Review by Nick Whitcroft
Branding itself a “geometric horror”, Euclidean, from studio Alpha Wave Entertainment, is something pretty unique.
You come to, standing on a narrow ledge. Behind you, a runed pillar; to your right, a coil of rope – presumably how you got up here – and a hammer (standard climbing equipment, right?). In front of you, a telescope points lazily upwards towards a full moon; a moon which, you realise, is depicted in eerie detail on the canvas sitting on the easel beside you. That’s no moon! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Tilting your head upwards you stare at the magnificent orb… until it begins to change, fragmenting, drawing closer, until it’s simply a multitude of sleek, shining orbs, surrounding you, consuming you. Congratulations – you’ve just had your first taste of what passes for normal in Euclidean. In fact, that was just the main menu.
The haunting, ambient soundtrack sums up what is most captivating about this game, and that is the sheer extent of atmosphere. This isn’t a ‘scary’ game; you won’t find jump-scares, brutal violence or (as they proudly declare) zombies here. Rather, Euclidean is simply unsettling. We’ve included the trailer in this review, because, quite simply, without seeing a little taste for yourself, it’s quite hard to get a feel for what this brings to the table.
One could fairly accurately describe the game as a drowning simulator. As the game kicks off, you find yourself falling through murky depths, surrounded by pillars, chunk of stone and, in between the intermittent flashes of light that serve as your only means of piercing further into the darkness, an array of abstract monsters – cube-like beings floating menacingly on through the shadows.
Gameplay takes the form of loosely guiding your descent – if you’ve ever played AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome (and if you haven’t you’re probably now confusedly Googling), imagine it spent its teenage years experimenting with all manner of questionable substances and reading H.P. Lovecraft novels and you’ve probably got a fairly accurate picture of how this game looks and plays. This isn’t the adrenaline-pumping, neon base-jumpingrush where you rack up points and show off to your friends; this is a chillingly slow plummeting into nothingness, all the while taunted by a malevolent, disembodied voice; your only company on this surreal journey. “Did you come by chance, or design? Are you unlucky, or a fool?” Erm, well, I got a review code, actually.
You’ve probably gathered by now that I was quite wrapt by Euclidean. The art style alone is something quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. One minute you’re surrounded by twisting lines of colour, the next pulsating, faintly-glowing pillars and masonry that shatter at your touch, then beside you is a translucent pillar full of enormous, unblinking eyes. Yes. It’s weird. But my word is it beautiful – made all the more so by the teasing way in which it’s displayed to you, through these brief flashes and looming shapes emerging from the darkness.
My only regret is not being able to sample the game on the Oculus Rift. The game is quite clearly built with its full VR support in mind. Not only would this have made the experience all the more immersive, but I imagine the gameplay would have been slightly more intuitive with the ability to quickly glance around the environment more easily, reducing the need to stare perpetually downwards, sometimes missing the creatures drifting fatally towards you from the side. The monsters (you can’t really call them ‘enemies’ as such) themselves are an interesting mix – from small barnacle-like beings that reach out from nearby surfaces, making clinging to walls as a guide in the void a dangerous endeavour, you’ll encounter increasingly big, nasty baddies until you’re literally surrounded by Onix’s evil twin. Perhaps most discomfiting is how these beings simply seem indifferent to your presence. Despite their deadly touch, they never actively seek you out, instead drifting on fixed but often unavoidable paths, such that you find yourself feeling truly insignificant in this world where you’re unwelcome and really don’t belong. If you have a fear of open water the effect is probably all the more menacing, the game evoking a genuine sense of loneliness and menace.
When you’re first dropped into this world, it’s certainly confusing. There’s no tutorial, so even realising what’s happening is, at first, disorientating. Because of this, the first few stages are actually some of the hardest minutes of playtime you’ll experience, simply trying to make sense of the mechanics of the game and the threats that lurk in this hostile environment. As you play, however, you’ll begin to make sense of some of the subtle hints to the gameplay to help guide you through. Euclidean discards the need for a HUD in place of implied information: the beating of your heart as you draw near a wall or monster, your spectral body turning red as your phase ability recharges; and then there’s the skill itself, which grants you the power to see further through the haze and pass through monsters for several seconds, in some cases displaying their imminent travel paths.
Despite these powers, the game is very, very hard. Expect to die. A lot. In fact, Alpha Wave are so aware of this that they give you a handy little ‘expirations’ counter in the menu and, for those masochistic enough to try it, a permadeath function alongside their “HARD, NIGHTMARISH and IMPOSSIBLE” difficulties. Part of this difficulty comes from the speed with which you traverse this deathly plunge. It’s slow. Ok, it’s frustratingly, agonisingly slow. There’s not always time to react to threats, sometimes you lose your sense of up and down as levels become more sparse and, should you die and restart the level, the time required to replay the section is painful. However, take this away and you really wouldn’t be playing the same game. Slow it might be, but it’s also short, and this plays in its favour. Made up of nine segments, each with an equally appealing title – he Doorstep, The Cage, The Snarl – Euclidean is not a game that demands weeks of your time. And at the modest price of £3.99, you’re certainly getting a polished and refreshingly different experience for your money.
The last level, in particular – The Resolution – stayed with me after playing. It’s a sudden and dramatic contrast, with a beautiful sprite-like mass of uncharacteristically smooth, narrow lines and a shifting orb in the depths below. Reminiscent of the moon at the opening of the game, I found myself feeling like I was now fulfilling that classic image of ‘heading towards the light’ (fitting the deathly theme perpetuated throughout), but with this sphere more like a sun, far out of context. Honestly, this was a screensaver in the making.
The game grants the Steam achievement “Was it all for nothing?” upon completion of the game, and, whilst indeed the game does offer little in terms of tangible conclusion or resolution, it doesn’t feel wholly necessary. This is a game that, as an entertaining piece of gameplay is mediocre at best, but, as a sensory and mental experience, is, at its core, phenomenal. It’s a credit to Alpha Wave that this is not only their first project but it also took them just “a week shy of 6 months” from ideas to finished game. They set out to do something “a little bit different”, something “strange and interesting”. Well, it’s certainly that.
If you’re a fan of Lovecraftian horror, experience games, evil cubes, drowning simulators, or geometry then this is the game for you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the next portal so some friendly little vibrating balls can envelop me and take me to a whole new level of self-inflicted doom.