Eldervale – An indie take on oldschool survival horror – Review

Gare – Thursday, July 18, 2019 9:59 PM
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These days, seeing games claim that they had been influenced by this or that classic of the genre is hardly a rare occurrence. Whether or not these claims are accurate often feels like making a dice roll – sometimes you’ll be lucky, at other times you’ll get games that present themselves as deep, psychological horror experiences but then end up mangling your ear drums with jump scares so loud they could be heard across the Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully, our current review specimen is a game in the former category, one that makes it very clear that it’s following an oldschool design philosophy in terms of building up its survival horror fundamentals.

Right as one boots up Eldervale, the influences of early Silent Hill installments can immediately be felt: the player is thrust into a multi-storey building and has to rely on their trusty map to navigate the place, look for key items, solve mind-bending puzzles and occasionally bash in the head of an undead nurse or two with a steel pipe, although that last bit is somewhat optional. The game’s first few puzzles have the decency not to be too challenging, but as the adventure progresses, you’ll eventually come across the usual Silent Hill-isms, with carefully-written riddles and cryptic little poems that require one to think outside the box – what’s more, Eldervale does this with little to no repetition, with each puzzle requiring something different from the player. I particularly enjoyed how the game refused to hand over its solutions easily, nor did it guide me along a linear path like an overbearing mother, and instead gave me what I’d call a healthy challenge. Admittedly, the final puzzle could’ve used a somewhat clearer explanation (in fact, I suspect this might be the part where most people will get stuck), but it didn’t particularly affect my generally positive opinion of the game’s satisfying repertoire of riddles.

Mental exercise, of course, is hardly the only thing on the menu. Eldervale, being a survival horror game, takes the survival aspect quite seriously – obvious, I know, but still. The countless nasties lurking within the walls of the institute should not be underestimated: a good two or three hits are more than enough to deplete most of your health, and indeed, in many cases, you’ll be forced not to fight but flee – either in a speedy or a slower, stealthier fashion. As noted earlier, Eldervale is very much an adherent to the oldschool survival horror mentality of “lots of enemies, not much ammunition”, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that every single encounter with a monster must be an elaborate game of hide and seek. At specific locations in the game, ammo and healing items can be purchased at vending machines using the coins you occasionally find along the way, and players who are smart with their budget and know not to waste every single bullet trying to get rid of every single monstrosity will find Eldervale’s campaign harsh but more than doable. With that said, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t get eaten by zombie nurses myself on more than one occasion – because I absolutely did.

Despite its pleasantly nostalgic difficulty level and various other positive aspects, Eldervale is sadly not without issues. For me personally, probably the most intrusive of these issues is the game’s darkness. I realize this could, at first, sound like me complaining about water being wet, and don’t get me wrong, I certainly did not want every room in the game to be illuminated by massive floodlights, but to me it seemed like Eldervale was maybe a little too eager when it came to establishing the dark atmosphere of its locales. The fact is that many of the game’s rooms are covered in pitch black darkness, and not the atmospheric kind, but the “I can’t see where I’m going” kind; and while you do have a flashlight, it’s about as useful as a single drop of water in a house fire. You can occasionally light candles that help brighten your surroundings (think Amnesia: The Dark Descent), but these are placed at fixed locations and aren’t extremely common. As a result, missing important pathways, doors or items because you’re too busy bumbling about in the dark can be a very real possibility during your playthrough. Combat, too, seemed a little undercooked, with melee combat in particular feeling somewhat clunky, even despite the addition of a convenient block button; in many cases, waving your steel pipe around is unsatisfying and you sort of just cross your fingers and hope for the best whenever you need to face a creature up-close.

EldervalePlatform: PCGenre: Survival HorrorDeveloper: SolkittePublisher: SolkitteRelease: 06/30/2019Eldervale’s narrative aspects weren’t quite as strongly executed as I had hoped. There is, of course, a storyline, centered around one Ophelia Delaney, a young girl who returns to the Delaney Institution to face the metaphorical demons of her past and ends up having to deal with… well, literal demons. Sort of. There are a handful few non-player characters to chat up and several notes and journal pages to find that allude to the atrocities committed within the walls of the Institute, but the plot is lacking in execution and things never quite form a complete, coherent whole. I also found myself not caring much at all for the plight of the protagonist and her friends, which robbed the finale of any sort of emotional payoff it could’ve had.

Despite its flaws, Eldervale is not a game without merits, especially when one considers that it’s still in its Early Access phase – it’s a flawed but lovingly put together indie horror title that, despite its issues, manages to recapture some of that early 2000s survival horror mojo with a moderate level of success.

Eldervale is out now on Steam.

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