Can a top-down shooter ever truly be scary? People have certainly tried to light us up with frights over the years; Larva Mortus is a solid recent attempt from independent developers Rake in Grass. Demonic faces come screaming out of the screen, while your sword and shotgun make short work of zombies.
This demon-hunting room-to-room dungeon-crawler is essentially an arcade game - its power-ups dropping from enemies and crates - but the extra details make all the difference. You level your character as you progress, spending points to boost various attributes according to how you want to play, but what’s most interesting is the open campaign structure. While there’s a core set of story missions about the search for an evil artifact, you find yourself playing in an RPG manner, performing side missions to get suitably leveled-up for the challenges ahead.
These days it’s hard to say how many readers will remember age-old shooter Alien Breed, to which Larva Mortus is akin. Of course, we are old fogies, with many troubles and long memory: for us Alien Breed was a shooter that defined gaming. What was definitive about it was its co-op play, and that’s clearly the special ingredient Larva Mortus lacks. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty good indie adventure: the difficulty and pacing are absolutely spot-on, even if the visuals lack the ostentatious fireworks we’re used to these days.
One final thought: this kind of low-budget exploration of classical ideas is exactly what makes PC gaming so exuberant in 2009. It’d be a shame to ignore it.
May 4, 2009