Montague’s Mount Review: A Plodding Attempt at a Scary Dear Esther

Puzzles like this break whatever atmosphere Montague’s Mount might be building up with its haunting uber-sad piano-and-violin music and its sweeping looks at mostly nondescript landscape. It doesn’t help that the presentation is just awkward for hunting down puzzle items. The entire island is covered in the detritus of human life, with things like lobster cages, random photos, books, furniture, buoys and toys just scattered everywhere. Puzzle objects aren’t automatically highlighted (though it’s possible to switch on highlighting in the options menu), and everything is presented in overly dark, desaturated gray tones that makes it incredibly easy to miss anything important. It all becomes a giant frustration as you kick around looking for the one tiny gray object you need amid the beaches littered with tiny gray objects you don’t.

Montague’s Mount trades on its atmosphere. It relies on it almost solely to sell the extremely thin narrative, which might be a ghost story — you’re supposed to be creeped out by the never-ending storms and the utterly destroyed island, the fact that you’re limping along everywhere and the lack of sunlight. But it just doesn’t work, mostly because the atmosphere never amounts to anything. About midway through Montague’s Mount, you start to stumble on dead bodies literally everywhere. Why? Uh, dunno. They’re just, you know, dead folks. Please excuse that they look like thin rubber mannequins with no bones arranged into piles for some reason.

The emphasis on atmosphere and presentation collude with the illogical puzzles to waste the player’s time. You move at a snail’s pace across the island, frequently backtracking to find random bits of puzzle crap you need to move forward. It’s too dark to see well in interiors — eventually, tired of barely being able to navigate some tight areas, I popped open the options menu and jacked up the gamma so I could actually see. Entering a new area triggers an overlong, uncontrollable zooming in on the landscape with a musical interlude. One plot point, which was just a pile of photographs, interrupted the game for what felt like at least a minute of just slowly sweeping over meaningless Polaroids. Everything happens incredibly slowly, but without the tradeoff of explaining the narrative or even giving you anything interesting to look at. Every environment is just more gray beaches, rocks, smashed buildings, and random junk.

The biggest insult of Montague’s Mount comes at the end, when the game culminates in what is supposed to be a meaningful reveal but really just fails to make any narrative sense at all. We know from the music that something emotional is happening, but not really why it happened, or why we should care. Plot questions are never answered, and really, there’s not much of a plot to speak of anyway — it’s just wandering around this island, being aware that something bad happened.

When Montague’s Mount ends with a bit of extemporaneous narration without context and a message that the story will conclude in another game sometime next year, it’s all just too much. The plot feels incomplete, the island seems incomplete (it’s in the second portion that you’ll actually visit, or even see, the titular mountain) and the puzzles make little sense. There’s just no payoff here, even for the low $10 asking price.

Just like the island of Montague’s Mount is empty, so too is this game. There’s no substance — just darkness, rain, and the airy affectation of what “emotional” games should be like. But emotions are more than sad-looking photos, plodding pace, quiet narration and soft violin music. In Montague’s Mount, just like that ethereal mountain, emotion is decidedly absent. All that’s left is boredom.

Pros:

  • Builds a level of intrigue early on
  • Music is nice, and actor Derek Riddell delivers a solid performance as the game’s narrator/protagonist

Cons:

  • Puzzles are of the incredibly gamey, nonsensical variety
  • Everything about the game is slow, from movement speed and excessive backtracking, to even how animations work with objects
  • Dark, atmospheric presentation mostly just obscures visuals already mostly devoid of color, making finding necessary puzzle objects difficult
  • Thin narrative never answers any of the questions it poses; zero character developments mean eventual reveals are meaningless
  • The only way to get a satisfying narrative is apparently to buy the sequel

Final Score: 30/100


Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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