Je suis dés-OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THAT?!
Battling hunger and ghosts in Desolate’s post-apocalyptic world
here are scary survival horror games and then there is Desolate, a Stalker-inspired co-op adventure about trying not to die on a contaminated Russian island populated with mutant animals, frenzied scavengers, and creepy child ghosts. It’s tough, scary, and definitely not for the fainthearted. God knows why we’re sending Leon in to check it out then…
If Desolate’s tutorial is anything to go by this is a game about finding people who look like a slightly worried Gary Oldman and beating them to death with a crowbar. Well, that seems to be the gist of things so far. Within minutes I’m two Gary Oldmen down and I’ve learned the finer points of hitting people with metal sticks, crawling through gaps, and picking stuff up. It’s also clear that whoever made the trailers did an amazing job of making this look way better than it actually does. It’s not terrible, just a bit ‘made with Unity’ in real life, rather than the ‘Metro Exodus at nuclear PC’ appearance of the official gameplay – and I’m apparently playing on an ‘epic’ setting. The voice acting is also a little ‘Greg from the canteen says he’ll have a go’ as well. It’s atmospheric, though, and is fun so far, so all those Garies haven’t died in vain.
With the tutorial over I’m released into the game’s full world, and starts it’s clear the people from the moment it behind it love Stalker, Metro, There’s the System Shock, and Bioshock. opulent, Rapture- esque apartment you start life in, little faces that when you talk to people on a pop up radio, and a toxic post-apocalyptic bug-eyed dog monsters wasteland full of to explore, plus survivors who sanity and posted long ago wrapped up their it home. There are also some spooky things going on with noises, or ghosts filling in backstories strange about vending machine pillaging cannibalism. There’s even a and creepy mannequin which, of when you turn course, is always facing you around to check. It’s going to get so much worse though. I know it yet. This is just future just don’t me giving present me a warning. Wait, what?
The main thing at the moment is collecting things. I don’t know what’s valuable yet so my pockets are full of broken scissors, metal, radios, and just about anything that will fit in them. I’ve a loose objective of getting an old workbench working so I’m darting between buildings, avoiding scary noises in the trees, while looking for a transformer and a toaster. As I do I hear a child crying and then a tiny voice saying ‘Play with me’. There aren’t enough nopes in the world right now. I’m in the dark and it’s just horrible noises everywhere – snuffling, growls, and howls in every shadow. The next ten minutes are me just running away from sounds I don’t want to know any more about. At one point, while I’m hiding in a warehouse from a glowing-eyed madman, a child’s voice whispers in my ear: “One, two, found you”. NooooOOOOPE.
Things don’t get much better in the daylight because now I can see what’s out there. Like the Dorg, which isn’t a typo. It’s what you’d get if you made a dog but added an extra jaw and decided the face was better without any skin. I’m supposed to be getting a radio tower working, and I’ve been joined by a random online player as I thought opening up the co-op options might help. It kind of does, because the other player has a gun and doesn’t mind attacking things, but he also takes all the supplies, says nothing, and never revives me when I die. But considering all I’ve got is a pocket full of junk and a stick, beggars can’t be choosers. Between us we fix the radio tower and discover there’s a base we can use if we can find a token to gain entry.
It’s not long before I discover just how scary this game can get. This world is full of hanging bodies, shadows that run across doorways, and distant roaring noises. But nothing prepares me for the… let’s call her ‘The Girl’. She just appears, floating in front of you with a deafening stab of broken violins, then disappears before you’ve had a chance to register what’s happening. I dread to think what the other player thinks of me as I scream my favourite bad words at deafening volume. It’s the lowest of all the scares – just a sudden, loud noise – but it works. And it keeps happening. My nerves are shredded and I’m actually looking forward to Dorgs. They’re adorable by comparison.
1 hour 30 minutes
A lot’s happened in the last 30 minutes. I’ve lost my buddy but I’ve found the base, stocked up, and crafted loads. I’ve got a gun, medi packs, and a mission to kill a Wanogah. I have no idea what that is. I’m hoping for some kind of hamster. This game is tough. To get to this point I’ve run away from any noise and hoarded everything. Which means I have six bullets and three healing things. Compared to how I started I’m living like a king. A king who’s spent 30 minutes crawling through the forest with his torch turned off because he’s so scared of meeting anything. At one point The Girl appears in a building and I jump so hard I fire one of my bullets into the ceiling.
1 hour 45 minutes
It’s taken me ages but I’ve finally found the Wanogah. It is not a hamster, it’s some sort of mutated naked lady thing spitting poison. It took a while, partly because I was so cautious and partly because I decided to wait until daybreak until I started looking in the buildings it was meant to be in. Obviously it was in the locked one so I wander off to find a key card (in an abandoned radar base full of murderers), find it, kill the thing, and gather whatever body part it is that gets me the reward. I’m supposed to drop it in a delivery tube but the map is so big, and my route so winding that there aren’t any nearby, so I decide to head back to the base. Just as soon as I can get out, past all the bad people with axes I didn’t kill on the way in.
The journey back is even more treacherous because I’ve run out of all my supplies. I’m starving, but also out of healing stuff so any attempts to scavenge are extra risky. I also really, really need the toilet in the real world. The only problem is that because it’s online, there’s no pause and my bladder is so full I’m worried another appearance of The Girl will cause more problems than accidentally firing my gun. My only option is to find somewhere quiet to hide and then run to the loo as fast as possible hoping nothing attacks me. They don’t and I make it back to the base with my actual as empty as my videogame bladder stomach – my health chipping Wanogah bits and claim away as I drop off the my reward. That’s enough stress for tonight…
It’s clunky in places but Desolate has plenty to offer if you fancy a survival challenge with scares along the way. True, some of them – such as The Girl – are cheap shots but still very effective. Aside from her, the feeling is of gnawing fear. Supplies are sparse, enemies are dangerous, and death can cost you everything if you can’t recover your gear fast enough. This is not to be played casually, especially given the lack of pause from the online side of things. Currently it’s rough in a few places but rewarding, if slightly wobbly, combat and objective markers won’t put you off. If it they do however, then watch for future updates because this definitely one to have on your list.