Montas Preview (PC)

Coming from design studio Organic Humans, Montas is a first-person horror survival game with an emphasis on exploration and atmosphere. The game is currently available on Steam's Early Access and features full Oculus Rift support. It promises an immersive and mysterious, albeit rather more abstract, experience.

It's interesting to note that by 'design studio' we're not necessarily talking about games. In fact it appears that one of the company's other two major projects is a recording studio, and the other is a blog showing street art. This brief bit of background on the studio should give you some expectation as to what to expect from the game. In other words it's going to be artsy and we should have rather high expectations when it comes to the sound and music quality, and the overall creative aesthetic.

When it comes to promises of a creepy ambience, Montas certainly delivers. I'm not the hardiest horror fan in the world, but as I played I could almost constantly feel the hairs on my arms and on the back of my neck standing up. Even though seemingly very little is happening on the screen, Montas does a rather splendid job of spooking out the player. I can hardly imagine what it's like playing this thing with an Oculus Rift.

What's more interesting, is that this effect is created more through the incredible use of ambient sound effects and low background music than anything else. In fact I'd say without a doubt that the brilliant composition of sound put together in this game is one of its strongest assets. The eerily simmering backdrop of unsettling non-descript noises is complemented well by the game's feeling of emptiness and sparsely distributed light sources. Poignant things are there to be seen but are relatively few and far between, which I can only assume was an intentional design decision. Therefore the game rests heavily upon its adept ability to create atmosphere.

You play the game as an alcoholic office worker named Joseph Walker. The game's description informs us that normal life Joseph has become a distant memory and now he's being haunted by some sort of psychological problems. Because of this he's begun to suffer unsettling hallucinations. The game itself doesn't actually do very much to explain any of this, it's just something you have to read about before playing. The very first scene of the game takes place in a dark empty office which is Joseph Walker's place of work.

The game then moves from scene to scene in a vaguely connected but disjointed manner as Joseph presumably makes his way home. The world is more or less barren of all intelligible life but does make some minor degree of sense as you progress from elevator to subway to street and building environments and so on. Each area oozes in some way with elements of surrealism, from the bizarre graffiti to the disturbingly-shaped shadows. In most areas there is some degree of freedom allowing you to explore your surroundings; however they are mostly quite empty and notably minimalist when it comes to decor.

The experience of progressing gradually through the world by tentatively rooting around each area is interrupted intermittently by seemingly paranormal experiences. These range from peculiar behaviour of lighting devices, strange optical visual effects, finding yourself in an unexpected environment such as a cave, movement of inanimate objects without an obvious cause, and, most disturbingly of all, the very occasional sudden appearance of potentially homicidal humanoid figures. The game itself doesn't seem to feature any kind of permanent death, with 'dying' in some way actually just taking you to the following area. Despite this, it still does a great job of keeping the player on edge.

I have to admit that I'm not sure exactly how much of a 'game' this is. I encountered very little elements of puzzle solving, with the experience primarily consisting in a variety of either arbitrary or painstaking investigation of the immediate area. This is not made challenging by any specific game mechanic, but instead only by your own personal psychological tolerance of the feelings of horror and tension built up by the proficient use of sound, music and lighting effects.

Although I did feel vaguely interested in finding out what exactly is happening to Joseph, I was also frequently frustrated by not knowing where I needed to go in order to make the game progress. In fact I spent so much time in some areas it reminded me of those old times in the original doom when you would get stuck on a level and then spend half an hour walking round the whole level banging the space bar to see if there was some sort of hidden door that you'd missed. On one such instance I quit the game and come back later, and found that I was mysteriously in a room which had previously been inaccessible. I'm not really sure what happened there but for some reason the game had progressed me, which to be honest I was grateful for but confused by.

In spite of these reservations, Montas is certainly doing something interesting in terms of mood creation. I'm unsure as to whether I'm completely comfortable calling this a 'game' since there is very little to speak of in terms of actual mechanics and play, but that's a greater debate for another day. Montas is an art-heavy experience and an experiment in first-person horror atmospheric immersion. Even considering that I'm far from the biggest horror fan in the world, I must admit that the prospect of trying this game with an Oculus Rift does sound quite appealing; as masochistic as that may sound.

The game is currently available on Steam's Early Access.

Most anticipated feature: The immersive terror produced by the combination of a masterful use of ambient sounds and Oculus Rift integration.

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