Review: Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh

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I held out hope that Saibot Studios would eventually hit upon a working horror formula by the end of the Doorways series. Prelude (from what I had seen) was a lot of wandering with very little happening, and Underworld had some ungainly monsters crammed into cramped halls and tiresome puzzles. There were hints of greatness hiding in the atmosphere and sound design though, which helped birth the hope that this one might be the one that finally gets it right. And while Holy Mountains of Flesh is the richest and most polished entry of the series, it’s still only halfway again towards being a solid horror game.

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Those ooey-gooey peaks promised in the title surround a remote mountain town in Mexico, home of an infamous and reclusive serial killer. You won’t be exploring the real thing of course, instead delving directly into the mind of the villain himself to subdue and apprehend him… somehow. That means the village you explore is floating in a hellish, DOOM-like void of crimson clouds and ominous lightning. Your goal lies in a temple devoted to the Saint of Flesh, a lamprey-faced thing who seems set as the main antagonist of the series here, despite never being seen before this installment.

I’m talking around the plot a bit because it’s mostly absent within the game, despite the claims of “complex story” on the store page. You’re free to wander the village between trips to the few key locations you must explore, but you’ll find little of substance in the desolate, poorly-modeled shacks. Sometimes you’ll get a funky visual effect accompanying an audio flashback to someone coughing or arguing, nothing that actually advances the plot in any way. Your protagonist is also far quieter in this game, refusing to utter exclamations at every turn like he did in Underworld and just voicing the rare notes scattered about.

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That’s how hollow this game feels, that even the perfunctory notes seem rare! There’s not much more to look forward to in the major locations of the game either, just a handful of notes and simple puzzles. I admit they’re more creative than the awful valve mazes of Underworld, but not by a whole lot. In the school, for example, you have to stay in well-lit areas lest a spindly, invisible zombie man pounce from nowhere and eat your face. In practice this will mean pushing around carts of boxes and TVs, flipping light switches, and eventually making an over-complicated coolant mixture for the generator. All this is to get a ceremonial dagger, along with maybe half a dozen notes and one single collectible if you think to retrace your steps a bunch at the end.

In many ways, Holy Mountains of Flesh feels like a step backwards from Underworld despite having more actual gameplay. I admit the floating village looks neat but is so well-lit and nonthreatening that the game loses a lot of the oppressive atmosphere that worked so well for the previous title. The monsters too are less frightening, limited to more or less stationary beings that unceremoniously grab you and kill you if you get their gimmick wrong. And while the poor environment design wasn’t a huge knock against the tunnels and pits of Underworld, here they hugely limit the experience. Buildings simply look wrong (and not in the good horror way), like setpieces not meant to be lived in or used for anything more than scenery.

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Even if you appreciate the barren environs and shallow puzzles here, it’s going to last you three hours at most. There are only three key areas, and I’ll remind you that wandering the village gets you almost nothing of note. You’ll find no shortage of better (and longer) horror adventures out there, more than enough to keep you out of this lackluster series. I almost hate to see it end like this, with progress towards a legitimately good horror game ending before arriving, but there’s no avoiding it. Holy Mountains of Flesh is an appropriate end to the Doorways saga, another attempt at atmospheric horror that never really gets fleshed out.

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