A countless source of inspiration, the otherworldly universe and body of work created by gothic horror writer H.P Lovecraft features heavily in modern day culture by the way of a variety of mediums, most notably: movies, books and video games. The latest addition to haunt and trouble our minds is Alessandro Guzzo’s debut first person survival horror adventure The Land of Pain, a game drenched in Lovecraftian lore that makes excellent work of its inspiration to create a gloriously obscure gothic themed open-world setting and a story steeped in the mythos of Cthulu.
The Land of Pain: PC [Reviewed]
Developer: Alessandro Guzzo
Publisher: Alessandro Guzzo
Release Date: 13 September 2017
Price: £8.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Given its theme, The Land of Pain begins softly enough as the nameless protagonist briskly strolls through idyllic woodlands on a picturesque Autumn’s day. Looking for a retreat from the troubles of everyday life at a family cabin in the wilderness, what ought to have been a peaceful and tranquil hiking experience with little but the harmonic chirping of birds to keep him company abruptly transcends into a nightmare game of cat and mouse following an interaction with a mysterious glowing sphere. The sudden appearance of the brightly coloured object that appears directly outside of the wooden cabin upon the characters return from collecting water at a nearby well proves to be the catalyst for the meat and bones of The Land of Pain‘s story. With one solitary investigative touch, the player is inexplicably ripped from the lush vegetation to a darkened world with a sinister feel.
Aside from the odd scream, the story of The Land of Pain is conveyed solely through written text which appears on screen whenever the player examines areas of interest. Describing the putrid stench of a rotting corpse or a worrisome visual occurrence that frightens the player takes little away from what is an engrossing and enriching story, although I can’t help but feel that were it not for financial restraints, the game might have benefited greatly from spoken dialogue to help convey different emotions. That said, much of The Land of Pain‘s narrative doesn’t stem from the main character or his scripted path but from the many scattered pages of a journal found through exploration that recounts tales of a machine, portals linking Earth to this world, a terrifying God, in addition to pages written by other humans, who like the main character, also found themselves trapped in this mysterious hell. As the player locates each page, the story of the games mysterious land, its horrific secrets and its link to Earth truly begins to unfold and become clearer, all of which makes for compelling reading.
An open-world setting filled with a myriad of pathways and a reliance on progressional exploration, The Land of Pain won’t leave you feeling lost. Subtly guiding the player away from areas of little interest and dropping crumbs of hints for objectives or desired objects to move forward, The Land of Pain might have the player trapped inside a nightmarish Lovecraftian-esqe world, but it’s one that can be partially conquered by completing the simplest of actions. It works effectively well too. Puzzles are completed by the simple retrieval and relocation of objects from one area to connect them with another and vice versa, which could result in a previously locked door becoming unlocked or a blocked pathway being cleared with the use of a chainsaw.
Needing to traverse a lake to reach a new area, I come across a boat, but sadly it’s out of fuel and won’t budge. With swimming completely out of the question, it’s evident that somewhere nearby are the items needed to get the boat moving. At that moment I remember passing a tractor sitting motionless in a field just a short walk away from the lake that could provide a vital source of much-needed juice to get me and the boat safely across the lake, but first I’d need to locate something sharp to pierce through the tank and then a bucket to catch the falling fuel in. Fetch and deliver objectives make up the bulk of The Land of Pain‘s puzzles, but despite not being overly taxing, effectively pay off in the larger scheme of things with exploration rewarded by further progression.
Like Outlast and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, The Land of Pain invites players into its nightmarish world only to leave you helpless to defend yourself against the horror’s contained within. In this instance, players find themselves up against an unfathomable evil entity, a fog of darkness with red glowing eyes and malicious intent that will prove itself to be a constant source of torment throughout as players look to explore the games contrasting environments.
Appearing at sporadic stages, The Land of Pain‘s dark malevolent force brings exploration to a screeching halt with a chilling thud of repetitive sounds that will have you scrambling to flee an area or seeking refuge in the darkness, both of which prove to be a continuously daunting challenge as you run out of breath or struggle to find safety. As intriguing and troublesome a concept as the entity is, its movement and random appearance don’t always work with the gameplay mechanics as it probably should. Upon hearing that dreaded sound my first instinct is to find cover and hide but with cautious stealth play often rewarded with an unfair death, the use of stealth became increasingly frustrating, ultimately forcing me to sprint in any direction until the terrifying music ceased torturing me.
As unfair as death might seem following the sudden emergence of the entity, extinguishing a lit lantern helps to avoid drawing the monster onto the player and can buy you a bit of breathing room in a game where stopping to gather your thoughts is a rare commodity. Moments of respite are hard to come by but whether you’re searching for a wheel to drain a large body of water from an underground pool to gain access to an open pipe or gathering up small wooden boxes to construct a path up to an open window high up inside a train yard to investigate a disturbing noise, The Land of Pain achieves its goal of keeping you constantly on edge, full of dread and forever looking over your shoulder in fear of your life. Something that wouldn’t be possible were it not for the game’s uncomfortable atmosphere and setting.
Of course being a solo debut title, The Land of Pain isn’t without the occasional hiccup, be it a mechanical problem such as a delay when jumping or the odd technical blemish but it is Guzzo’s understanding of what makes horror games work that ensures that the developer’s first foray is by no means a cheap scare. Opting to forgo the frequent execution of unnecessary jumpscares to achieve terrifying end results, The Land of Pain delivers a rich and compelling narrative with a palpable atmosphere that elicits nerve-shredding fear with little to no effort at all. The contrast of tones in the beginning is a great example of this: successfully creating a gaping divide between the untouched beauty of nature in a world the character knew prior to being affected by the sphere and that of the dark cavorted Lovecraftian world in which he now finds himself a part of. Trading soft ambient sounds for harrowed sounds of an evil, foreboding tone that continuously shifts up in gear as the game progresses, The Land of Pain immediately sets about unbalancing the player’s nerves, an unsettling theme that continues with each passage of play.
Powered by CryEngine, The Land of Pain is thoroughly immersive and visually stunning. Strolling through the woods at the beginning in the daytime as the sun beams down through the trees you get a real good glimpse at how outrageously gorgeous the graphics are. Thick vegetation meets lush green and red scenery that make up most of the early landscape as you make your way through past a tree line to the edge of a precipice which offers a breathtaking view of the land below. Later, drops of water cascade down the surface of rocks, and buildings are incredibly well detailed inside and out as a more gothic themed aesthetic begins to take centre stage. Though at times some textures appear to lose a little detail on closer inspection, overall, The Land of Pain‘s looks are the perfect complement to the story and overriding atmosphere of the game.
Considering this is the sole work of one developer, The Land of Pain is a fine example of survival horror done right and an accomplished yet promising debut. Heavily inspired by the workings of Lovecraft, The Land of Pain is both gorgeous and grisly to look at as it is engrossing with a compelling story that continues to reel the player further down the rabbit hole with every passing moment. Successfully evoking moments of unbridled panic and nervous exploration as you navigate a mysterious world full of horror to unearth an ancient truth, Alessandro Guzzo’s short adventure game is a bargain buy at the current asking price and an unforgettable experience.