Montague's Mount Review (PC)

If I told you that Montague’s Mount was Dear Esther but with more puzzles, sinister goings-on and ghosts, you might well be intrigued. I certainly was. A first-person adventure game is a rare thing for reasons I can’t understand, and once you add creepy supernatural goings-on you’re definitely pushing my buttons. Let’s hope developer Polypusher Studios can make a decent game out of an excellent idea.

The big mystery at the heart of Montague’s Mount is something that I won’t reveal, since discovering it is the main push of the game. Suffice to say you wash up on a seemingly deserted Irish island after some sort of boat accident, with no memory, an injured leg, and a creepy ghost kid following you about. As things take a turn for the even more sinister you have to fill in your memories and find the secret on Montague’s Mount. Supposedly it’s based on a true story, although that’s presumably in the same way The Amityville Horror is. Or Captain Phillips, if his crew is to be believed.

This is the first puzzle in the game and I’m already confused

The bigger mystery though in my opinion is how no one who playtested Montague’s Mount before release offered suggestions such as “can you make it less slow?”, “maybe we shouldn’t hide key items in stupid places” or “can it be a little more fun?”. I hate having to kick an indie game that is obviously a labour of love for its team, but Polypusher have got near everything wrong with Montague’s Mount. I realise their goal was to create a slow, exploratory puzzle game, but there are big differences between “slow” and “tedious”, and between “exploratory” and “pressing Use on every single thing in the game in the hope you’ll actually find something of interest”.

Everything about Montague’s Mount is slow, and not in a relaxed, calming way. It’s a pure distilled form of tediousness. There’s no run button, and as mentioned your character has an injured leg so limps very slowly around the island. Why? Hell if I know. If the game was linear and there was no backtracking at all it would be just about bearable, but while the path through the island is direct (and often narrow) having to retrace your footsteps is regular as you’ll often miss a vital item or just have to go back to complete the puzzle (or the gate’s that way and has suddenly opened for some reason). Even interacting with objects in the environment takes an absolute age. Lower a bridge, use a lift, turn a dial, or move a gate, and you’ll often be there for ages longer than you need to be. One time I had to press a lever six times to open a door for no apparent reason at all. Even if you only have to do something like lower a bridge you’ll just sit there like a lemon waiting for it, and you can’t get on until the animation has completed of course.

That tiny green polygon is a key item you need to progress. This is the 3D game equivalent of “pixel hunting”. Look it up

What’s worse though is that Polypusher utterly fail to give the player anything without working hard for it. I don’t mean having to work out every inch of the puzzles (which you’ll still have to do), I’m talking about just working out the damn instructions or finding key items. For example there are glowing hint notes near the start of the game telling you how to play the game, but in a cruel twist of developer malevolence/apathy (delete as applicable) you’d can’t pick these up, they don’t appear on your screen as subtitles, you can’t zoom in on them in any way, and you can’t even crouch to see them better as most are below waist height. Using them just brings up the description “a piece of paper”. Great. I’ve never had to work so hard just to read tutorial messages, most of which I failed to do. This goes for the items in the game as well, which are often ridiculously placed. Put them on a table or even in a drawer and I’ll probably find them, not hidden in long grass or as a tiny spec on the edge of a rock.

It also doesn’t help that Montague’s Mount is a very bland, grey place to look at. Yes that may be accurate (I can’t say I’ve been to many small strange Irish islands, but I am a big Father Ted fan) but other than the slow tedious pace the fact that the place you’re wandering around in is dreadfully dull to look at is a big reason why I really didn’t want to explore it. Areas are small and cramped as mentioned, what little animation that’s here is poor, there are baffling “cutscenes” as you enter a new area consisting entirely of a slight (and slow) zoom-in of your viewpoint as you entered, and there’s an annoying pointless “film grain” effect turned on as standard. Also the scares just aren’t scary in any way, mostly because they’re just so badly presented.

The most interesting picture of the island I could find

The tale being told in Montague’s Mount is sombre and sinister, and it quickly becomes clear that many tragedies befell this little island. Finding out about the story and your own history was the main thing that kept me going through the game, but the tediousness of the experience and the game’s failure to tell me anything properly would’ve made me quit and uninstall during the damn Prologue if I wasn’t reviewing it. Even the story was dented by the irritating Dear Esther-esque (i.e. overtly poetical, to be polite) narration, which additionally failed to comment on the graveyards, ghost kids or dead bodies I found but happily talked about a gate while it was slowly opening. The fact that you can turn the narration off in the options menu speaks volumes.

I wanted to like Montague’s Mount, and I hate criticising ambitious indie games from passionate studios, but I really have to kick it to the curb. The idea of a first-person exploratory, slow-paced adventure game with ghosts on a creepy island is exactly the type of game I’d Kickstart if I had the chance, but I’m very much glad I hadn’t since Polypusher have got everything of substance completely wrong. Instead of slow-paced the game is tedious in the extreme, puzzles are not communicated well, key items are hidden in stupid places, hints and instructions are hard to read or decipher, the ghosts aren’t scary, and the narration is annoying. There are also plenty of bugs and bad design decisions that got me trapped in several areas (you can’t jump so a fallen bookcase or a slight gap becomes a deathtrap) just to round things off. As such, I sadly can’t recommend you visit Montague’s Mount. Not even for a weekend break.

Top Game Moment: Probably the moment the plot starts to turn really sinister, although for me it was finally finding that fourth fuse stupidly hidden in long grass.

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