ve almost got no chance.
Where Monstrum really lets itself down is in its most important aspect: the survival horror. Sound is a massive part of any horror experience, but Monstrum features no music or crescendo when one of the monsters is around. There is also no shock factor, as you know well in advance the monster is tracking you down, and if it attacks you from behind there is no element of surprise at all. Even scaredy-cat me felt no sense of impending doom at any point.
There is also the matter of the price. £24.99 is a very high price point for a game with essentially one level that can be completed in less than 30 minutes, less even if the RNG is kind. Repetition is the point with procedurally generated games, but there is not enough content here to keep it on rotation for long.
Attempts have been made to lengthen the experience by adding collectibles in to discover. There are letters and audio logs deposited randomly throughout the ship but to discover them all you will need repeat playthroughs.
Monstrum has 16 achievements in total and, unlike the rest of the game, it is quite a varied list. There are a number of achievements for escaping using the different vehicles and from the clutches of the three monsters. But then there are more unique ones such as those for holding six glowsticks at once or attacking a monster with a fire extinguisher, and these ask you to play Monstrum slightly different than is intended. But still, it is not exactly breaking the mould.
Sadly, Monstrum on the Xbox One is a poor attempt at an interesting concept. The abandoned ship isn’t the most unique setting for a horror game but being pursued by a bloodthirsty monster should provide at least some tension. Instead it is a laborious plod through samey corridors where sometimes being caught by the monster is preferable than having to perform the same objectives over and over again just to escape. It is an unscary horror game and a pretty repetitive procedurally generated game, neither of which you really want in any title.