Ye olde London was not a nice place. Grime, dirt and detritus covered the streets, smog hung in the air, hygiene was more of a myth than reality and people disappeared on a fairly regular basis due to being pressganged, walking down the wrong alley, drunkenly stumbling into the ocean or any number of delightfully degrading deaths,. Living day to day was a hardship for the common people, made all the harder by the absurd cost of meat. But…humans are meat, right? Seems like a prime business opportunity. Cue the Ravenous Devils, Hildred and Percival, and their lives of butchery and business management.
Comparisons to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, especially the 2008 rendition starring Johnny Depp as a barber who would murder his victims and then dump their corpses into the basement where his partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, would bake them into meat pies, are easy to make and completely justified. Here the depraved duo of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett are replaced by married couple Percival and Hildred who fled their previous home and have arrived in a new town, ready to set up shop.
With the price of meat being so absurdly high the bloodthirsty couple arrive at a simple idea; murder people, chop them up and sell them in the form of pies, sausages and burgers to the hapless fools who walk through the door. On the upper floor, Percival runs a tailor shop where he can end lives with a swift stab before taking the poor victims’ clothes which he then uses to create new outfits to sell. The corpse gets dropped into a chute, landing in the basement where Hildred gets to work butchering the body by shoving it into a mincer or a sausage stuffer, before then lovingly creating meals that are served to customers. You certainly can’t question their commitment to recycling. Every stitch and bone gets used.
There isn’t much meat on the bone in terms of plot, mind you. Before long someone becomes aware of Percival and Hildred’s use of locally sourced ingredients and threatens to reveal their secret unless they murder and cook three specific victims, which first means building up the shop’s reputation in order to lure the unsuspecting dolts to their demise. Over the course of the three or so hours it takes to beat Ravenous Devils, Percival and Hildred are given the most basic of characterization, the majority of which comes through simple text, although there are a few patches of voice acting. The regular chumps who wander through the door and become well-cooked steaks do not utter a word nor even a sound, and thus the act of killing and cooking them is souless. Although you could certainly argue Percival doesn’t seem them as anything more than resources, either. Your main targets get a few lines of dialogue, at least, but it isn’t much. Even the person blackmailing you is a nebulous evil in the background, communicating solely through a couple of lifeless letters.
The ideas presented in Ravenous Devils are very, very macabre and fun. But unfortunately, the delightfully twisted premise hasn’t been translated into particularly engaging gameplay mechanics. Self-described as a horror cooking simulator, I’d probably pitch it as more of a click-a-thon with very mild strategy elements. From your side-on dissected view of the building, you can hop between floors with the scroll wheel or WASD keys and dish out orders to Pervical and Hildred by clicking on the appropriate thing. Click on the mincer and Hildred will grab a handful of minced human meat, and then if you click on a tray on the workbench she’ll plop it down. Click on the tray and then on the oven and she’ll stick it in to bake. Click on a victim waiting for Percival to take their measurements and he’ll stab them in the neck and lungs with his scissors. You get the idea.
Here’s a basic representation of the gameplay routine; upstairs you’ll click on the fabric pile and then the sewing machine to get Percival working on some new clothes. Scroll down to the basement and you’ll click on the mincer and then the tray to get Hildred to get some meat ready for cooking. Back upstairs click on the sewing machine then the mannequin to display the new clothes. In the basement, stick the tray in the oven to get some burgers cooking. Meanwhile, upstairs a customer has arrived for a fitting, so click on her to make Percival stab her in the neck, then click on the hatch to drop the corpse down to Hildred. While that’s happening, get Hildred to put the burgers on the middle-floors food display cabinets before sending her back down to grab the corpse and shove it in the mincer. Then get Percival to clean up the blood upstairs before replacing the clothes on the mannequins.
You can’t exactly line up numerous commands in a row, but if you click on another item while Hildred or Percival are doing their current task they’ll automatically do the next job. That becomes vital.
At the start of each new day before you open the shops you have the option to buy upgrades with your hard-earned cash. Basic options include an improved mincer or a sausage stuffer, more ovens and workbenches, a faster sewing machine and so forth. But other options make things more complex, including adding some interesting decisions into the mix. For example, once you’ve unlocked the ability to make sausages and steaks from corpses you have to decide where to put a body. Growing vegetables means having extra ingredients for fancier meals, but that also means having to use a victim to make compost instead of using them to get more meat.
One of the biggest upgrades is putting tables in your store where clients can sit and order up a specific meal, which the game encourages you to prioritise because they pay more. However, a meter shows their slowly vanishing patience, and failing to deliver a meal quickly enough can damage your reputation, which is the primary measure for driving the story forward. To combat this, Gin can be served to reset their patience, and luckily you can unlock an assistant to handle that duty as well as taking orders and stocking the displays. The biggest challenge of having table service is that these customers typically want the more complex recipes, like lasagne or a nice meat skewer.
It’s a juggling act, to put it simply. You need to learn the routines so that they form into muscle memory, leaving you free to think about whether you want to use the next corpse for meat or for compost so that onions, tomatoes and potatoes can be grown. The game is nicely balanced so that you never have an abundance of ingredients to work with, the exception being fabric, of which I never had a shortage. Indeed, Percival is easily the least busy of the gruesome twosome, even once the vegetable garden in the attic is unlocked. HIldred has the much more demanding of the jobs, balancing getting meals out to tables, butchering bodies (a long process) and getting enough food onto the displays. It’s all a balancing act, and to the developer’s credit Ravenous Devils always feels like you barely have enough time to get everything done.
It’s just not that compelling, though. If you play the free demo then you’ve experienced everything the game is about. The only thing that happens is you get more stuff to click on.
I think the story needed to connect to the gameplay more, too. As far as I can tell, story advancements are tied to increasing the shop’s reputation by serving customers, but when one of the victims finally arrives to meet their gruesome fate it doesn’t translate into the gameplay – you just watch for a minute and then get back to the same things you’ve been doing. Obviously, you can’t exactly slap a boss battle into a game of this ilk, but I do think something could have been done with these moments to tie them into the actual gameplay.
Being a simple game set in a single location, performance isn’t something we need to talk about. Whether you’re running a potato or the equivalent of the Enterprise in computer form, Ravenous Devils should work just fine. It’s even quite polished in terms of bugs – only two problems occured, both being moments when Hildred got stuck in the stairs when moving between floors. Maybe she just needed a break from all the blood and gore.
Ravenous Devils is delightfully dark and gruesome, which is entirely up my filthy alley. I love the Demon Barber inspirations and think the concept could translate nicely into a strategy game where you manage a shop while secretly murdering and cooking customers. Sadly, this isn’t it, though. The click, click, click, click gameplay is mildly amusing, but over the course of the mere 3-hour runtime, it becomes humdrum and repetitive. It is satisfying to master the patterns, to figure out how to do everything fast enough and keep up with the demand and what is best to pre-prepare, but it’s not enough, though. And without a compelling story, either, you’re ultimately left with nothing more than a good idea, like a lovely golden pie that’s lacking in tasty human meat filling.