Featured Indie Game: Damned

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Good–an understatement when describing developer 9Heads’ latest indie release titled “Damned”.  The survival horror genre these days seems to have the average gamer buried beneath a horde of zombie games, sometimes with the burning question: can co-op in survival still be scary? 9Heads pulls that gamer up from the slush pit of the dead and tells him or her the words they’ve been dying to hear: hell yes.

If you’re my friend and you haven’t gotten it yet, then you’re no longer my friend until you get it. Got it?

Overlooked Indie Game: Damned

In this refreshing take on being alone (at times) in the dark, Damned pits teams of up to four survivors against demonic forces in which they are armed with only their wits, coordination, nerves, and a flashlight. For the survivors, the goal is to escape from the round’s haunted locale by finding keys, safe combinations, and crowbars as they make their way through hotels, abandoned hospitals, rundown restaurants, and more. In their way stands another player, acting as the monster, whose goal is to torment and eventually kill the titular damned. At the monster’s disposal are a wide variety of traps placed throughout the maps that act as alarms to alert the predator when his prey pass through certain areas while also serving as panic inducers that send high-strung survivors running for cover–or into a dead end.

Graphically, the player models themselves could stand some polishing. While the monsters themselves look spot on, the survivors feel a bit plain. I am by no means stating that they’re ugly, but there is room for improvement. Where the graphics really pay off in Damned happens to be the maps themselves–an impressive amount of detail has clearly been placed into the textures, lighting, mood, and atmosphere. Each location so far is distinct in it’s features, and certain points really give off the feel of a haunted building shut down for renovations while others almost seem ransacked–as if a horrible tragedy had taken place years earlier.

Screenshot taken by Dagger.

The audio is well done. The background music is subtle, as it should be in any scary scenario, but makes itself known throughout the round, and helps to build tension. Spooky sound effects are often all around you, with traps breaking the somewhat comforting (or terrifying) silence, as well as randomly occurring effects to throw the survivors off balance. Another nice touch happens to be the music that plays when the monster is in the general vicinity of the survivors, often instilling fear before the monster is even seen.

Screenshot taken by DahDoctow.

The gameplay factors in to make this game a slam dunk. The controls for both the survivors and the monster are modeled after current FPSs (thank god for no “tank controls”), and allow for intuitive movement when exploring (or hunting). I feel this is a major plus overall, seeing as some of the genre defining survivor horror games of old employed “tank controls” (Left/Right = rotate character, Up/Down = forwards and backwards), shifting a portion of the player’s attention away from the actual experience, and towards maneuvering–thus breaking immersion for some players. Operating doors, drawers, cabinets, etc. can be a tad frustrating at times as the survivors will need to click the highlighted object with their mouse and drag it in the appropriate direction, but is easy enough with practice. Even so, survivor gameplay can be thrilling, frenzied, and exciting all the same–as the playing field for each round is procedurally generated with the conditions for escape changing as well as the location of the various items needed to progress throughout. At times it can feel like a race against the clock (which has claws and supernatural powers) as you force yourself to function logically in the face of fear and anxiety. As of this writing there are two playable monsters to choose from: The Lurker and The Phantom. Each has its own angle at snuffing the survivors, with The Lurker manually setting traps and having the ability to physically manifest for a well timed surprise scare, and The Phantom–whose traps are set automatically by the game’s AI, but can only “see” sounds via a simulated kind of echolocation.  These are very interesting and fun methods of playing not only for the monsters themselves, but for the survivors as more seasoned situations take on a sense of each side trying to outwit the other.

Screenshot taken by Alca.

Overall it’s a brilliant and refreshing entry into an aging genre that seems plagued by stagnation. Despite its alpha status it’s incredibly fun, well put together, and the developers are steadily working on updates. With support from gamers, Damned truly could change the game so to speak. Right now it’s only $14.99 on Steam, as well as Dasura, and well worth the money.