Eldritch Procedurally Generates a Lovecraftian Hell
HorrorScope is a recurring feature exploring the horror genre in gaming and drawing attention to its elements, its tropes, and its lesser-known but still scary titles.
Rogue-like is a game genre term that has come back into vogue in a big way with the explosion of the indie game scene in the last few years, and quite a few of those rogue-likes are providing templates for strong, satisfying, and scary horror games.
Rogue-likes are titles that include elements of the game Rogue, like randomly generated levels and unforgiving difficulty. Permadeath permeates the genre — when you die, you lose all forward progress and have to start over. It’s this addition to the rogue-like genre that makes it especially conducive to horror, because the stakes are about as high as a game can make them. Battles are tense and scary, because if you die, you lose everything you’ve gained.
Eldritch is one such horror game. It’s skeleton consists of rogue-like elements, and they help it to achieve some genuine scares and tension that aren’t attendant to the usual horror tropes of monsters leaping from closets and game worlds awash in gore. It takes rogue-like ideas and applies them to a first-person shooter, with graphics reminiscent of classics like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Permadeath is Eldritch’s scariest feature, as the game sends players delving into deep dungeons filled with unknown horrors.
Inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Eldritch takes place in a library, where players are tasked with finding and gathering three lost souls. Each soul is hidden in a magic book, and activating a book transports the player to a multi-level dungeon. Those dungeons are all procedurally generated, making it impossible to know precisely what they hold or how to navigate your way through them.
Add to that the fact that the dungeons are teeming with enemies, and that you’re made to enter those dungeons virtually defenseless.
Especially in the early moments of an Eldritch run, your head will need to be on a swivel and your senses honed. Entering each dungeon is a fraught affair because you’ve got little you can bring with you. You can only carry two weapons at a time, and that includes things like a revolver, a knife, throwable glass bottles or rocks, and dynamite. There are only a few items in the library proper that can be taken, and the only weapons available for each start are a few of the bottles. Whatever other weapons you might use for self-defense must be discovered within the dungeons themselves.
Listening for, identifying and finding nearby enemies before they find you is key to survival as you enter the dungeons, because the procedural generation means nothing is guaranteed — not even a safe place to enter each area.
The vertical nature of Eldritch also helps make it a treacherous place. You’re constantly descending, and often must work through rooms on one level to find a way down to the next. It also means it’s possible for enemies to attack from places you don’t always see, and a lack of peripheral vision because of the constraints of the first-person view also make the Lovecraft-inspired dungeons feel all the more claustrophobic.