Larva Mortus ReviewJoe Shaffer
High atop a dark hill stood Rake in Grass's home office, where a devilish experiment once took place. Within their grasp were the classic games Doom and Rogue, both sawed in half and awaiting further diablerie. With crude stitching, some electricity and a maniacal laugh, the developers concocted a chimeric creation that promised to entertain, challenge and frighten: Larva Mortus, a wicked fusion of shooter and dungeon crawler.
Can't wrap your mind around such a combo? Imagine Doom-like action in which you fend off simple enemies that crowd you, ripping relentlessly at your flesh as if you were a buffet with legs. Take such madness and confine it within a cramped room, one of many in a randomized dungeon, and give it an overhead view rather than a first-person perspective. Now, to complete the Larva Mortus experience, toss in copious amounts of bloodshed and hordes of sinister creatures.
To compete with the myriad giant spiders, packs of werewolves, and cluster upon cluster of demons and undead fiends this game throws at you, you'll need serious firepower. Spread throughout each deep mineshaft, demonic temple, and abandoned locale are such tools of destruction. You'll snag shotguns, for instance; perfect for cutting loose shattered shots into the frames of would-be man-killers. When crowds become too rowdy, you can lob a few grenades and reduce the survivors to cinders with a flamethrower. Such weapons, though, lack a certain "bang" that only bazookas provide. Yes, you'll find a few of those too, as well as flaming crossbows, revolvers, and mini-guns for added variety.
Every pest exterminated and room cleared nets you experience. This follows familiar logic:
Kill monsters----> Gain experience ----> Gain levels ----> Increase stats ----> Kill more efficiently ----> Become sexier in real life
As a fan of simple games, I fell in love with this mixture of classics. Rogue's perspective meshed amazingly well with Doom's sense of firepower, creating an awesome marriage of streamlined violence. With an overhead view, I could see every horror coming my way. Thanks to a ridiculous artillery and realtime combat, I made said horrors hit the ground in no time. That meant seeing my experience meter fill up quickly, which allowed me to craft an even more badass character in a short period of time. As you can imagine, that led to further demon slaying, more leveling up, and a sharp increase in psychotic laughter filling my living room. Suffice to say that my first few hours with Larva Mortus were filled with vicious joy, and I thought my bloodlust would remain unyielding until the end.
I'm sure you can see the big ugly "but" coming a mile away. That's probably because you've had a similar experience, where you fell in love with a game only to become totally burned out by it a few days later. I'm also betting you scrolled to the bottom and glanced at the review's rating before reading it. As you know, no game rated a 5/10 comes with gushing praise unless there's a catch.
The main thing that killed my interest was the level design. It wasn't merely that stages were randomized that dulled my enjoyment, but that they were bland. In an attempt to maintain freshness, the game introduced various traps and new enemies every so often. Unfortunately, new perils appear so infrequently that you'll go several dungeons before seeing a unfamiliar menace. On top of that, there's nothing special about each dungeon's design. Every one of them is a collection of interconnected rooms with no rhyme or reason. As such, none of them display even a tiny amount of complexity in terms of design, which would have been welcome despite the simple core mechanics. In other words you'll encounter dozens of rooms filled with familiar threats, making up a basic dungeon that plays like every one before it. Larva Mortus becomes repetitive and stale because of this.
The developers tried to combat this by turning up the difficulty as you gain levels, which is reasonable. Unfortunately, since the game fails to maintain a player's interest past the halfway point, the jaw-breaking difficulty serves more to frustrate than entertain. While beasts become tougher, faster and more numerous, the game remains boring. It maintains its repetition while stomping you into the ground, sometimes before you can really get into a stage. After a few such occasions, you'll find yourself saying, "Screw this!" and booting up a more enticing piece.
Larva Mortus is yet another case of a solid idea that was poorly executed. Its core concepts are the skeleton for a great, simple action title, but the game fails to expand on said concepts as the player advances.
It presents the one problem I have with many modern dungeon crawlers. Far too many of them show off all of their best features too early and leave no surprises for later. The result is always the same: solid start, weak latter act. Anyone looking to develop a dungeon crawler in the future would do well to make note of this. Never falter in your quest to surprise or amaze your audience. To do otherwise is to invite tedium, causing your creation to turn sour when it shouldn't.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.