A Dive into Existential Horror
Euclidean - Review
There are places in the twisted windings of the world where what we take for reality breaks down and allows a malicious madness from beyond our comprehension to seep through the cracks. Euclidean rips us through one such warped fissure into a realm of impossible creatures and huge, gloating malevolence. Whatever intellect built and encompasses the crumbling structures of that beyond-ancient place never meant for humans to trespass. Those who find themselves in that drowning, suffocating space soon find themselves obliterated to less than dust. However, this time is different. We are to descend into the depths of Euclidean.
Developer Alpha Wave describes their first project as an adventure of “geometric horror” which is an apt description for a game that brings writhing geometric patterns to life with a strange wickedness. A deep, cruel voice soon informs you that everything here will kill you as you begin sinking into the darkness that awaits. In the blackness below, it waits and mocks, taking a subtle pleasure in degrading what it believes to be your final moments.
Euclidean plays a bit like a slow-paced endless runner, but with sinking through an ocean of monsters instead of running from imminent danger. You use the WASD to avoid obstacles and beasts and have the ability to become insubstantial for a couple seconds in order to pass through the creatures that wish you ill. Touching anything beside the strange glowing orbs on the floor of every level results in death. It never evolves past those concepts and feels more contemplative and puzzle-like than a more action-packed endless runner. This design choice really allows the atmosphere and creepiness to seep into the action.
For its benefits, the slow pace cuts both ways for Euclidean. The leisurely sinking speed leads to controls that feel sluggish as moving out of the way of mad horrors and floating ruins seems just as unhurried. That can be pretty frustrating when an instant death means you restart the stage over from the beginning, which can mean another several minutes slowly floating down through the detritus of madness. A visually dark aesthetic, while effectively reinforcing the title’s murky themes, compounds the irritation by obscuring obstacles. Just seeing enemies becomes a struggle. Your gaze in this first-person game naturally gravitates down, the only direction in which you move, making it hard to see the geometric monstrosities coming from the sides or above.
Euclidean boasts virtual reality integration, which might have been able to alleviate my frustrations with perceiving the dangers in the depths. Unfortunately, I did not play Euclidean on Oculus Rift. I get the distinct impression that it was designed specifically with virtual reality in mind. It is almost impossible to get a good feel for the environment without leaving yourself open to immediate and unexpected death. Being able to look around by turning your own head probably both fixes that problem and provides a larger sense of scope by allowing you to really soak in all angles of the game world.
I keep talking about the environment and atmosphere. Imagine being in the middle of an ocean that teems with the indistinct shapes of squids and sharks and whales on a colossal scale and knowing that they all would like nothing better than to rip you apart and savor your landling flesh. That unnerving sensation encapsulates what Euclidean feels like. The environments give the impression of gigantic, watery graves filled with pulsing, alien lights and occasional bits of living anatomy that should not be.
This is all supported by amazingly solid art design that creates menacing and frightening enemies out of geometric shapes. It manages to be wordlessly eloquent, eerie, and eldritch all at the same time. The environments and concepts are all very influenced by Lovecraft, but I think it is underselling the talents of the people who worked on Euclidean to leave it at that. Each enemy type has its own personality that comes out through their movements and overall design. The structures in the water give the world a very lived-in quality that speaks to a history we will never know. That scope, that understated bigness, takes a lot of effort and skill to pay off and I thought it worked swimmingly.
Euclidean feels like a fully realized idea. Its nine stages are interesting and fascinating. Despite three other difficulties and a mode with permadeath, I don’t know if I will ever go back to it. However, I am definitely glad that I had the chance to spend time in its otherworldly space. It speaks to an inevitability that we can all relate to; an existential truth that none of us asked for, but with which we have to live. At two hours, it isn’t a long game, but it felt worth the $3.99 price of admission. If that sounds like a bit much for a solid and memorable two hour experience, pick it up for a couple bucks when a price drop hits. My biggest takeaway from this, though, is an anticipation for Alpha Wave’s next project. Euclidean tested the waters, but I can’t wait to see Alpha Wave dive in with heedless abandon.
Is It Fun?:
Slowly fall into the abyss as it mocks you
A malicious, first-person Geometry Wars
Nothing exciting, but well executed disconcerting noise
Controls feel sluggish and unresponsive
Not fun, but definitely interesting and weird
The indie gaming crowd who enjoy a break from the norm
Euclidean was reviewed on PC and is available now.
Review originally appeared on www.extra-life.org 10/09/15