I’ve spent a couple of hours in I Shall Remain, an indie release from developers Scorpius Games. My overall feeling is that it takes more than two hours to hit a point where you are truly comfortable with this title. Released for the PC via Steam on August 24th, the game has been in development for the past 3.5 years, including a good chunk of time in Steam’s Early Access program.
There are quite a few rough edges that make me feel that this title is not for everyone. At first glance, it will make you think that is similar to Diablo. It is a barely isometric action RPG, but this is not about point-and-click to move your character. Yyou use your keyboard to do that. That control scheme has a slight impact on combat, especially in boss battles. It makes some of the challenge just effectively moving your character around a cluttered environment while managing weapons switches, grenade throws, dropping mines, and running away from bosses that have ranged weapons or very long reach. I unintentionally glitched out of having to fight the first boss and defeated the second, but neither fights were easy and some of both got frustrating at times. The environment can definitely be used to help defeat a boss, as they can be cordoned into single approaches and tight corridors where they cannot get to you very quickly given the size of the two I have seen so far.
The setup for I Shall Remain is that it is an alternate historical take on the time at the tail-end of World War II. Apparently a zombie-like breakout occurred, at least in the US. Your character awakes to find himself separated from his brother. A single note tells him where to head to if he wants to rendezvous with his missing kin. Protagonist Michael Hodges promptly sets out to do just that. There is a lot to read, as most of the NPC interaction is through written dialogue trees. The font and colors on the text can make it tough to read quickly, and there are places of spotty grammar that detract from the immersion as well.
The graphics are good for an indie title. There appear to be some issues with lighting. While they seem small when described, they have a big impact when it is nighttime in the game. It appears that when I move the gamma, it does not persist when I go back to resume the game. At night, there are times when I can see nothing on the screen. It becomes impossible to tell which way my character is oriented, I then the lose the ability to see the enemies. The fact that there is a sound glitch which renders sound from an undead monster somewhere behind you even when there is not one there does not help, either, although it is good for creeping you out while playing.
The biggest challenge I have found has been the leveling system. The game takes a slightly different approach than a lot of other action RPGs. When you level up, you are given options of Promotion Disciplines to ascribe to. These are the schools of skill that (seemingly) define what your actual skill-tree is (that’s a theory). Once you ascribe to a Promotion Discipline (there is no max other than the total number offered in the game), you can either level up the Discipline itself, or work on individual skills. Some of the progression is driven by your use of specific weapons; think about the use-based leveling system in Dungeon Siege. Using weapons more often exposes specific weapons-based skills that you can then expend points towards.
My biggest grip with this is that the Promotion Disciplines are not very transparent when they are presented in-between rounds for you to select from. So you pick one without any real understanding of whether you whiffed or scored. In one case, I picked a PD that did not have a selectable skill until level 11. There is a bit of Demon Souls/Dark Souls non-transparency in this system, where you are forced to go dig on the web and the Steam forums to figure out exactly how this works. That means to me that the system is convoluted and it is tough for me to tell at this point whether that additional complexity makes the game “better” or will be worth the time I might invest. In this day and age, I do not have 16 hours to make a science experiment out of playing a game, so whether or not I stick with this title is uncertain.
A large part of I Shall Remain’s problem is the assumption that you played the title in Early Access or played the tutorial. I did neither, and I expected a little more training wheel time, given how many things in the game are buried and are in-obvious.
On the good side, the music and atmosphere are outstanding. The control scheme is pretty typical and I cannot complain. Ammo is not unlimited, but there is enough that you can fire weapons in full-auto without fearing that you’ll never find ammo again. There are some nice weapons designs. I got a hold of the flamethrower just before completing my second hour, and I’m a fan. And again, there is enough flamethrower ammo that you get more than a few applications before it runs out, which seems to be the case in most games that have this weapon. The game has elements of Resident Evil’s feel, slightly shifted to account for where I Shall Remain has its camera, but they are as effective as in Resident Evil itself. The limited speed of motion when you are not running (stamina limitations will keep you from running all of the time) and the camera constraints specifically give me that Resident Evil vibe in a similar but not exactly-like kind of way. Your viewing distance is noticeably constrained so that you cannot get the whole lay of the land on screen at once. That conveys the same feeling of near claustrophobia that you feel when playing RE and some of its sequels.
As you start to peel the onion off the title, it feels like the world will open up to you as you learn more. That is a design choice, not one that I like due to the compressed nature of my life; I prefer to be given all the tools I need to work out how to play the game at the very outset. This game is a rough ride on startup, but may payout significant returns if you stick with it. The problem is, many gamers will not. I Shall Remain does not provide that immediate self-gratification that many of us look for. And I’m not talking about the Call of Duty-easy-cheesey satisfaction. I do not mind a little work to get the cookie. But I Shall Remain is a particularly slow burn that feels like it is only going to start to pay off with 8 or more hours of gameplay. I am still learning the game’s framework and system after hour two and there are many things I do not get. Yes, I am sure there are many wiki’s out there, but I look for games that do not FORCE me to have to go read those to get the minimum satisfaction out of them. And I could also play the tutorial, but I do not like being forced to play prologues either. Despite all of that, I’m not saying that these elements are bad. I’m simply saying that I have an incredibly burgeoning backlog, and when I look at titles on just one of my system’s hard drives, big games from this year like The Witcher 3 and Project Cars, I wonder if I should be sinking some of this time into them. Shouldn’t I expect the payoff from those titles to be greater in less time? Of course, for gamers looking to make a choice, I Shall Remain is only $11.99 on Steam at last glance, whereas triple-A titles are $50 or $60.
Overall, I Shall Remain feels like a neat little but slightly quirky game in a lightweight package. I am not sure how much more time I am going to make for it as we head into the big release window of the fall and many other titles will be vying for my attention. But fans of horror games and spooky titles might want to give this one a test drive themselves. It has a low price for admission and would make an excellent Halloween jaunt. And if you like indie games or specifically look for ways to support indie developers, this is a good spot to put your money.
You can check back here for additional notes as I play through the title a little bit at a time or feel free to post your own impressions in the comments below!!!