XBLIG Review: The Monastery – Extreme Book Hunting

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The monastery by Rendercode Games is a horror/survival-esq game that while crafted beautifully, is lacking substance. The monastery is not a typical adventure game, but more along the lines of a psychological horror a la Blair Witch Project.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cwCULSKNvA

In the monastery, you walk through a deserted monastery in a first-person perspective to collect books; the number depends on the difficulty. As you collect those items, a fiendish, red imp character is silently stalking you. The more books you collect, the angrier the imp and his desire to stop you. If he succeeds, you lose.

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The whole experience is akin to walking through a corn maze in the dark. You have no idea where you are going or how to get there, but wait…didn’t you just pass that rock a few minutes ago? Monastery adds to that lost feeling by throwing in some books for you to find, an eerie soundtrack and some demonic imp that wants to kill. If done well, the monastery on the surface has the components for a good game.

However, the monastery needs some work. For starters, it may need something as simple as a start-up screen saying what is going on. I played it for a few hours, and I think I understood what I needed to do, since I reached an end-game screen of sorts, but I could have played the game completely wrong. Oh well. For some reason, this tends to be a common issue among XBLIG games. Developers, who nurtured the game from a pre-cognitive idea, know the plot, point and mechanics – the new player does not.

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Without much in terms of direction, I set about looking for the books I was told to find. I wandered aimlessly for a good five minutes before I found one. Then, my screen starting filling up with flames and an imp showed up. I attempted to fight the blasted fiend and a few seconds later, I died. GAME OVER. I cussed at the Tv for wasting five minutes of my life, and I started it up again. I figured flames were bad for the next play through, and confrontation with the creature was not an option.

The game mechanic that needs the most work is the flashlight. The other is the speed at which the character moves and runs. He moves at more-or-less of a crawl, and he does not run much quicker.

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This flashlight mechanic makes or breaks this genre and game. The light limits your field of vision, thereby giving the game its difficult. However, when the character is not next to walls, the game looks as if the flashlight is working with close to dead batteries the entire time. So, the entire experience feels like one is aimlessly wandering around in complete darkness looking for books. Wandering around in the absolute darkness looking for something by sight only is NOT fun. Get the flashlight to work properly, and this could change drastically.

The environment, or at least the parts you can see with the flashlight, are very well crafted and designed. It seems almost a shame they are hidden in darkness for the entirely of the game.

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The music track that accompanies the play through is exceptionally well composed and it sounds like something you would hear during Halloween. The music does its job, and at certain parts of the track, I found myself tensed with anticipation that some creature was lurking behind the next wall.

Unfortunately, some of the sound effects can become agitating. In particular, the character pants a very annoying pant. As the character starts to move faster, he begins to pant… heavily. The sound is very annoying. Fortunately, you are able to turn off the sound effects entirely, or at least lower them.

The downside of this is you lose some of the other sound effects. One effect includes some chatter of what sounds like other people with you in the game. It is an added effect that can help set the mood for the scary atmosphere the game is looking for.

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As for the monster, as you continue to pick-up more and more books, it becomes bolder in approaching you. Once you are in the monster’s field of attack, you are given a notification through the presence of flames engulfing your screen. Oddly enough, the monster appears to follow a peek-a-boo strategy. If you can’t see him, he can’t see you, or attack you. So when you get the notification, if you spot the monster, turn the opposite direction and walk a few steps. Once you collect a few books and the monster is nearby, if you turn toward a wall the monster tends to just disappear. I spent much of the latter portion of the game following walls to complete the quest.

Monastery fails to capitalize on its eerie soundtrack and well-designed world to make a fun game. That does not mean it could not be fun with some patches. The framework is there, just some tweaks, and it could be golden.

Final Rating: 6/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
: XBLIG
Time to completion: 20 minutes
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: A code was provided by Rendercode Games
Current Price: 80 MSP ($1)
Why you should buy it: If you want a semi-suspenseful game that asks you to find things in the dark while being chased by monsters.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: If you don’t like monsters, stumbling in the dark or corn mazes.

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About Steve Lesniewski

Steve lives in Chicago and recently graduated from the University of Illinois. He has been fascinated with video games since his ninth birthday when he received a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Blue. He loves following sports and cheers win or lose for the Bears, Bulls and the Fighting Illini, who include the 2012 men’s gymnastic national champs as well as the 2011 women’s volleyball national runner-up.