Free Play Buffet: Alchemilla

Posted by Cravy Ables |

I am not going to lie, I've been enamored with Silent Hill from the first second I powered up the original PlayStation title and heard the eerie theme seep from my old television set into my room. It struck me in a way few games ever could. Every glimpse of a foggy morning reminded me of that town - the monsters, the gore slicked visuals, hours of exploration in the dark, and probably the most near and dear to my heart, the atmosphere. As protagonists changed and mechanics evolved, the one thing I looked for more than anything else was that feel. That sinister 'other', alternating between desperately wading through fog trying to discover my next objective, then immediately regretting it and spending all my energies then trying to get out of the same place. Of never really being sure of the nature of anything I was seeing, and most important, the level of detail throughout that combined to truly sculpt an adventure into an ever twisting nightmare.

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Alchemilla is a Source engine mod available on the PC, developed by White Noise. The initial concept alone was enough to get me to foam at the mouth - a first person style Silent Hill game, where the developers cared enough about the atmosphere that mention it three times in the opening blurb? And all I need is Source SDK 2013 (Search for your Steam Tools for this!) for this to run? I rolled my face over the keyboard like an old school arcane mage to ensure I had downloaded it at least twelve times - nothing was going to keep me from this!

After about an hour in, I started thinking to myself...

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Can you make a Silent Hill game on puzzles and atmosphere alone?

Being no stranger to mods, I was cynically preparing myself for ceaseless gun play with the standard Half Life zombies skinned into multiple Pyramid Heads. What I soon realized, however, was White Noise was taking their pledge to get the feel of a Silent Hill game seriously. Several portions, especially in the Alchemilla hospital segment, try their utmost to recreate the exact room to room scenery I had cherished so much on the original PlayStation. Further on, there is an apartment complex that mimics the look and feel of Silent Hill 2's many treks through the deteriorating flats strewn about town. There is a reference to a rooftop boss battle directly across the street from the hospital, complete with mocking moth graffiti. Initially, these little gems were all I needed to press onward.

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What I found, between the giddy joys of sightseeing lovingly recreated portions of the Konami classics, was the conventional style of an adventure game. Scrounge around for a thing, usually a key, solve a puzzle for a reward, usually a key, and now go through a thing you could not previously go through. Progress. This wasn't surprising in the slightest. What was, however, was the almost total absence of action or scares. Certainly there is gore. There are disturbing sounds and scenery throughout the game, and often the lack of a constant treadmill of jump scares indeed allows the atmosphere to seep through. The puzzles are gleefully modeled in the same style as the series: tarot cards, roman numerals, a bit of simple math, and tons of note reading for clues. However, as the game went on, I felt I was only grudgingly moving forward so I could enjoy the new series of rooms. Once the sightseeing was over and I understood the nature of the next obstacle at hand, I felt a twinge of resignation. 'Gotta pay the toll to take the ride', I suppose. But why was I experiencing this feeling? Wasn't the atmosphere the thing I adored most about Silent Hill? Wasn't I ecstatic about seeing Alchemilla again?

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The original titles blended story, combat, exploration, and puzzles to prevent you from tiring of any one element. Just as you were starting to grow weary of fighting your way through an area, you would often stumble on a bizarre room or a snippet of the story that rekindled your curiosity and focus. With little other than puzzles and iconic scenery to discover, Alchemilla feels barren. When you realize how little danger you are in, the power of the unsettling world and the haunting sounds is greatly diminished.

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Certainly, if you love a simple puzzle type adventure game, or if you are a fan who is fine with a Silent Hill game exceedingly light on action, I definitely recommend giving Alchemilla a shot. The love for the series oozes from every gory tangle of barbed wire and behind every rotten, collapsing grate. For others, the emptiness and meandering pace may prove a greater hurdle than the puzzles themselves.

http://www.moddb.com/mods/alchemilla-mod - Don't forget to get your Source SDK 2013 pack in Steam, the mod needs it to play!