Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness wants to give you the world when it should have stayed closer to home.
There are definitely things to love about Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness. This point-and-click adventure starts off on the right foot by casting you as private detective Lone Carter. Yes, with a name like that you’d think your average Lovecraftian terror would be too busy laughing to drive him to the brink of madness.
But, as recapped from the previous Chronicle of Innsmouth (though you don’t lose anything by not playing it first), he’s had a close encounter that’s left him a little altered. His mind’s intact, but his body is in danger of doing something really quite unpleasant. Right away, Mountains of Madness has thrown the stupidity factor out of the window; you can’t berate your character for making bad decisions, for poking slimy things with a stick; it’s literally life or death. The characters you team up with, too, are an appealingly off-kilter pair; it’s like you’re on some Lovecraftian road trip.
Mountains of Madness isn’t outright terrifying, but it will shock you on a couple of occasions. I’m not sure whether the developers realised it was scarier to leave Lovecraft’s beasties to your imagination, or whether it was down to budget issues, but there’s an unsettling atmosphere to several of the locations. Near the end the Lovecraftian references get a bit gratuitous but the game mostly avoids overdoing the lore.
The puzzles? They’re a bit of a mixed bag. Some are perfectly pitched, but there are a few that are downright infuriating. One had me scratching my head to the point where I needed to look up the answer, not because it was beyond my mathematical capabilities but because the information you were given is unclear. There’s a real missed opportunity here; it’d have been great to be able to turn to my companion for a hint, but all he did was tell me to look at the same panel I’d already opened, which only dialled up the frustration.
But what really undermines Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness’ appeal is that it overreaches itself. It was produced with Kickstarter backing to the tune of £12,000, which is an admirable achievement. But, having already put Mountains of Madness in the title, the game takes you all over the world. You even play as H.P. Lovecraft at one point, which seems wholly unnecessary and adds nothing to the story.
So, just when you’re getting used to the town of Arkham’s eerie appeal, you’re whisked off the the titular mountains, or thrown back in time to Arabia. But instead of these places really being shown off, you’re given big screens of white text, describing what happens when Lone and friends get there. Yes, showing Lovecraftian beasties can be a bad idea, but we’re not talking about monsters here; these are less complicated transitions.
Speaking of low budget, it seems like some of the voice work has been supplied by friends or partners of the developers which has very mixed results. Lone and his companions sound fine, but one of the other significant characters sound like they’re reading their shopping lists. The sound quality varies too; the receptionist at the asylum delivers a decent performance but it sounds like she’s speaking into a bucket. Mountains of Madness apes adventure games of the 80s and early 90s so it would have been entirely acceptable to drop speech altogether; I ended up turning it off and sticking with subtitles.
Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness isn’t a long game (tricky puzzles notwithstanding) and you can complete it under five hours. So it’s all the more baffling that the creators decided to globetrot; most of H.P. Lovecraft’s best stories are smaller, more intimate affairs. Mountains of Madness tries to cram too much in, on too low a budget, and suffers as a result.
If you’re a fan of 90s adventure games, or a fan of Lovecraft, and are willing to push through Mountains of Madness’ more taxing puzzles, you’ll get a kick out of it. The ending is a satisfying one that sets up a sequel without leaving you hanging. It’s just a shame that the game tries to stretch itself a little too far. As is, Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness is an interesting achievement, just not a great one.
Chronicle of Innsmouth: Mountains of Madness Review: GameSpew’s Score