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Sunday 1 May 2016

Paranoid Conspiracy Death Cult

I found another really good retro-style adventure game on Steam last week (I got it at an 80% discount, but I see it’s back up to full price now). It’s called Corrosion: Cold Winter Waiting, which is a rather weird title – but then it’s a rather weird game, from the minimalist gameplay and graphics (see screenshots above) to the disturbingly psychotic storyline. Personally I liked both these aspects, but not everyone will agree about the style, so I’ll start with the story (and I’ll keep it as spoiler-free as possible).

To start with a general comment – there’s something very odd about conspiracy theorists. The theories themselves are pretty odd, of course – especially the ones that involve shape-shifting aliens infiltrating world governments with a view to eradicating homo sapiens and taking over the planet. But it’s even odder that, having discovered this terrifying truth, all the conspiracy theorists do is talk about it on the internet. When France was occupied by the Nazis in the 1940s, the underground resistance fighters went in for things like sabotage and assassination. Why don’t conspiracy theorists do the same, to save Earth from the threat the rest of us are too stupid to see?

In a nutshell, that’s the idea behind this game. It’s played from a first-person perspective, with the player exploring a now-deserted underground complex that until recently was occupied by a small cult with a very strange belief system. In this case, the supposed threat isn’t from shape-shifting aliens, but from an ancient race of “demons” that can take people over at random. But the effect is pretty much the same. The cult members believe they can detect demon-possessed individuals (although a cynic might think they just pick members of the public at random), who they bring back to the complex to be dealt with. I won’t say exactly what this entails, partly because it would be a plot-spoiler, but mainly because it’s too horrible to think about. If you play the game, you’ll find out – if not, then count yourself lucky!

One of the outstanding things about Corrosion: Cold Winter Waiting is its characterization, which is excellent and chillingly believable. That may seem an odd thing to say, because you never actually come face to face with any of the cult members. However, you get a very good picture of them from their writings and audio recordings. There are six of them in all, four of which you get to know really well. Essentially they’re all social outcasts with deep-seated grudges against humankind in general – so it’s rather ironic that they consider themselves to be humanity’s saviours. Also ironic is the fact that they all hate each other, to the point of working to subtly different agendas. And they’re all head cases. One of them is a psychopathic sadist, another is a paranoid schizophrenic, another suffers from a chronic inferiority complex.

Worst of all is the cult’s charismatic leader, who is the ex-CEO of a large pharmaceutical corporation and the only one who knows what’s real and what isn’t. I won’t say too much on that subject – except that one of the two chemicals the demon-hunters use to “immunize” themselves turns out to be a harmless placebo, while the other is a fear-enhancing hallucinogen… and the whole narrative about ancient demons (and how to neutralize them) is taken from the rambling notebooks of a mad psychiatrist in the 1950s.

The first-person point-and-click gameplay is reminiscent of Jonathan Boakes’s Dark Fall games, which I’ve enthused about on at least two previous occasions (here and here). But Corrosion: Cold Winter Waiting was released in 2012, ten years after the first Dark Fall game, and if anything its user interface is even more minimalist. That gives it a strongly nostalgic feel (and when you get to my age, that’s never a bad thing). Like the Dark Fall series, this game is pretty much the work of a single creator – in this case Daniel Lee Peach. Like Jonathan Boakes he’s British, but unlike Jonathan’s games this one is set in America (I spotted a few British spellings and the occasional little-endian date, but apart from that I thought the American setting was pretty convincing).

Point-and-click adventures always tend to emphasize the cerebral rather than the visual, and Corrosion: Cold Winter Waiting is an extreme example of this (if you’re wondering why I picked those four screenshots at the top of the post, it’s because they were the most exciting ones I could find). Personally I wasn’t too bothered by the minimalist graphics, but I did find the gameplay a bit too obscure in places. I ended up having to consult a walkthrough at least half a dozen times, in most cases because there was some non-intuitive action I had to perform on one of the in-game computers. Having said that, if there’s ever a sequel, I’ll snap it up as soon as it comes out (and happily pay full price this time).

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