Most games these days are pretty direct and have you deal with the problems presented by whacking them with a hammer, stabbing them with a sword, or blasting them with a shotgun. Courier of the Crypts doesn’t allow you the ease of eliminating all of your problems, creating a world rife with danger and challenges to face. Not many games are willing to take such a passive approach, but Courier of the Crypts dares you to wander into its dark corridors and survive the darkness. Emberheart Games, the Slovenian studio behind this game, might just end up setting a new standard in indie gaming.
When the game starts up, there is some pretty sordid business afoot. An altar sits in the middle of a room of chanting, cloaked individuals. Everything goes dark a moment and the main character is laying on the altar, struggling against his bonds to get free. One of the cloaked figures comes close beside the altar, there is the flash of a knife, and everything goes dark. The Courier comes to and he is in an area with some coffins. He follows a path that assembles mid-air toward a door. Passing through a few more gates, he comes to a lava filled room where he sees a massive creature rise out of the fire and roar. That is when the courier wakes up from a nap in a cot.
Once the courier falls out of his cot, things come back to normal and you realize it was just a dream. Of course real life kicks in pretty fast with this little mop-haired guy arriving late on his first day on the job! He makes off for his intended destination pretty fast, too, with only a moment’s hesitation to think the crypt in his dreams might have something to do with the crypt he is actually heading toward. Either way, what follows is a long string of, as I see it, examples of the game’s strongest point: its lighting system. Graphics in this game are very well orchestrated as what is lit and how you choose to light it can have a powerful effect on how a game feels. Much like in film, it can even dictate the overall ambiance of a movie. This game gets a dramatic tone with a main character that seems perpetually out of place, and his zany-ass looks make him seem like he needs the money so he can pay for shampoo and a hairstylist.
When you get to the crypt where you are to deliver a letter to the guard, there is no one. As soon as you step inside, there is a rumble, a crack and the floor buckles beneath you. Here you find a magical torch that can be sustained from going out with a specific flame pickup you find in the crypts. Your torch can also be re-lit after dying out, too, but I am not sure how that works. There is the mechanic that you hit ‘A’ to light the torch, but that is not a guarantee you’ll be able to relight the torch. You find it with the corpse of its former owner, too, which is not confidence inspiring. Not to mention, should your torch extinguish in certain areas, spirits will come out of nowhere and kill you, regardless of how much life you have.
Once you find the torch, you get to locate your only real weapons: rocks and fire bombs. Rocks are good for smashing barrels and spiders in a pinch, but for legitimate battles and boss-fights, you’ll need the fire bombs. Controls in Courier of the Crypts are pretty simple, too. No mouse, all keyboard. If this game gets controller support, I feel like that would be the biggest step forward in the world for it. The way this game plays, it wants to be on a console, but playing on the keyboard is still very comfortable. ‘A’ relights the torch, but I only used that once in the preview. ‘Z’ and ‘Y’ interact with surroundings and ‘X’ throws rocks and firebombs. You can toggle rocks and firebombs with ‘Tab.’
Throwing rocks isn’t the best way to deal with problems, but it will kill most weak enemies. Fire bombs will dispatch nearly anyone, but they are overkill for weaker enemies and are often tougher to come by. Throughout the crypts you will face numerous enemies, you’ll have to deal with them, and the fire bombs are often the only way out.
Having a challenge in a game is good, but often it can feel overwhelming. If you are at a point in the game where you feel like you cannot progress, it might just be due to the fact that you cannot just make things go away very easily. If games are like dreams we can all experience, Courier of the Crypts is definitely an adventurous horror story. The way your helplessness is played against you by becoming this torch-carrying character that resembles a young man, maybe even a boy… It really makes you think about what you are doing so that you can succeed rather than allowing the game to spoon-feed you victory and make you feel like you somehow earned it. It’s exhilarating and fun.
Music and sound in The Courier of the Crypts is a little on the weird side. In the regular world, the music is a little goofy and silly, but when you descend into the crypts, it becomes a wholly different experience. Music and sounds become part of the same ambiance, working to creep you out and make you feel the impending danger. Granted, sometimes there are strange noises, like when you get hit by an attack, a strange, splattery, fart noise plays. It almost feels like the game wants to have a certain sense of humor about itself, but it mostly comes off as a compelling adventure story about a boy and his torch.
Personally, I cannot wait for this game to come out, but that is a situation that is even on the rocks, given that it is on Indie Go Go. If The Courier of the Crypts seems at all interesting to you, I implore you: visit the campaign site and consider contributing! Also check out the game on Steam Greenlight so that they can get approved there as well. It will be a great game when all is said and done. If you want to preview the game yourself, you can also download a preview at the Indie Go Go campaign, on itch.io or at Emberheart Games’ website! The game’s creator, Primoz Vovk, said in an interview with BetaWaveRadio that the game was invented for a Ludum Dare submission where the theme was “it’s dangerous to go alone, take this.” This creative idea really took that notion of what to take to a strange level and made it work really really well. I am more excited about this game than anything else on Indie Go Go at this particular moment, and Emberheart Games has a solid title that will end up with gamers for years to come, if we can help make it happen.