Saint Kotar: The Yellow Mask prologue: Every town has a story
I was made aware of this little title last month, when Mellow Online (whose twitter you can follow here) shared the Kickstarter page. The premise intrigued me, as it brought warm loving memories of Silent Hill. If Kickstarter was not such a risky investment I might have thrown some money at the project. But instead, I have opted to look at the prologue for Saint Kotar: The Yellow Mask to see if it is worth keeping an eye on. Please keep in mind, the prologue might not end up representing the final product. But with that being said, Saint Kotar does show a lot of promise; it could even be a great product.
(Due to the story being as small as it is I cannot give that much of a summery)
Poor Brother Benedek Dohnany, not only is he suffering from guilt over the death of his parents. But he is also had to go to a remote town within the Hungarian countryside, under mandate of his church. In short he is not having the best of times. But when his sister (Viktoria) disappears, Benedek has to team up with his mentally drained and miserable brother in law (Nikolay Kalyakin) to find her. They shall slowly start uncovering the secrets of the town, I assume a wicker man will appear at some point.
While not much technically happens, I was very much engaged with the little plot there was. In fact, I was very disappointed when it ended! I want to know more about the town, I want more of the atmosphere, the beautiful backgrounds. So despite some of its narrative short comings, Saint Kotar was doing something right. I hope to explain to it now.
From the very start of the prologue, Saint Kotar slowly and carefully drowns you in atmosphere. While a lot of it has to do with the excellent visuals (more on that later) the writing does a great job at suggestion. The nightmare notwithstanding, very little technically happens in the prologue but a lot is implied. I love how tension mounts between the two men, their own flaws and paranoia are turning them against each other. We never see whatever was in the neighbouring house but the unsettling implication left just enough of an impact. Red Martyr Entertainment took the lesson of less being more to heart, and it works brilliantly at establishing atmosphere. I hope that this can be maintained for the full release.
However there is a problem with the dialogue, namely that characters have a very bad habit of exposition. When Benedek explains in really unnecessary detail to Nikolay Kalyakin why they came to Spookville, it is highly distracting. You would think they would know their motivation for heading to a haunted Hungarian hovel. It is not the only time where the mains warble exposition at each other with all the grace of an unrehearsed play.
When Benedek explains to his brother in law why he was forced to go to the creepy citadel doesn’t come across like it is for the benefit of the character, but rather for the audience. I hope that in the final product Red Martyr Entertainment will find a way of weaving exposition into the narrative. This sort of dumping could become a problem. It is even more distracting when put alongside the excellent power of suggestion displayed in creating atmosphere.
If you have ever played a point and click, you have played Saint Kotar. This is not a bad thing per say, as one doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It works perfectly well but might be a little on the easy side. I will talk a little bit on puzzle logic and the interactions themselves but I should say that it is perfectly fine as gameplay loops go.
One slightly interesting feature Saint Kotar offers is the ability to see is intractable. While on one hand it does remove that annoying “pixel hunt” aspect that plagued the Point and Click genre, on the other hand it does remove a lot of the challenge. Why should I brother to interpret the environment when I can just press a button that tells me what I can pick up and rub objects against. I suspect they were trying to make progression less cumbersome and annoying as with other Point and Click games. However they either needed to make the solutions more complicated, then rubbing object A on object B to progress or have individual objects combined into the key for the door. Just to make the overall experience offer more satisfaction.
A trap that Saint Kotar avoids is the terrible snare of moon logic. You know the sort of logic that I am talking about, the sort that starts with you finding a pillar and ends with you putting monkey on it and using said monkey as a wrench. Thank you Red Martyr Entertainment for keeping the puzzle solutions sane and not stupid. However it could with better communication, like have Benedek suggest that he should try something. It would prevent the puzzles turning into guess work as you rummage through the limited items you have, unsure if there is any interaction to be had.
Artstyle and graphics:
What really sells Saint Kotar’s visuals are not really the 3d models or animations (to be expected considering it’s indie roots) but rather it’s backgrounds. They remind me of matte paintings, stark yet just unreal enough to cast a dreamlike sensibility. The backgrounds and foregrounds create a quietly hostile atmosphere, just hinting that something is wrong and is waiting in the desolate, eastern European woods. Saint Kotar itself looks completely devoid of life, and yet completely clean. Saint Kotar visuals offer a feast of understated dread and unsettling possibilities, lurking in the fog.
Some loading screens a little too long (30 seconds estimated) but otherwise:
I went into Saint Kotar expecting a Silent Hill game but point and click. What I got however was a pretty solid game. If Red Martyr Entertainment is able to sustain such a palpable level of atmosphere for a complete game, then I would recommend this. Keep an eye on this one; I hope I am correct in my prediction.