“During the First World War, a lone French soldier must navigate twisted trenches, scavenge for limited supplies and solve complex puzzles – all whilst fighting for survival in the midst of mankind’s most brutal and horrifying conflict.“
Started in 2017 by a single person, Jordan Mochi, of Catchweight Studio, Conscript combines classic survival horror mechanics with the terrors of World War I. Having recently achieved 132% of its fundraising goal on Kickstarter, I wanted to take the public demo for a spin and share my first impressions.
Conscript places you in the role of a French soldier searching for your missing brother. While the viewpoint is from a top-down perspective, the influence of Silent Hill and Resident Evil is clear. The atmosphere is oppressive, filled with the painful sounds of war and a murky haze that shrouds the environment. The level layouts are well constructed, with passages twisting back on themselves as you unlock doors. Darkness fills the corridors, with footsteps and raspy breaths the only hints of enemies around the corner.
The graphics and sound are superb, and screenshots don’t do them justice. From the environment detail to the lighting to the pouring rain, seeing this game in motion is a treat. The music is equally excellent, with soothing save room music alongside anxious exploration tracks.
In classic Silent Hill and Resident Evil fashion, combat is not empowering. I collected several weapons throughout the demo, but ammo, as well as inventory space, is limited. Reloading takes time, it takes multiple hits to kill an enemy, and melee fights are messy and dangerous. Keeping your distance from the enemy is a tense struggle. Additionally, your soldier has a stamina bar that drains quickly. These mechanics come together for a challenging yet satisfying experience. There’s a sense of weight and realism to each encounter. The combat shouldn’t be empowering. You should feel on the back foot. The challenge that I’m not fond of, however, is the lack of a map.
While the pixel art and level design are superb, much of the environment looks very similar. This makes sense for the setting, but it also makes it difficult to remember where specific doors or items are. This could contribute to annoyance rather than atmosphere if the player struggles to find areas they already searched. Unique lighting or splashes of color could set specific rooms apart and alert the player to remember them.
Offsetting the difficulty a bit is a shop and upgrade system. While exploring, you collect gun parts and cigarettes. Gun parts are used to upgrade your equipment by improving damage, reload speed, fire rate, or ammo capacity. Cigarettes are traded for items, such as gunpowder, bandages, or larger pouches. These are convincing reasons to explore, because you need all the resources you can scrounge up.
One thing I’m particularly impressed by is the game options. Accessibility considerations allow you to change the font, cursor size and color, gore level, and toggle flashes. When you start a new game, you can choose to play with checkpoints and/or unlimited saves (otherwise you spend an item to save). These are excellent options that more games should incorporate.
I’ve excited for Conscript. It’s shaping up to be a tense and unnerving survival horror experience that rises above the crowd. If it sounds like your cup of tea, I urge you to play the demo and wishlist the game on Steam.
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