Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Fun Creators
Publisher: Fun Creators
This game was provided free of charge by the publishers for the purposes of this review.
There are many things that I’m willing to forgive when it comes to indie titles: poor graphics, questionable voice acting, lackluster audio and even, depending on the case, iffy writing. I’m willing to forgive all of these things because the independent scene is capable of crafting titles with unusual, interesting concepts, and, in the best of cases, marrying these ideas with brilliant, innovative gameplay mechanics, taking risks that larger companies with huge amounts of money invested will not. Yes, I’m willing to forgive a lot. But not this. Guise of the Wolf is fucking terrible, and you should never play it.
That’s the darker side of doing game reviews: sometimes you have to play bad stuff. Because I don’t work for a massive site I generally get to pick and choose what I play, allowing me to avoid the worst of the chaff, but Guise of the Wolf managed to pique my interest through its description as a first-person gothic action-adventure gamer where you play as Dominick, an alchemist able transform into a werewolf. This and the promise of puzzles to solve successfully snagged my undeniably erratic attention, prompting me to reach out to the game’s creators and request a code. On paper the concept of Guise of the Wolf sounds pretty cool. On paper. In reality it’s a mess, devoid of anything that could make it worthy of recommendation.
The problems begin as soon as the game itself does. A trip to the sparse options menu reveals no way of changing the resolution or, for that matter, any graphical settings whatsoever. You’re stuck with what you’ve got, and what you’ve got is such poor textures and animation that even an original Playstation game would have to raise an eyebrow in surprise. Nor, indeed, can the key bindings be changed, so if you don’t happen to like using Shift to sprint then you’re tough out of luck, sonny jim. While console gamers have long had to accept a very limited sampling of options as par for the course, the inability to change the resolution from whatever the hell that is in Guise of the Wolf is a grievous error. And that’s not even mentioning the bloody strange aspect ratio.
Once into the game itself more problems began to appear. Set free in a snowy wilderness I was initially quite looking forward to discovering what had caused the death and destruction that I had found myself amidst. Looking around the first thing to note is that Guise of the Wolf attempts to employ the stylised graphical novel look that has become so popular because it allows developers to hide their limited budget. That’s fair enough, its been used successfully in many titles, the most prominent being Gearbox’s awesome Borderlands series, but as soon as I moved to the left or right while looking at a rock or tree I noticed something rather strange: the thick, black outline was quite literally moving around the object in question. A few brief steps later I encounter another hiccup: I could walk through trees. And rocks. Okay. It’s going to be one of those games, then. Another small detail also registered in my mind: the road on which my crashed horse-driven carriage is on appears to lead nowhere but to the gates of a castle. A cursory investigation back down the road reveals that the direction we had come from lead to a dead end. At this point I admit a sigh escaped my lips. And then I went to get a beer.
But enough of this, let me set the scene for the riveting tale that Guise of the Wolf attempts to tell. Just a few minutes into the game you collapse outside the gates of a castle, only to be taken in by the inhabitants. Upon waking you’re greeted by the horrifying facial model of a woman who explains that you were attacked by a savage beast, the very same beast, it transpires, that you were coming to help out with, your specific skillset being that of an alchemist. The castle’s Count, also in possession of a nightmarish face and questionable voiceover, asks that, despite your own injuries and horrific journey, you might stay and help. Naturally you agree, though now your own motives have become more selfish as you yourself require a cure.
Buried deep within Guise of the Wolf lies the foundations for a thrilling tale, the basic elements simply lying there, waiting to be pieced together. As I played through the story my mind began to tie everything together, imagining what could have been. Could have been, mind. What does actually exist is a mess of terrible dialogue and glaring plot holes which succeed only in holding back any sense of enjoyment. There’s not a single memorable character to be encountered, and in a pointless nod to standard game design there’s selectable dialogue options, none of which matter because the responses received are exactly the same, regardless of which selection you make. It’s like somebody ticked the selectable dialogue box on a sheet of paper entitled “Basic Game Design Principles” because that’s what you’re supposed to have.
The main selling point on offer here is the ability to transform into a werewolf, having been bitten by the vicious beast yourself. It’s a compelling idea on paper, but in practice is the single biggest disappointment contained within the game. To make the shift from hairy man to slightly hairier man-beast you simply stand within the clearly highlighted patches of moonlight spread about the environment, at which point you bear witness to a cringe-worthy transformation animation. As a mythical monster you’re treated to being able to break doors down, perform a longer jump and the ability to kill unlucky castle occupants whose only transgression is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Indeed, even though protagonist Dominick confirms that he is largely able to control his transformations and his actions whilst in wolf form the game utterly refuses to ever address the fact that he’s a cold-blooded killer. In fact, murdering people is even somewhat encouraged as doing so increases the amount of time you can spend as a wolf. Hurrah!
And when I say kill, what I mean is amble up to and click the attack button in order to execute yet another shoddy mixture of animation and sound. Oh, and speaking of sound there’s a funny little thing you can do when roaming around as a werewolf: click the attack button more than once in quick succession and the pitiful attack audio overlaps itself, creating a sort of blood-curdling growl sure to send shivers down the spine of absolutely nobody.
The dark fantasy of becoming one of the legendary lycanthrope simply never comes to fruition here. Smashing down some doors and getting to bite a few guards are hardly interesting mechanics that capture the sinister power of a werewolf, especially when they’re so poorly handled, and thus transformations add little to the overall game. In fact, they arguably hurt the experience, because to turn back into a human, and so be able to operate sophisticated technology such as doors, you have to hang around for a short while, simply sitting in a corner until the meter finally runs out. The first couple of times this happens it’s frustrating, but something you can put up with. By the end of the game, though, these continuous waits were a source of anger, just one more nail in an already well hammered coffin.
Guise of the Wolf also has a fondness for making you pick locks, a gameplay mechanic explained away by a guards insistence that you provide him with 200 gold coins in order to pass through the main gate, despite you presence within the castle being at the behest of the Count. Considering you’re here to do a job, everybody seems very intent on making your life hard. Fail to tackle each chest as you encounter it throughout the course of the game and you’ll eventually hit a point where you’re forced to backtrack through the entirety of the castle, searching for each one. Picking the lock of an unlucky chest involves aligning holes in four rings with the right hand side of the screen, done by clicking on the four latches/switches at the bottom of the screen, every single one of which successfully managed to show up as nothing more than a black box on my screen. At first these chests provide a very mildly enjoyable puzzle, but tedium soon sets in as you pick lock after freaking lock.
Another time-wasting idea also gets introduced as you progress through the game, tasking you with knocking down twenty obelisks strewn around the castle, adding at least another five or ten minutes of pointless running around. And it is just running around as the designers didn’t see fit to at least try to spice this mundane task up. Like the chests should you happen to not bother knocking down each obelisk as you find it, perhaps dismissing them as nothing more than a glorified collectible, then you’ll eventually reach a point where you must venture back through every tunnel and room in order to find them all.
A highlight of the game’s self-destructive attitude comes in the form of a brief escape scene in which you have to run from a shoddily animated giant wolf, who quite literally appears in the middle of the wall he’s breaking out of. Stand still and this strange beast shuffles toward you before its entire head clips through your character model, and a sad message is displayed declaring you died. I quite literally sat there and let myself be bitten a few times, baffled by what I was witnessing: why was this monster quite literally spawning before my eyes and then, a second or two later, finally starting its animation? A quick jog down the short corridor, complete with two death-defying jumps, and I grabbed the handle which closed the gate behind me, stopping the wolf in its tracks. Even this proved to be a slight problem because the game is rather finicky when it comes to being in exactly the right position to interact with things. After managing to close the gate I decided to turn back around to get a final look at gloriously horrid dog-thing only to discover that it had simply vanished. Uh-huh.
There’s several such chase sequences between you and beast, and none of them manage to drag themselves above being bloody awful. There’s even a couple of “tense” segments in which you must take refuge and watch as the animal slides around the floor in search of you, an experience further ruined by the fact that in each example of this the bloody wolf saw exactly where you had gone. I quite literally died several times in one such section because I had dismissed the intended hiding position out of hand as it was within eyesight of the beast, requiring me to clearly pass through its vision. But then, this game has no time for such pesky things as logic.
The game likes to occasionally mix things up with some puzzles, something which I’m usually all for, but once again the sting of disappointment is just waiting to be felt. Only a handful are scattered throughout the sparse, lifeless environments, and they’re a feeble bunch. Arguably the best of the lot is a simple game of matching pairs of cards, a security measure for a secret room which, and let’s be honest about this, provides absolutely no bloody security whatsoever. At best puzzles are mindless distractions, and at worst they’re simply tedious chores sure to illicit a deep sigh.
Numerous other frustrations, problems and examples of poor game design are present throughout the course of the game as well, although for the sake of keeping this review somewhat short I’ll forgo talking about many of them. Guards come back to life after being killed, graphical hiccups are just about everywhere you look, such as books not even lining up with shelves, and I even managed to get stuck inside a rock for a while, having tried to leap atop it for a better look around. To ensure I didn’t kill a key NPC while in werewolf form the game resorted to simply turning him into a black outline. Meanwhile the developers seem keen on giving you tasks with little sense of direction, a mechanic harking back to the days of classic gaming and one that I’m not against, but in this case having player’s wander aimlessly around a castle until they bump into the correct character is hardly enjoyable. Then there’s the truly stupid design decisions, like having to go into your inventory and drag out a key every time you want to pass through the door to the courtyard. Perhaps I would not have minded this odd decision on the behalf of the developers had they been able to implement even this properly, but alas for reasons unknown I was sometimes able to walk through without needing the key, while the next time I’d have to stop and rummage through my inventory once again.
Did I mention that you have to pickpocket a guard, without ever being told that you can do so? That right there, is some solid game design.
Essentially what Guise of the Wolf boils down to is walking around a castle looking for some ingredients to stick in a pot, occasionally broken up by having to look for a person instead. On the official Steam page it lists such features as “stealth tactics” and “survival”, both of which are technically present but are so poorly implemented that part of me wants to whack the developers with a Stick of Utter BS. Within the confines of a supernatural tale you’ll spend the majority of your time wondering what to do, the game seemingly having forgotten about you within the first few minutes and burnt the script, only later remembering to occasionally pop up and utter some more vague nonsense. The plot simply vanishes for most of the game, as will your patience.
If all of this wasn’t enough the final kick to the nuts arrives in the form of the finale, which not only fails to compel any sort of emotion but also features a sudden change in how the narrative is told, switching to hand-drawn static images, the kind that look suspiciously look like basic concept art, assuming, of course, Guise of the Wolf even had a concept art stage and wasn’t just tossed together on a napkin in a pub late one night.
Let’s be honest, I’ve been pretty harsh throughout this review, so let me clear the air: in a perverse way I can’t say I didn’t have fun with Guise of the Wolf, solely because I enjoyed ripping it apart in this review. I know that sounds brutal, but in today’s world most games I play aren’t all that bad, usually having at least one or two ideas or mechanics deserving of some small praise, so there’s not many chances to really let rip. I take no pride in this sadistic entertainment, but there it is. Humans can be cruel.
However, with this taken into account I do feel bad, because I do genuinely like to think the developers were damn well trying hard to create something cool. As cynical as I am there’s a chunk of me which clings to the idea that no developer ever sets out to make a bad game, because without that firm belief I’d likely end up losing the burning passion I have for games. But at the end of the day I’m here to review the product, not the developement team or their practices. Guise of the Wolf simply has no redeeming features, no worthwhile elements that make its meager asking price worth it. It’s yet another piece of evidence placed atop a growing pile which points toward Steam needing some sort of quality control system as it becomes more and more inundated with tat unfit for public consumption.
Guise of the Wolf is terrible. Never play it. Don’t even look in its general direction, just in case it gets the wrong idea. And should you ever somehow achieve the office of Tyrannical Leader of the Known World, consider nuking it from space.
+ Vaguely interesting storyline.
– Horrible audio.
– Terrible graphics.
– No way to change resolution.
– Horrendous gameplay.
– Plot holes.
The Verdict: 1/5 – Terrible.
Harsh as it may be Guise of the Wolf is a poorly designed game from start to finish, exhibiting none of the fine qualities indie gaming possesses. Avoid at all costs.