Junkfish‘s Monstrum 2 is another game to join the long line of asymmetrical horror multiplayer games. Instead of using this format to adapt a well known horror franchise, like many in the genre before it, it uses a different approach. It’s a 4v1 multiplayer game, with four human prisoners that must escape a ‘repurposed sea fortress’ known as the ‘Sparrowlock’, where a terrifying and ever stalking monster rules. That’s quite a promising recipe, just how will it fare? Myself and fellow writer Omi got the chance to preview the game, and pick studio founder Adam Dart’s brain ahead of its nearing closed public beta, seeing for ourselves some of what players will have in store.
In the time I spent with Monstrum 2, I got to do six runs. Four as the prisoner, two as the monster. I got to play as two different monsters, The Brute and The Bhagra. Considering that, you could think it’s fairly bare-bones, and it is. Omi and I asked Adam about this, to which he said:
“We are looking at 3 monsters for early access and we have a few more in the pipeline that we are adding as we continue to expand the game. Our priority is quality over quantity. We want each monster in Monstrum 2 to play very differently from one another, instead of creating a stable of monsters that have mostly cosmetic differences.”
The Brute is, you guessed it, just that. They’re a bulky figure who can charge at enemies, basically one shot them with a melee grab attack, and scream to ping the general whereabouts of nearby prisoners. Meanwhile, the Bhagra is a four legged creepy crawly, lizard like foe that is horrifically agile. They can crawl under tight spaces, lunge high and far, swipe at prisoners with their nasty claws and even track their prey. Oh, and to make matters worse they can cling to and walk along some ceilings. Expect prisoners to need to be quick on their toes if they’re to evade this nasty thing.
I quite like how the game fares so far in this. The monsters are quite well designed, and the style of a majority of these monsters is absolutely Lovecraft inspired. There’s even the soon to be added amphibian-like teleporting “Malacosm.” All of these monsters also have lore reasons for existing. “They are all loosely-linked by some form of horrific experiment being conducted in secret on the fort,” Adam tells us. If that’s not enough, there’s also the expected seasonal cosmetic collectable items that help add some flair to your prisoners and monsters.
Thrilling enough, at the best of times
With that said, it comes time to need to rip the band-aid off: where Monstrum 2 currently stands is on quite rough grounds. Most of this is due to the fact that the game absolutely feels more like an alpha than a beta. Yes, the assets are absolutely there. The randomly generated levels that you’re thrust into work quite well, but that’s about it. Playing as the monsters were where some of the large parts of the game’s current jank rang true. Animations aren’t all there yet. Beating against a place in a wall to break through is weird and clunky. Even when I pull off the Brute’s overpowered grab finisher, the prisoner I grab bugs out in quite weird janky ways. They’re there in my arms. Then they’re not. Then they are. It doesn’t feel so much a thrilling power fantasy, but instead just a big, bumbling clumsy mess.
A lot of this comes down to balancing that still appears to be very much in the works. Speaking to the challenges the team has faced with balancing, Adam cited the prevalent issue of ‘bully-camping and overpowered hunters.’ That is, players controlling this powerful monster and just sitting at the objective, preventing the prisoners from having a fighting chance. Still, this is absolutely something they’ve learnt from their last series entry. “We found out from our Alpha Test and focus groups that a human-controlled Monster is smart enough to camp key locations and block Prisoners, and this prevented us from using the same type of ‘bring the item to fix the vehicle’ mechanics that were in the original Monstrum game,” he says.
Adam continues, “If you get taken out as a prisoner in Monstrum 2, your team-mate has a limited timeframe to resurrect you. Failing that, you die and automatically respawn at a random location. You also get limited respawns per match before perma-death. This eliminates corpse-camping by the monster and keeps the game going for everyone.”
“As for the monsters, we are constantly tweaking and improving them with the goal of making the game suitably challenging for them as well. We want to avoid over-nerfing, as we’ve seen that weaken game experiences considerably. What we are doing is tweaking factors like match length, number of objectives, item drops, or puzzle complexity as ways to provide natural handicaps for the human prisoners. This allows us to level the playing field without diluting the intensity of the game experience.”
Not quite a recipe for success thus far for Monstrum 2
However, there’s more quality of life work to be done on issues than just balancing. A lot of items, tools and environments in Monstrum 2 are handy, if you can work out their purpose. Fire extinguishers that can emit clouds to obscure your enemy’s vision, a clunky means of hiding in lockers and an elevator (there’s a risk vs reward here in the sound it emits) are all ways to outrun and even juke around the monstrous thing after you. Though, other items and the objectives you’ll be completing in a mission (powering up enough systems to escape in a vehicle) are far from sign-posted sufficiently.
Often Omi and I would find ourselves asking each other questions like: ‘Okay so how does (x object) work?’ There’s plenty of tools and strategies to use at your disposal in the game, just not a lot of explaining as to how. Really, it felt like we were more in the shoes of a QA tester than a beta tester, which is a shame. I want to be enjoying the systems the game has thus far, working out what might work in my favour in the full release. Not this.
“There’s good stuff there [in Monstrum 2]. It’s just few and far between in a game that feels far from ready.”
I’m a bit at ends with Monstrum 2. Sprinting, sliding, and parkouring away from a brute is thrilling and really kept me on the edge of my seat. Hiding as I hear the pitter-patter footsteps of the four legged Bhagra was bone chilling. There’s good stuff there. It’s just few and far between in a game that feels far from ready.
Pick apart the meat and flesh of Monstrum 2 and there is absolutely promise there in its bones. The monster designs are quite competent enough, and when I was playing as their prey I was the most scared I’d been in a game in recent memory. Even with the areas of Sparrowlock being randomly generated, they’re still interspersed in nice ways. Wings of the oceanic facility weave together in nice ways. You can climb all around the place to evade your hunter, provided you’re careful. Look out to sea and there’s nothing as far as the eye can see. You’re all alone out here in Monstrum 2, and you’re screwed.
I desperately want to be proven wrong when it comes to Monstrum 2’s full release. With a big backing of support, regular enough updates featuring new monsters and objectives, I could be. Balancing and a fair few general quality of life improvements would definitely also be warmly welcomed. Maybe everything will align and the game will be a fantastic product upon it’s Q4 2020 release. For now, the beta will undoubtedly be rough territory.