Into the Lair

A medium-length, choice-based dungeon crawl with vampires. I’ve posted a review of it at my blog here.

[spoiler]I really like the premise of this game, and the option to kill enemies (and innocent humans) by draining their blood is a definite highlight – all those bits were very well-written, and I love being free to choose between freeing thralls and slaughtering them. The dungeon room stands out as being delightfully unpleasant. The player character’s discomfort with their repressed memories around becoming a thrall – when you look at the chains?? – hit me super hard. Because of that backstory, I never once found myself wondering why I was bothering with these tunnels. Like hell yeah, let’s kill this evil vampire.

That said, I’ve played it three times now and didn’t manage to kill the dang vampire. The first two times he killed me. The third time I just stole his necklace and left. Apparently there are only two endings – “you win or you die” – so I guess maybe it’s not possible to kill him after all? I don’t know, the winning ending felt sort of underdeveloped. I was all hyped up to kill Viscardi, and while I’m perfectly willing to accept that it’s not going to happen and the best revenge is living well after all, I think I need a bit more from the writing to sell that change of heart and make it satisfying.

I noticed a few typos (including “lightening” for “lightning”, “bosses” for “boss’” or “boss’s”) and when I tried to take the side passage after leaving the dungeon room, I got this error and had to reset:


[spoiler]It’s possible to kill Viscardi in at least two ways. I think that if you free all the thralls (or possibly, set off a high number of booby traps, though I’m pretty sure it’s the former), he notices and isn’t in his coffin when you finally break into his lair. But if you don’t awaken him, he stays placidly in his coffin and you can rather improbably stab him to good effect through the rotten planks.

If he has noticed you’re making your way through the catacombs, and pre-emptively left his coffin, you can still kill him:

  1. Lunge forward and attack
  2. Knock the blade away
  3. Back away
  4. Stab him

You may need to have quaffed the red power potion in the alchemy lab to succeed in this fight. I doubt it, but admittedly I haven’t replayed to check.[/spoiler]

On to my review proper.

[spoiler]Review: Into the Lair

I’m partial to vampire tales. Granted, the theme is as turned-over as graveyard clay, but it can still be shaped many ways. Into the Lair we go.

A choice of goals is offered to the player immediately after the intro sequence; naturally, the first time I chose the most cold-hearted and selfish one, but I’m not sure if your chosen goal is tracked once you’ve set it. I managed to complete the game achieving all three goals on my second playthrough, but the game passed no comment on the fact that I’d achieved my chosen goal (and the other two as well).

The catacombs are proper catacombs, full of rough-hewn passages and foul air. But the setting is disappointingly fuzzy in terms of both location and time. I initially assumed that the era was roughly Victorian, or at least historical, perhaps because my rescuer is called ‘Wil’ (rather than ‘Mina’, I guess), and there are no modern-day props (not even an electric torch), only things like oil lanterns. But some of the dialogue – ‘OK’, ‘boss’, ‘huh’, ‘Yeah, no duh’ – leads me to think that the setting is contemporary. It never plumps for one thing or another.

The catacombs are also rather monotonous: only when I get behind a hanging tapestry, for example, do I find out the name of the dingy room I’ve just been in: ‘Church Catacombs’. This is the part of every Twine-based dungeon crawl where I hanker for an old-school parser format which insists on naming every room. Also, I should be drawing a map. But after I’ve bumbled about for a bit, the game exit-names places where I’ve already been, which is a courteous touch. After visiting the dungeon, I also get this:

Error: <>: <> does not accept a conditional expression (perhaps you meant to use <>), invalid: $springTrap is 0

Clearly, a booby-trap was meant to befall my character here. It crashes the game, and I haven’t been saving properly, so I start again, nobly vowing to free the thralls. Things go a bit better, but I still don’t feel I have much agency. A couple of examples:

  1. I’m in an alchemist’s laboratory, looking at potions, wondering what they do. There is a pretty obvious way to test that a potion does not inflict immediate death/mind-control on vampires like myself – feed a test dose to the unfortunate former thrall I’ve just turned, who is lying semi-conscious outside the door. But instead, there is one available potion, I cannot do anything but chug it, and the game even tells me ‘You can’t see any reason not to.’ Look, I can see every reason not to casually swig from a flask I’ve found in the lab of a ruthless vampire whose hobby is brewing mind-controlling toxins. You can’t just tell me otherwise, game.

  2. On the first playthrough, I kill a guard thrall as some prisoners watch, which might lead them to conclude I’m still human. The second go, I beat the thrall up, drink his blood, and then turn him. The prisoners can’t be in much doubt as to what I am, but they’re not confused, bemused, or downright horrified by the fact they’ve just been rescued by a vampire. In fact, they respond in just the same ways they did before.

The finale appears to be mildly bugged, in that there is no automatic end to the game: I get to Viscardi’s vault and reach for the amulet, and its owner pops out of the shadows and is icily patronising; I expected no less of him. We duel, and I find the right sequence of choices to dispatch him. Then I examine his coffin, since the game still permits this, and attack it. Viscardi pops out of the shadows yet again. In fact, I can fight him an infinite number of times by examining and stabbing his coffin just after I’ve killed him. I did it a few times to keep me fit, and also to make sure there wasn’t a secret epilogue to the effect that Viscardi could only truly die if I smashed the amulet, the only thing that would let me have a semi-human daylight existence.

Overall, like the catacombs themselves, the predominant feel of Into the Lair at present is ‘unfinished’. I’m not against vampire games just because they’re well-trodden unholy ground (well-trodden ground gives more scope to subvert the player’s expectations). As some sort of hybrid between a puzzler and vampiric resource-management, ‘Into the Lair’ has potential, especially if all the thralls had a back history and some residual personality, it mattered – in terms of strategy or emotional impact – which ones I saved/drained/turned, and I had to work out who to choose.

Prize: A booklet of workout vouchers with a celebrity personal drainer.[/spoiler]