Announced as part of PC Gamer's big E3-replacement PC Gaming Show over the weekend just passed, Gloomwood landed this week in playable form as one of a number of demos that have been released as part of Valve's Summer Games Festival.
New Blood Interactive sets its stall out early. The re-direct link to the game's Steam page is thiefwithguns.com, leaving no doubt as to the game's inspirations. It's also worth noting that it's also the work of Dillon Rogers and David Szymanski, the latter of whom made visceral old-school shooter Dusk, a game we enjoyed playing in Early Access (alas, we never got around to reviewing it, but if you like classic shooters a la Quake, check it out).
While the focus of Dusk was brutally fast FPS action of the vintage variety, the pacing is very different in Gloomwood. First up, this is one part survival horror and one part immersive sim. Thief with guns is an apt description, and it certainly speaks to the oppressive and bleak atmosphere of the early Thief games, which were especially eery thanks to the sparse lighting and presentation of the levels. They were also beloved by players because of their open-endedness, something that was lacking in the reboot.
Gloomwood transports the player to a murky Victorian-inspired city with tall, imposing buildings and iron bars that segregate the different areas around town. Therein, it's all about dodging the gaze of ominous-looking enemies and their retro vision cones, or more unpredictable beasts that dwell down in the surface. The visual language is as clear as day, with oblivious guards looking green, then yellow when they're searching, until they're top of you and smashing you with an axe or blasting you with a shotgun, their piercing red gaze the last thing you see before you restart (back at the phonograph where you saved last, kinda like the typewriter set-up in classic Resident Evil).
Combat is stealth driven, and one of the first things you find is a short stabby blade, which you pull from the corpse of a guard down near a sewer entrance. Not long after you'll be equipped with a shotgun and a revolver (with a handful of bullets, most of which we found in drawers or dimly lit corners off the beaten path). I got Dishonored vibes from the towering landscape and historically-charged vibes, although there's also something more primal about Gloomwood, a grittiness brought to life by creaking doors and a low guttural growl that you can hear almost constantly. The oppressive use of light and dark only enhances the atmosphere.
After a couple of deaths, we'd opened up the environment and got the hang of the stealth traversal and combat. Charged attacks are deadly against unaware enemies, so sneaking up on your targets is always advisable, although you can go loud with your pistol if you get in trouble, although limited ammo means this isn't the main focus of the gameplay. In true immersive sim fashion, you can crouch, creep, and lean around corners to see what's coming. However, it's the distinctive visuals that help it stand out, and while of course, it could look better, the purposeful old-school aesthetic has given the developers a defined brief to work to, and that has resulted in a clear and logical visual identity that works within the setting.
If you're reading this before June 22, the demo is still available to download over on Steam, but even if you miss your chance to try Gloomwood now, it's out later this year and fans of classic stealth games of yesteryear would do well have it on their wishlist.
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