Montague’s Mount is Dear Esther’s dark, broken doppelganger.
An amnesiac awakens on an island and embarks on that Quest of all quests, self-discovery. The man’s vision shifts between dreary blacks and greys to more natural, yet still grainy and pale, color as he attempts to navigate the world around him. He slightly interacts with the objects in his view. He lifts the clasp on a gate, perhaps, and watches it slowly open or combines an object with another in what someone watching him might call a puzzle. He encounters the disembodied laughter of children, mysterious photographs, and a title card with a quote from… Guy de Maupassant?
If Montague’s Mount is about entering the mind of another, the developers have an odd sense of immersion. If the developers meant to create a game with the haunting quality of Dear Esther the slightly interactive short film, they have a bizarre standard of functional gameplay. The atmosphere so desperately grasped at with all the gloom, cheap visual effects, and doomful sights might give a few gamers the chills, but they’ll be hard pressed to navigate the jungle of bugs and glitches to discover what all the creepiness is about.
Broken immersion: The game has just begun. My character is clearly confused, his vision blurred, and his legs hurt. I stumble about a beach strewn with broken records and crates. I walk to a fence and find a note pinned to a post. It’s a tutorial that tells me to search for a walking stick. I try opening the gate and a large message appears on the screen to tell me I have yet to complete a task. I can’t move on.
Broken gameplay: I exit a cavern after an oddly lengthy cutscene that lingers melodramatically on photographs of children. I pick up the fragment of a stone panel and continue down the beach. A metal fence blocks my path. There’s no way out. I return to an older checkpoint, but the game hasn’t saved my progress since before the cutscene.
I understand the limitations of a tiny studio, but I can’t think of a reason to release a game in this state. Perhaps this is a failure of empathy or lack of imagination on my part. To the creator’s credit, Montague’s Mount is the only game set in Ireland I can think of and perhaps the only one to use the Irish language. The story is also based on a true story, which could have given the tale an extra dimension of eeriness, but it’s poorly delivered and thematically uninteresting. Furthermore, only about a third of the story is revealed by the end of the game, making the struggle to get there all the less satisfying.
Broken immersion: I open a door and a message appears on the screen in massive white text to tell me that the door is opening.
Broken gameplay: A ghost object in my inventory prevents me from picking up the item I need to progress because the inventory limit is five. I have to go back to a previous save, which happens to be farther back than I wish. I restart. I watch a cutscene for the third time. The ghost object is still there.
Although the sound design is competent, as is the voice acting (TV actor Derek Riddell’s delivery so closely mirrors that of the Dear Esther narrator’s), there’s nothing frightening or even creepy about broken records laying on the ground, which are described by the game as “someone’s memories,” or anonymous darkness interrupted by blundering white text. Backtracking during tedious puzzles or hunting in the shadows for an object is neither fun nor scary. Frustration is a barrier to fright.
Broken immersion: I earn an achievement and a message appears on the screen in massive white text to tell me what I achieved. I take a few more steps and the screen goes black. A quotation appears: some intellectually uninteresting musing on mental illness.
Broken gameplay: A puzzle with multiple parts, signs, signals, backtracking. I minimize the game and search for a walkthrough.
Not even a patch can save Montague’s Mount, but that would at least make the game playable in the way it’s meant to be played and not by juggling save states and guessing at checkpoints. Some gamers might find the atmosphere compelling enough to warrant a playthrough of the game’s brief storyline, but I did not. The hackneyed premise, nauseating visuals, and boring puzzles and non-puzzles (a safe’s combination placed in a drawer below the safe) make Montague’s Mount impossible to recommend. I appreciate the intent behind the game, which certainly isn’t simply to make money, but I have to suggest that the rest of this story be told in a different medium.