Eat the Eldritch (Olaf Nowacki)
I enjoyed this game, but felt it was kind of uneven, like the mundane and the fantastical had a weird relationship that didn’t quite work for me. I think in order to talk about this game at all, I’m going to have to go full-on spoiler mode, so before we get there, I’ll just say that the setting was reasonably interesting, the puzzles were hit-or-miss for me, in that I solved a few and needed solutions for the rest (I didn’t find anything that I felt pushed me partway to the solution). There were creepy bits and there were funny bits. So, overall pretty good! But a bit disappointing in perhaps-ideosyncratic ways.
[thus beginneth the spoilers]
So! The game is, as one might surmise from the title, a Lovecraftian game of discovering eldritch horror(s). What I would normally expect from a game like that is to have it start off grounded in the mundane, and then transition to the fantastical as weirder and weirder things start happening. But instead, the boat we start on is itself weird from the get-go. There’s the freezer, which somehow is a land of mist that you get lost in. There’s the engine room, which you cannot get to no matter how many times you type >DOWN. It’s… supposed to be my boat? Was it like this when I bought it? I do get that the cook starts off already involved in some sort of Eldritch weirdness, but I didn’t see any connection to what the cook was doing and what was going on with the freezer or the engine room. And the protagonist didn’t comment on either, making it seem like this was just The Sort Of Thing That Happens on this boat.
The weirdness of how the cook cooks my fish-sticks did indeed step things up a notch in a believable way, so that part I enjoyed. Then there’s the tidal wave, which is another nice step, and then the emergence of the Creature, which is another nice ramp-up. And you see the cook out on the deck, clearly having summoned the thing, and then… well, let me show you my transcript:
A look through the window makes you realize what the Tataki is stranded on here. This is not an island born out of the sea by an undersea earthquake, this is a something. This something does not move and yet seems to breathe, deep and heavy. This something lies there like a mountain, composed of shimmering endless sausages, oily like intestines, but with hair and dark glittering balls in them that look like the eyes of a bloated spider. This something gives off an indescribable strange scent, you can even smell it all the way into the bridge. A scent not of the sea, salt and seaweed, nor of rotten wood or decaying floaters, but rather of burnt steel and vomited cinnamon.
And as you look at this thing-something in a daze, one of these sausage-tentacle intestines rises on the port side of the Tataki and begins to move across the upper deck in eratic convulsions, like the tail of an annoyed cat.
A giant worm sweeps apparently aimless across the upper deck.
The pentagonal rug lies unrolled in the middle of the upper deck. Rudolf Carter sits on it and does strange gestures with his hands.
>talk to carter
You can’t think of a topic to talk about with Carter right now.
>[Nothing at all. Nothing comes to mind. Nope. No relevant topics to bring up, really. It’s been a boring day.]
This is perhaps a bit unfair; it’d be easy enough to add a new topic to the Carter Conversation Table, but it does signify the moment everything started crashing back to the mundane again. Things started off weird, then they steadily got weirder, and then we zipped right back to the mundane, where I had all the time in the world I needed to figure out how to stab the tentacle and pull it down into the fish processor to turn it into fish sticks. This is the joke of the game! Which would be fine; it’s a reasonable joke… except that the punch line was given away in the title of the game itself! So I was expecting something–anything–more involved or some other twist or something, but nope, it was just the joke that the cook summoned a Eldritch Horror from the Depths of the Sea to make very tasty fish sticks out of it.
Again, that’s a pretty good joke, but somehow it didn’t land for me, and I think my main problem was the protagonist’s relationship to the whole thing. I could have seen a plot where we were in on the plan the whole time (which is how the last bit of the game played out to me), but to sell that, I would have needed hints from that earlier on. Alternatively, our actions at the end could be the result of a descent into madness, but again, that wasn’t signposted either. We just kind of… did stuff to push the plot forward. And what was up with the weird geometry of our boat from the get-go? Was I surprised to see it transformed in this way? Was that what I was expecting? Did it make me go mad?
I kind of feel like I’m overthinking things. It’s just designed to be a silly game where you fish for Cthulhu. That’s funny! But the game had just enough substance beyond that to make me wish it went the extra step to ground the joke in some sort of ridiculous reality, and when it didn’t, I was left at a bit of a loss.
Did the author have something to say? In a sense, this game was kind of a big shaggy dog story, which I can respect. I wanted it to take the joke more seriously (so it would be funnier), which it didn’t, but I sort of feel that’s more on me than the author.
Did I have something to do? There were puzzles, and I was engaged in running around the ship trying to do stuff. In the end, a few too many of the puzzles failed for me, but it was a solid attempt.