Review: Disturbed: Beyond Aramor
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It always seems a little strange to take pleasure in a game that delights in killing you. Most of the time, dying in games is intensely frustrating but some titles make it part of the fun, like Spelunky does so effectively. Disturbed is from that ancient class of point-and-click adventures, the ones that gleefully murder you out of spite. But unlike those teeth-gritting tales of yore, this one is designed with death in mind. It’s an excellent compliment to the grim tone and fatalist themes, so if you’re okay meeting your demise at regular intervals, sometimes to advance the plot even, this one promises to be quite the ride.
Mild-mannered Gabriel has been banished from the land of Aramor to the tiny isle of Greyrock for reasons he cannot recall. Life there is harsh but simple, toiling away at growing the simplest of crops and drowning one’s sorrows in drink. All that changes when the armored ones come for him, hulking constructs that snatch Gabriel away and deposit him on a mysterious, forested island. Something is amiss in these dark lands, and it’s possible Gabriel is the only one who can stop it. It’s also possible his past is going to catch up to him in some very ugly ways, ways that could put him on the wrong side of an entire kingdom.
Disturbed: Beyond Aramor builds on the morose mythos started in Disturbed, but playing that one isn’t essential to understanding the story here (it is free, though). Aramor and the surrounding lands are steeped in a pitch-black shade of fantasy, where ghosts can extinguish lives with a touch and even the smallest beasts can turn your insides into outsides. Your travels will take you to ruined villages, abandoned camps, overgrown graveyards, and far worse places in search of the clues needed to address at least some of the awful things going on in the world.
A big part of the grim atmosphere is how easy it is to die, a feature carried over from the previous Disturbed. As a point-and-click game you’ll shuffle from scene to scene, checking points of interest and absorbing items to be automatically used when needed. But sometimes you’ll click on a tuft of grass only to have a poisonous snake lunge out and kill you. Or you’ll sit down to fish and a sea serpent will devour you. Or you’ll lay down in bed and awaken to a sword through your sternum. Even the simplest interactions can lead to an untimely demise, but this time you don’t have to lean so hard on the save system to get around it. Death is a mysterious part of Gabriel’s life, taking him to a barren place with more clues and options to explore with each expiry. Perishing resets the game back to the start, but the wealth of options you have there, coupled with the handy skip function, means each death provides new opportunities that won’t take long to explore.
That’s really what’s so great about this sequel, that it expands the basic gameplay of the first in new and creative ways. There’s even a completely alternate start you get if you die enough times! Your inventory is expanded to include currency to spend and different weapons to use in battles, which are pretty interesting text-based affairs. The world is significantly larger than before, offering all sorts of new and exciting places to die. Even the writing itself has been punched up, complete with some seriously emotional descriptions of imprisonment and executions that you might want to be ready for. I did mention this game is grim, didn’t I?
Disturbed was a fine attempt at a different, darker sort of adventure, and Beyond Aramor refines that attempt into a full-featured experience. The graphics evoke that distant, hollow feel with their monochrome wastelands, and the sound effects are just there enough to make the world feel real. If I had to complain about something it would be how the different scenes are connected, as the game doesn’t really tell you which way you entered from, but I’ve gotten quite used to that after the first hour or two. I don’t yet know what it’s going to take to save the land from the armored ones, but so far it seems to take a lot of my blood and a lot of innocent sacrifices. If you’ve got the stomach for that, you’ll find a solid, sprawling adventure here to mope your way through.