At the mountains of madness.
“That which you perceive is what forms your reality”—that’s bad news for un-acclimated mountain climbers starting to hallucinate, but somewhat better news for Wii owners looking for something outside the console’s reputation for the casual, the ‘family-friendly’, or the generally candy-colored. Cursed Mountain is a survival-horror adventure from Deep Silver Vienna (started by the founders of Rockstar Vienna, no less) that tackles the considerable challenge of presenting a horror-game experience in environments that are largely the opposite of those which would normally be expected—sprawling, open, cold, several thousand feet above sea-level, with line-of-sight to the next distant objective as often as not, rather than constantly enclosed in dark, oft-underground environs.
[image1]Set in the 1980s, Cursed Mountain makes its home in a partially-fictionalized Himalayan setting, awash in meticulously-presented Tibetan folklore and mysticism. Players take the role of thirty-forty-something Eric Simmons, a Scottish mountaineer searching for his younger brother, who climbed a Himalayan peak name Chomolonzo… and never returned. The hazards of extreme mountain-climbing, from digits freezing and falling off, to having fun, high-altitude cerebral edema-intensive things happen to your brain tissue—just before you start to hallucinate, vomit and croak, more or less in that order—can be very bad news on their own, of course. But throw in a little good old-fashioned spiritual unrest and where-men-ought-not-to-tread action, and things can get nastier. Much nastier.
Mechanically, Cursed Mountain largely functions like any familiar follow-cam, third-person adventure, with some behind-the-shoulder zoom-ins when it comes time to start fighting. Eric’s single melee weapon is a pick-axe that formerly belonged to his younger brother on his possibly-doomed expedition climbing the mountain. Whatever he did or failed to do up there, the entire mountain is now apparently and egregiously cursed, while superstitious locals have deserted its monasteries and villages. The pick-axe can be used for melee attacks against the restless souls of Bardo—the limbo-like ‘intermediate state’ wherein the player stumbles across the trapped, wandering souls that cannot "move on"… at least not without your help. You’ll recognize the Bardo realm when you see it, in part because the games’s ever-present snowflakes are black… and seem to be falling upwards. That’s never a good sign.
Another method of
fighting releasing the angry mountain’s many zombies ghosts is by using a number of special Buddhist artifacts. Get in enough normal, successful melee strikes on a ghost, and you’ll see a red glowing sigil on their bodies. You know there has to be some Wii-waggle functionality somewhere, and here it is: Point at the sigil and hit the A button, and the screen will display a series of icons indicating the ritualistic motions that must be made with the Wii controllers—a forward-thrust of the hands, a left-to-right swipe.
[image2]Pull off the set of ritualistic gestures successfully and you’ll ‘free’ the spirit, eliminate it from the metaphysical battlefield, and even gain back some health. Blow it, and you’ll have to start the ritual again, getting attacked all the while. Enemies apparently include not only the spirits of the dead who roamed the mountains from way-back, but even those of more recent adventurers such as your brother (or presumably, if you’re not careful, yourself).
Cursed Mountain‘s environs are carefully structured, so as to reinforce the literal and spiritual notion of ‘ascending the path’. As Simmons makes his way farther up the mountain, he will often have a clear line of sight to the next—or even the next several—distant goals, such as an imposing monastery perched precariously up the mountainside (contrariwise, once you’ve attained that goal, you’ll be able to look down and see from where you’ve trekked).
Like other Deep Silver projects, Cursed Mountain is all about the meticulously-presented, well-researched little details and the evident commitment to maintaining atmosphere, mood, and suspension of disbelief. The overall setting has a kind of admirable ‘oneness’ to it (no small bonus in a game steeped in Tibetan/Buddhist lore): the alienated feeling of the Western outsider in an isolated culture; the increasing hostility of the ever-higher natural environs themselves and the ever-stranger intrusions of and into the spiritual realm; and the failings of the earthly in the face of the ethereal unknown. That 1980s setting was no mistake, either—no snazzy GPS tech to fall back on, hence no real-time mapping… or map of any kind, for that matter.
[image3]Other little scattered details—the squawking of radio transmissions coming over the Wiimote’s tinny speaker, the ominous ambient chants of monks and the tinkling of chimes in the soundtrack, the gruff, almost exhausted voice-work of Eric Simmons and the shuffling of his mountain-climbing gear as he ascends the haunted summit—make this one look like a quality production. And certainly well outside the predictable ranks of friendly, fluffy Wii titles out there.
One last bit (and even if you don’t personally buy it, it goes to show how seriously the designers are following their vision): Deep Silver makes note of the ‘stance’—the very bodily position—that gamers typically assume when playing horror games. How does one usually play a scary game in the dark? By sitting hunched over, hands clamped to both sides the controller, arms in an automatically defensive posture. The nature of some of the ritualistic-gesture combat, they contend, automatically obliges players to keep themselves in a vulnerable posture—whether or not they consciously register that fact. (New Age-flavored bullshit or not, I have a grudging admiration for designers who even consider such low-level, casino-theory, under-the-radar approaches).
Cursed Mountain is slated to hit the treacherous mountainside slopes by September, bringing some snow-flurried, M-rated mystical scares down to the Wii’s usually-temperate tree-line (no sense needlessly competing with the October release of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories—the Deep Silver folks are down-to-earth on that point, to be sure). Check in with Base Camp GR for a full review… and if you meet the Buddha on the road on the way up, beer him!