While not exactly in its death throes, the survival horror game has definitely hit the skids. As good as Resident Evil 4 may be, the whole genre simply feels spent, with tired mechanics, repetitive scenarios and dumber and dumber puzzles.
As such, one of the more pleasant surprises of E3 was this new spook 'em up from Headfirst Productions, the same folks who are bringing you the FPS-styled Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth. The two games are definitely not to be confused, however. Where Dark Corners is long delayed and increasingly unlikely to set the world on fire, Destiny's End is a fresh proposition with a central premise that could rejuvenate the whole survival horror concept.
"To put it simply, we're taking the survival horror genre and the Resident Evil 4 style and making it co-operative with two characters," says artist/designer Andrew Brazier. "You can switch between them at any time, and the AI takes control of the other character. Alternatively, you can get a friend to jump in and control the second character and play as a team, either split-screen, online or on LAN."
The characters in question are Jacob Armitage and Emily Carter. Jacob is your classic Lovecraftian tortured soul, disturbed by nightmares, visions and voices in his head. Emily is an academic who's studied the Cthulhu Mythos, and thinks she can help Jacob by taking him to the source of his problems - the cursed fishing village of Innsmouth.
FALLING IN LOVECRAFT
As you'd expect, each has their strengths and weaknesses. Jacob is physically strong and good with weapons, his arsenal encompassing the traditional iron bar, revolver, shotgun, etc. Emily is more the athletic, agile type, able to balance on ledges and crawl into small spaces. Later in the game she also uses her Mythos knowledge to develop magic abilities, such as occult chants and defensive spells.
In a nod to the PlayStation 2 classic Ico, the two characters very much depend on each other for survival. "Jacob needs Emily to be near him to remain stable," says Andrew. "If he's separated from her he begins to lose his sanity, because he can't cope with his demons. So when you separate them you effectively have a time limit. If Jacob's sanity goes down to zero he kills himself."
The concept of sanity is similar in some ways to Headfirst's other Cthulhu game, but here it's worked in the central game mechanic in a very clever fashion. All the puzzles hinge on the idea of co-operation and the need to stay together. In one sequence, for example, Emily and Jacob are faced with an electrified fence. After a bit of exploration, it seems Emily can fit through a small gap that leads to the generator, which she can switch off before rushing back to make sure Jacob doesn't top himself. With the fence now safely neutralised, the duo can perform a Splinter Cell-esque boost to bunk Emily over the top, leaving Jacob once again stranded. You can see how it starts to work.
Clearly, the two-character premise has loads of potential. Whether with one or two players, the team idea allows for a whole new paradigm for puzzles and gameplay. And if the story is up to snuff, the relationship between the characters and the need to look after them should also mean you actually give a toss if they live or die. Which might be a breakthrough in itself.