The resurgence of survival horror we’ve seen in recent years has been a joy to be a part of, reliving the fond memories of tense resource management combined with a constant sense of dread that is seen in both classic and recent titles has been wonderful to re-experience. The recent resurgence of Resident Evil has shown that true survival horror is alive and well, with indie titles like Daymare 1998 hammering that home further. Titles like Conscript show how untapped the potential is within the industry when creating atmosphere and tension that other genres simply can’t capture. Conscript is being developed by Catchweight Studios and having sat down and tried the title, I’m happy to say that Conscript is a title for survival horror fans to look forward to.
Conscript throws players straight into the muddy trenches of the Battle of Verdun, putting us firmly in the boots of a soldier looking for his brother, we are introduced to our protagonist through a letter to his mother and then sent to go looking for ammunition for a machine gun nest to prevent the German soldiers from advancing. After being knocked unconscious we find ourselves in the trench, alone with our comrades presumed deceased. Your goal from this point on is to push through the trenches engaging with enemies, collecting keys, unlocking doors all whilst trying to escape the overrun trenches.
What this game captures phenomenally well is the dark & gritty tone which is to be expected with a backdrop as oppressive as “The Great War.” You will trudge through dank and dirty trenches with rotten corpses scattered across the ground and the horror of this game never comes from some supernatural presence but more from the neverending atrocities that come from a conflict that cost millions of lives. The game takes the setting incredibly seriously and creates a foreboding atmosphere that makes you feel as frightened as the young man you are playing. The soundtrack is understated but works very well in creating rising tension for each inevitable enemy encounter.
The game also makes effective use of ambient background sounds, things like the storm raging in the background or the sound of dying wounded soldiers, but the sound that I remembered the most is the eerie sound of approaching enemy soldiers, you’ll hear their breathing through masks which sent chills down my spine or their footsteps through the deep puddles of water. Finally on the other side of the presentation is the visuals which are incredibly unique, with a retro pixelated look that obscures certain details leaving the players to fill in the gaps of the more horrific images off-screen. The visuals also shine when you’re inspecting things in an environment where you’ll get a far more detailed first-person view. These sections are used when trying to solve puzzles or find hidden items. To keep in touch with the 90s survival horror aesthetic, the game also uses classic Full Motion Video (FMV) cutscenes similar to those seen in the original Resident Evil FMV.
The Gameplay of Conscript feels very familiar but in the best possible way, it is a direct homage to survival horror games of old, with a focus on collecting key items in the environment, alongside inventory & resource management that asks you to pick your battles. You’ll be looking closely at every corner of the environment for spare ammo and healing items, you’ll find several safe rooms along the way with storage crates and a lantern that requires one match each time to save (sound familiar?), for me, this was a complete blast and felt very nostalgic with backtracking and tense enemy encounters. What’s most interesting to me about Conscript is that it never gives in to making it a straight horror title, there are no supernatural elements, aside from one moment that I feel may lean more into the psychological realm, which is something that is promised by the games steam page.
The top-down perspective allows the player to see the environment around them, however, this doesn’t mean the player has an advantage over their enemy, with a line of sight mechanic restricting the player’s ability to see enemies around corners. Combat requires players to enter a fighting stance be it with a firearm or melee weapon, with guns packing a serious punch but with limited ammunition, you’ll need to make your shots count. Certain weapons will even require a lengthy stagger animation after each shot which gives enemies time to close the gap. In the demo, I primarily faced melee only enemies, but even these managed to deal some serious damage thanks to them either getting the drop on me or by my own misjudgement of some weapons capabilities.
Overall the gameplay loop of Conscript is a joy to experience to any classic survival horror fan, it has all the features you’d expect and doesn’t hold your hand, I can’t wait to see what more horrors Catchweight Studios has in store for us.
Master of unlocking.
The most pleasant surprise after finishing my playthrough of the Conscript demo is the various fun unlocks that you get upon completion, these include things such as additional costumes and weapons giving you an incentive to run through the demo again. This coupled with the additional difficulty options add a little more longevity to the demo. This classic model of unlockable content post-game completion is promised to also be in the final release and is something I’ve missed in many recent games besides the recent Resident Evil titles.
I had an absolute blast with Conscript, I was enthralled by its dark and gritty atmosphere that is up there with the best the survival horror genre has to offer. It takes all of the classic elements I hold so dearly and places them into a fresh setting where they feel right at home, I also respect the restraint of the game for avoiding the easy supernatural threat that games like this sometimes resort to. The game succeeds in making enemy soldiers into monsters as terrifying as any monster in Silent Hill and Resident Evil. Conscript promises a simple but endearing narrative that I’m sure will become more twisted and psychological in the final release.
Conscript’s demo is currently available on Steam, the full game is currently scheduled for release in 2022.
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