It is dark in the hole you find yourself, a darkness so black you could be floating. The blackness is tinged with rusty iron reds and waterlogged muddy blues and greys. Prisoners’ screams echo around you. “Get to the lighthouse”, a voice tells you, and the door opens. You’re free for now; welcome to the fishery.
Developed by Dillon Rogers and David Szymanski, of Dusk-fame, publisher New Blood Interactive has brought the classic Thief formula to the 21st Century in all its low-poly glory. Though only in its infancy in Early Access, the developers have done what Dusk did to Quake that Gloomwood is now doing to Thief. Making it obsolete. Though it is not far along enough to be sure, stealth fans have a potential masterpiece on their plates.
“It updates and streamlines classic immersive sim ideas and soaks the player in rich brine of atmospheric environments and ambient natural sound. Gloomwood immediately took me in.”
It updates and streamlines classic immersive sim ideas and soaks the player in rich brine of atmospheric environments and ambient natural sound. Gloomwood immediately took me in. After a short introduction and a goal of ‘get to the lighthouse,’ you are left to your own devices to sneak and/or fight your way there. Though initially, the map seems quite linear, it slowly opens up into a sprawling, contained open world full of stories, items, and secrets.
Fans of classic stealth and Looking Glass Studios titles will find themselves at home with limited UI, a glowing ring to indicate your visibility, and different surfaces increasing or decreasing movement volume. But Gloomwood has plenty of new ideas mash-up with the classic formula. These include inventory management à la Resident Evil 4, a distinctly more Lovecraftian world, survival horror, open-ended design on a larger scale, and no more save scumming.
“Like souls-likes and Metroidvanias, Gloomwood narrows in on this sort of micro and macro interconnectedness similar to this year’s TUNIC.”
In Gloomwood, you play as the doctor who was jailed for some unknown reason in a decrepit fishery on the outskirts of a major city. In the current version, you have access to several areas that can be explored at least somewhat nonlinearly; there are no kill barriers or invisible walls as far as I could find. There is a suggested path to take, but there are plenty of ways to skip around it intentionally or not, and you can always come back to previously explored areas. Like souls-likes and Metroidvanias, Gloomwood narrows in on micro and macro interconnectedness, similar to this year’s TUNIC.
From the onset, you are presented with multiple paths or factions to follow, presumably changing the routes or places you go. However, neither of these paths is clear yet, as they are still marked up with humorous “under development” tape. Regardless it’s exciting to see the edges of these unavailable narrative directions.
“Unlike other stealth experiences, combat is way more viable in some circumstances, and the save point system pushes you to fight instead of reloading a quick save.”
The rest of the game is what you would expect from a stealth game. Lots of backstabbing, sneaking around, throwing bottles to distract, finding treasures, avoiding hulking guards called huntsmen and…other creatures. Some survival horror concepts are also brought in, focusing on scavenging for limited ammo, supplies, and weapons. Unlike other stealth experiences, combat is way more viable in some circumstances, and the save point system pushes you to fight instead of reloading a quick save.
Though there are some issues like the finicky too-dark lighting system and some lacking enemy AI, the only fair complaint for this stage of development is the fact Gloomwood is in Early Access at all. It is a bizarre choice for this type of linear game, and with only two to three hours available, I would highly advise waiting for the full release. Despite this, I think Rogers and Szymanski are onto another hit with as much potential for greatness as Dusk and will even match or surpass its influences.
Gloomwood is available in Early Access on Steam for $19.99 with a ten per cent sale ($17.99) until Sept. 19.