Atmosphere is the pinnacle to a horror game's success and it's the very foundation in which any good story must be built. Developers can immerse players in a zombie apocalypse or throw them into the maws of insanity itself, but without the extra detail to atmosphere, the narrative will simply fall apart. Too much action or excited music will pull players from the world, while too much suspense may threaten to bore them. There is a fine line between what's creatively haunting and what's boring to experience and Montague's Mount is a fine example of falling on the wrong side of that line.
Cast ashore after an unknown wreckage, physically injured and unable to recall your past, you set out on the island to search for both your memory of events and answers to the mystery of what's happened to the isle's inhabitants.
A limp from wound sustained makes the progress slow, and the nearby rainstorm still casts an ill wind and dark shadow over the island's already gloomy atmosphere. Haunting music plays as the soundtrack, a sad melody that suggests uneasy loss. At this point it feels as though we're onto something.
But it doesn't take long for Montague's Mount to reveal its atmospheric choices for what they really are: limitations. The limp from your wound starts off as being a realistic touch and rapidly turns into an agitation as players are forced to frequently backtrack in order to complete puzzles or pick up an item. The dark atmosphere moves from being spooky to aggravating as you're required to search for items, strewn about the island in a realistic fashion. So realistic in fact, it's difficult to tell what an item you're meant to grab is and what's an item that's there for decor.
The constant problem in game is you're never quite sure what it expects of you, and the rewards for any frustrating puzzle is just another frustrating puzzle. Sometimes innocent items like keys, levers, dials, or candlesticks are required in order to complete a puzzle, however the game offers no real means of telling what's meant to be used for a puzzle and what is simply a background object. With no distinguishing features of what's junk or what could be a potentially useful item, players are left playing a spooky version of Where's Waldo, in which any item laying around on the beach or in the woods could possibly be what you're looking for.
But let's say you weren't so crafty as to notice the single crank laying in the suitcase you passed by while walking inland. Now you're at a puzzle missing an obvious piece. You look around to see if it is nearby only to realize that it's now time to make the long walk back and search for what you may have missed. Only your character doesn't walk, he hobbles. Slowly. What began as an interesting bit of flavor has now become torture, and you begin to scour every single corner of the island lest you miss something and need to backtrack once more. Although, this should really never be a concern as the game is more than happy to force you to backtrack in order to complete puzzles anyway.
This is the core problem with Montague's Mount, it doesn't try hard enough to immerse the player. The atmosphere is there, and as a player we're more than willing to suspend some rationality in order to go along with the core story. What we need is a reason, and as long as we're given a few bread crumbs there's a lot that we'll endure. In Montague's Mount the player works hard, often and sometimes even illogically for their reward; only to discover that the information we get in return for finding which candles fit in the right candle holder is never really satisfying.
Graphically the game feels equally unsure of itself, blanketing the world in a hazy mist meant to disorient and unsettle. From a distance the effect is perfect, making items away out of focus and blurred the way real fog works. But when that same filter makes it impossible to read objects two feet away from you, or a sign you're standing directly in front of, you start to wonder what the deal is. If it weren't for the fact that your character drones out translations all around him you could almost assume he's illiterate or at the very least could use some serious Lasik.
The most upsetting part about Montague's Mount is that you spend most of the time hoping it makes a turn for the better, because all the core elements of something great are there. The island (despite its riddles) is laid out well enough, and as said before, elements of an intriguing atmosphere are present. We start out wondering what's happened on the island and are constantly pulled away from the lack of any real narrative, instead distracted by what the developer likely wants us to feel are mechanics associated with a "˜game'.
Montague's Mount is a game that begins to collapse on itself, crushed under the weight of its own confusion. It would be great to see another release of the title with more story, fewer puzzles and far more exploration. Until then the mystery of Montague's Mount is likely best remained unsolved.
|Beautiful use of the gaelic language|
|Enjoyable, haunting soundtrack|
|Obscure puzzles make the game frustrating without the reward|
|Not enough narrative to focus player's attention|
|Limping through the game is boring|