We all live in a Doomed Submarine: TALES FROM THE VOID
I have a theory about why, in recent gaming memory, I've seen the mixture of Victorian era Britain and Lovecraftian mythos combined to great effect. It's worth pointing out that, though Lovecraft was undoubtedly a White Supremacist who greatly admired British culture (to the detriment of almost all others), he himself was American, wrote works based in America, and was writing in the Interwar period. Yet very often we see the tentacled horrors and mad gods of Cthulhu and Hastur and all the rest transplanted in time and space (how appropriate) to Victorian England. Why?
As a roundabout way of answering that, one should first understand that a key theme in Lovecraft's fiction is the sensation of helplessness before a universe that is far, far deeper and more mysterious than anything dreamt of in our civilization. Taking this somewhat nihilistic point of view, even the mightiest of mankind's pitiful nations is but a speck in the galactic continuum. And what better nation to poke fun at than the British Empire of Victoria?
For indeed, that is the tone of games like Tales from The Void. Less dire stakes, more taking the piss out of tea time, prim and proper behaviour and god and country. There's something immensely satisfying about watching staunch British stoicism slam up against a crashing wave of cosmic madness.
Tales from the Void is a squad-based RTS game from Danish indie developer Porta Play. The plot is pure pulp at its best: in June of 1916, a British submarine, HMS E18, is equipped with an experimental weapon that will supposedly end the war with Germany in one swift stroke. Upon activation of the weapon, however, the submarine and her crew are mysteriously transported to what appears to be an asteroid field in outer space. Donning diving suits, the crew sets out to explore their surroundings to try to find a way home. From there, you must carefully manage your food and air while conducting missions to retrieve supplies and tools. Unfortunately, your progress is made all the more difficult by the presence of bizarre alien creatures who see your brave marines as little more than an afternoon snack.
As captain of the ship, you control a squad of varying size to every detail. You assign and equip individual soldiers and manage their movements individually, with some limited AI commands (i.e. follow a specific soldier, aim fire at a location, etc.). The missions take place in a 3-dimensional environment, with a third person perspective centered around the soldier you're currently controlling. The environment has an odd medium between outer space and walking on the ocean floor. Projectiles, for instance, move quite sluggishly, as do your men, and gravity, though constant, is murky and slow. This bears mentioning, because one of the chief ways your soldiers will expire is from falling off the edges of the asteroids. This is kind of a pain, because the pathfinding AI isn't always great, and though you can literally draw out a path of movement, doing so for 5 soldiers can be annoyingly complex. On more than one occasion I flicked between members of the squad, only to vaguely hear a soldier slithering to his untimely death, the victim of clumsiness and nothing more.
Indeed, many of the enemies you encounter aren't too tough on their own, but instead rely on knockback attacks to send your men over the edge. There are even non-moving hazards that serve as obstacles which, if they existed in real life, would be easily avoidable, but because of the awkward movements of your men, are suddenly devastating doom inflicters. The game does try to compensate for these shortcomings with a great hint system, dropping clues in briefings and in-mission messages from characters. Still though, I can't help feeling that these boys may have had one too many tots of rum to be swaying about the way they do.
Yet despite these shortcomings, or maybe even because of them, I found myself immensely enjoying Tales from The Void. What the game gets right, and counts for a great deal in my book, is atmosphere. The aesthetic of the British WWI period meshes spectacularly well with the surreal weirdness of the Void. There's something delightfully charming about posh British accents and mannerisms confronted with baffling tentacled horrors. Your soldiers cheerfully bob about obeying your commands, and then dissolve into shrieks of dismay at the slightest provocation. It sounds annoying, but I actually couldn't help but be kind of amused by it. And there's plenty of joy to be found in your successes, too. When you manage to arrange the perfect ambush for a nightmare from beyond, and you rip a scuttling creature to shreds with a Lewis Gun, it's tremendously satisfying.
The creators of Tales from the Void are still working out some kinks - I have not yet addressed the bugs I encountered with playing in Windowed mode, but am willing to give them benefit of the doubt - so perhaps they'll iron out the wrinkles I've mentioned. But even if they don't, it's still a very fun little game. If you're interested in the schlockier, pulpier aspects of Lovecraft, and of Sci-Fi horror in general, Tales from The Void has a whale of a tale for you.