GDC 2009: Cursed Mountain Updated Impressions

Deep Silver is searching for gold with its upcoming survival horror game set in the Himalayas. We've got an updated look.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Climbing mountains is hard enough work, but what if, in between forging a path up a mountainous range in the Himalayas, you were beset upon by evil spirits intent on doing you all sorts of bodily harm? That's the compelling question that's poised in Deep Silver's upcoming survival horror game Cursed Mountain for the Nintendo Wii. At a 2009 Game Developers Conference press event in San Francisco tonight, we had a chance to check out the game again, our first look at it since November of last year.

It's billed as "survival horror," but despite its title, Cursed Mountain seems more like an action game to us. Sure, there's plenty of creepy atmosphere as you make your way through the Himalayan setting, trekking up a mountain and making your way through spooky Buddhist villages as you search for your lost brother. Nevertheless, despite the occasional fight with an angered spirit, this looks like a pretty straight-ahead adventure game, with occasional combat, puzzle-solving, and action sequences.

Three levels were shown off in the demo version on-hand. The first was a camp setting, much like you'd see at the base of a mountain expedition. This was the most combat-intensive section of the demo, with our hero Eric battling it out against spirits with what appeared to be a pickax. Now, in all our years of fighting evil spirits, we've never once managed to kill one with a pickax--and this is not for want of trying--but we'll roll with it. It's not the only way to dispel the baddies, anyway. You'll also have projectile weapons that Eric will find during his adventures; they're not guns exactly, but they can fire spirit-stunning projectiles.

The best way to kill these ghosts is to dispel them with a series of Buddhist gestures that you'll pick up as you go. Once a ghost is stunned, you target the ghost with the Wii Remote and then hit the A button, at which point symbols will temporarily appear on the ghost's body. If you do enough damage, the symbols will appear more prominently onscreen, and each symbol indicates a gesture to perform with your Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Typically, these actions involve simply moving both in one direction or the next. Perform the gestures correctly and in order and you'll dispel the ghost.

The second mission came from early in the game's narrative, as Eric returns to consciousness after falling into an icy crevasse. After getting to his feet, you must guide him to safety, at one point even outrunning an avalanche by quickly moving the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls back and forth. Eventually, you'll come across your handy pickax, which you can use to climb out of the crevasse. Eventually Eric comes to an open cave in which he fights more spirits (and picks up incense sticks that he can use to heal himself). You have to solve a symbol-based puzzle to escape the cave.

The final level shown in the demo featured Eric exploring a mostly abandoned village. At the start of the level, Eric is trekking uphill in the dark--so dark, in fact, that it was a bit hard to make out some of the detail in the game. Indeed, though the game's drab color scheme is a function of the mountainous setting, that look can obscure the action at times. It's perfectly fine to set a dark atmosphere--this is a horror game, after all--but it shouldn't come at the expense of knowing what's happening on the screen. That said, it seems like it will be tough to get lost on Cursed Mountain; as producers explained to us, your goal is to reach the summit of the Sacred One at the top of the mountain and, as long as you're heading uphill, you're typically heading in the right direction. This level featured more buildings to explore and a bit less combat than in the prior cave level.

There's no doubt that Deep Silver has a compelling concept in Cursed Mountain; the ruined Buddhist cities tucked away in the hidden valleys of the Himalayas are a great setting for a video game. The climb up Cursed Mountain should be a long one, too, with nine levels to explore and roughly 20 hours of gameplay packed in. Here's hoping that those components combine to create a game that lives up to its chilling atmospherics with an equally intriguing dose of thrilling storyline and psychological twists and turns. Cursed Mountain is due for release before the end of the year.

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