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Sometimes you really want to believe a game is good. Maybe it has a particular look, maybe it has a great hook, or maybe you just want to see an indie succeed out there in the big, scary world. Eleusis was just such a game for me, rising out of the mire of Amnesia clones years ago to offer something new and exciting and maybe even complimentary to the horror walking sim that launched a thousand Unity projects. It bore a haunting style, a mysterious story steeped in folklore, and a promised mix of exploration and frights. At last, years after my fascination with this tiny indie title began, I have finally played it and discovered that hope is indeed a lie.
You play some guy summoned to his childhood village in Greece, but that hardly matters because it’s just an excuse to get you to a scary place and you KNOW it wasn’t his mom that sent for him. On arrival you find the place dark and spooky (you specifically arrived at night to avoid traffic out on all those rural Greek roads, y’know) and begin searching for answers. The village is nestled up in the mountains with some equally spooky graveyards and cliffs and temples to search, all with their own parts in the overall mystery. What you find, then, is a woman in peril, a hooded figure at work in the shadows, and lots and lots and lots of item fetching to do.
This is absolutely a walking simulator inspired by Amnesia: The Dark Descent, all the way down to the trusty lantern and the grasping hand icon moving objects in the world. Eleusis features an open map to explore rather than discrete areas, however, and so to gate off progression in the village the developers used literal gates. Your first hour with the game is going to be scouring the cottages for keys to other cottages, eventually gathering enough items to reach the more exotic cottages to get the more exotic keys. The story isn’t really going to kick in until you get to the text dump textbooks at the mayor’s house, and those are just going to give you a more expansive scavenger hunt to work on than the breadcrumb trail that led you there.
Since the game lacks achievements, I’m terribly curious how many players ever made it that far. Eleusis has a severe flaw in that your objective at any given time is painfully hidden. Your journal helpfully fills in what task you’re on but it’s always going to be finding something, and those somethings are almost never clearly visible. Key items rarely look like key items, like the one sack of special grain in the room full of sacks or the one bottle in a house full of bottles that is an inventory item and not a world item. I imagine the first puzzle in the game will stump most people, wherein you need to grab a bit of hose from a tiny faucet by some stairs and a gas can floating in the middle of a river to siphon fuel out of a Vespa tucked away on the far side of the village.
If you intend on getting through Eleusis, get a walkthrough ready unless you’re willing to traipse back and forth over the expansive map just to experiment and click on everything. Some solutions are needlessly complicated and illogical, like how you have to take items from the mayor’s house to the blacksmith to use them on each other to make a lockpick for the mayor’s house. And then there’s a fetch quest near the end of the game where you have to find items buried in the ground at distant points in the world, with essentially no visual cues for where they are. The game is lousy with puzzles that feel like they were never tested with actual players, instead being tuned to challenge the people who themselves designed them.
Ostensibly this is a horror game, and the atmosphere isn’t bad at all on its own. The Greek countryside is dark and moody, with moonlight streaming in between ferns and bushes rustling at the worst times. Darkened doorways feel like they could hide anything, and you never feel quite safe until you meet the other inhabitants of the village. Eleusis apparently didn’t ship with enemies but they were added in later as an optional toggle, and it shows. There are two, with the first one being a hooded figure who wanders the roads in search of you and can be easily spotted and avoided. The second is a wolf who spawns right on you after certain cutscenes, requiring you to escape across the countryside or chuck rocks at him until he gives up. Escape is always the better option as the throwing mechanics are pretty fiddly, but the last time I had to deal with him I got stuck in some terrain geometry and had to reset the encounter. Whee.
I wanted to like this one, I really did. I like the way it looks, I like the simple premise, and I’ve seen the ending and it’s got a neat little theme to it. Greek mythology figures in a little here but in an effective way and the environments are great for setting the right mood. Unfortunately, all that’s done with this promise is an interminable fetch quest and some awkward, uninteresting encounters. More than anything Eleusis is boring, the one thing a horror game should never be. There’s no amount of benefit I can give this one that would make it a recommendation, because anyone who plays it is going to either be bored or frustrated to death by the end.