H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos gets another yet video game treatment in The Shore, a survival-horror adventure for PC. Essentially a one-man labour of love – from Greek developer Ares Dragonis, and his small team – there’s no ignoring the presence of idiosyncrasies and niggles that mark a small-scale indie effort. However, this little five-hour game succeeds where the vast majority of other Lovecraftian games have failed, in how it stirs up a breath-taking sense of the scale and cosmic otherness of the writer’s beloved universe.
In terms of story, The Shore centres on Andrew, a fisherman distraught over losing his daughter at sea. Prepared to do whatever it takes to get his child back, our hero ventures off to a peculiar timeless island, which brings him into contact with dark alien deities – who promise to help him, for a price. Will Andrew make a pact with treacherous Great Old Ones and Outer Gods for the supposed return of his daughter? At the same time, is his will strong enough to protect him from the strains these entities place on his sanity?
In telling its tale, The Shore is essentially two games intertwined. The first is a moody first-person adventure reminiscent of Myst, where the emphasis is on quiet exploration. The second is straight-up survival horror, with a primary mechanic of fighting off and fleeing monsters.
In both instances, the game is massively successful in creating a sense of atmosphere that sucks you in. Gameplay-wise, though, the dual experiences are not quite as successful, or equally satisfying.
Generally, the most polished part of The Shore is its adventure component, where you roam the eerie titular shoreline, strewn with wreckage, skeletons and messages in a bottle. The latter helps you piece together what happened to previous sailors and scientists stranded on the island. The effect is unsettling, and with a battered lighthouse looming over proceedings, this part of the game is strongly reminiscent of sci-fi film Annihilation, and its final scenes.
The Shore is at its strongest as an ominous walking simulator. The sightings of giant gods and monsters under the island’s grey skies are cinematic and spectacular – further elevated by a stirring score. Even when you’ve already glimpsed them in the game trailer (The Shore is extremely short, after all), there’s little loss of impact when you reach these moments during play. There’s also a really nice design choice where your growing item inventory takes the form of a makeshift display.
The only real downside of The Shore as an adventure game is that its puzzle component is so lacking in challenge it can be barely said to exist. This is the complete opposite of Call of the Sea, that other recent Cthulhu island adventure, which often frustrated with its obtuse challenges. In The Shore, almost no thinking is required. Puzzle solving is largely limited to ensuring you activate all the components, match some patterns, and look for a missing key nearby. Easy.
You’re unlikely to be stalled by any puzzle in The Shore, but you will probably find your playthrough extended by survival horror demands, which dominate the final two-thirds of the game. As The Shore progresses, Andrew is transported to alternate planes of existence, and although our weary-voiced protagonist is armed for combat in these realms, few of the nightmare inhabitants can be defeated. Generally, the most you can hope for is stunning them, and stalling for time while you sprint through a maze of tentacled tunnels.
Some chase sequences achieve their sweaty-palmed objectives, and the game’s final battle strikes that perfect balance between challenging to play and satisfying to beat. Other stages, however, when you’ve replayed them for the tenth time or so, are more frustrating than enjoyable. You start to hope that enemies get stuck in tight environments, which they do frequently.
It’s a pity that you start to dread (and not in a fun way) The Shore’s surreal extra-terrestrial dimensions because again, the game is a visual feast. It’s clearly been lovingly made, with incredible attention to detail applied to its world design. No two stages are the same. But whether pulsing fleshy body horror, blackened genocidal planes, austere landscapes reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien and Prometheus, or towering alien structures used as thrones by enigmatic gods, the level design drives home a sense of man’s insignificance and impotence in this universe.
The Shore is the first Cthulhu Mythos game adaptation (that I’ve encountered) that steers clear of sanity-challenged pulp detectives, frog-faced locals, and mad cultists – the more terrestrial, human side of Lovecraft’s work. Instead, the horror adventure plunges deep into Lovecraft’s literary philosophy of Cosmicism, piling on visuals that emphasise the unfathomable, infinite nature of existence beyond our perceived reality. The appearance of multiple “rockstar” deities from the Cthulhu Mythos, such as Dagon, Azathoth, and Cthulhu himself, is a further selling point.
The Shore may be rough around the edges in a number of departments, including the quality of vocal performances, and a story that just sort of ends without resolution. The game is so powerful a visual and atmospheric experience, though, that the flaws are worth overlooking. Given the way it absolutely nails its striking depiction of the Cthulhu Mythos, The Shore is recommended, especially for Lovecraftian horror fans. It’s a dark indie pearl worth a five-hour dive.
The Shore is out now for PC. It features full controller, as well as mouse and keyboard, support.
Last Updated: February 21, 2021