Lamentum is a pixel-art survival horror game developed by Obscure Tales and published by Neon Doctrine. Neon Doctrine provided me with a steam key for this review.
Our tale begins in mid-19th century New England with Victor Hartwell, a well-to-do aristocrat whose wife, Alissa, is in ailing health. Desperate to find a cure for her mysterious disease, Victor and Alissa seek out Grau Hill manor, home of an Earl who claims to have the cure for Alissa’s disease. However, Victor soon learns that the cure comes at a dark price, one that might just cost him his life. Now Victor must find Alissa and escape the horrors of the mansion together.
First off this game is dark, and I mean really DARK! The game carries a heavy Lovecraftian tone from the Victorian gothic setting, to the depictions of eldritch Cthulhu-esque creatures. Early on the creatures you come across seem straightforward, zombie-esque and all tentacle-covered, but as the game progresses they become much more twisted and grotesque. Blood, gore, scares and heavy horror elements are aplenty here. This game, even being 2D and pixelated, is not for the frail at heart.
Lamentum doesn’t shy away from being open about it’s inspirations. The game is very much a love letter to the survival horror genre of the Playstation 1 days, particularly Resident Evil and Silent Hill. It incorporates a save system not unlike that of Resident Evil 1 -3, relying on ink wells to record game progress in journals located in safe rooms. Speaking of safe rooms, the music used in them is very similar to the safe room music from Resident Evil 3, a inspirational choice that I appreciated.
Items in a room will also sparkle if you can pick them up or interact. The inventory system is comparable with nine spots for Victor to fill with ammunition, weapons, health items, and key items. Figuring out which key items are needed where and problem solving are vital to making progress in Lamentum.
The influences of Silent Hill are also quite apparent. Without delving too much into spoiler territory the setting of Lamentum is a bit comparable to SH with the game world being split into two alternate realms overlapping with each other. A regular chilling monster-infested world, and a hellscape realm that overlaps it with way more grotesque demonic creatures. The combat is very reminiscent of early SH games where using firearms is more of a luxury while dirtying your hands with melee weapons makes up the majority of enemy encounters.
Sometimes you’ll be overwhelmed by enemies and forced to make a hasty retreat rather than standing your ground. Timing, placement, and patience in combat will reward you with being able to escape most fights unscathed.
Enemies don’t drop anything so not every fight is necessary, especially in areas you won’t return to. Ammo, health items, and ink wells are well distributed throughout the manor, but not so much that you can afford to be reckless. In my playthrough of the game I always had just enough of any given item to keep me nervous of the next encounter.
The core gameplay loop of Lamentum revolves around exploration, puzzle-solving, figuring out which key items to keep with you, and reading journal entries for clues on progression or world-building lore. The isolation and macabre-nature of the game makes you appreciate the times when you do encounter other human npcs if only because it makes you feel a little less alone. Boss fights, for the most part, involve Victor simply out-running them or interacting with the environment in some way to put an end to hostilities.
The top three items in your inventory are hot-keyed, so moving your most frequently used items to the top three spots is highly recommended.
The music and sound design are fantastic and used well. Areas in the game are sometimes silent with only the sounds of Victor’s steps, making the moments when music is used stand out. There are times when sobbing, screams, and heavy breathing are used to escalate the tension and it works remarkably well when utilized. At one point I stopped using headphones entirely because I felt very uneasy while playing.
There are also multiple endings to the game. I got a bitter-sweet ending on my first playthrough and had a lot of leftover unused key items, so I know I missed certain areas or puzzle solutions. I look forward to going back to try different outcomes.
Lamentum is loads of fun, but there are times where its faithfulness to old school design conventions hamper the experience. When dying to a boss it’s a bit annoying to have to start back at your last save point and have to go through the whole thing without being able to skip dialog. Auto-save would go against the spirit of the game, but sitting through unskippable dialog or cutscenes in 2021 is a strange design choice.
It is possible to also be stun-locked in situations where multiple enemies are on screen. A handful of times I have been interrupted in attacking by enemies that attack quickly with little cool-down in between. I’m more willing to attribute this to my playing style, but sometimes it feels unavoidable. Other than that there is very little to not like about the game. I played the PC version of the game and went back and forth between mouse/keyboard and using a PlayStation 4 controller. I found my experience using a controller to be a bit tighter and smoother, but I may be biased as most of my gaming is done on console.
Overall Lamentum is a well crafted and loving homage to the survival-horror genre as a whole! With plenty of replay value, a terrific atmosphere, and thrilling gameplay it will surely go down as a classic title of the genre.
Lamentum releases August 31st for Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One.