I must admit, I did not expect my first review in years to be an Adults Only rated title, much less an Adults Only title that focused on something more than just base titillation.
Yet here we are.
Lust From Beyond is an ambitious, story-focused game inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, H.R. Giger, and Zdzislaw Beksinki. This is a claim made not by me, but by the developers themselves who have even specified which aspects of the game world were inspired by which artists. Anyone who has read or played anything dealing with haunting dreams, otherworldly creatures, cosmic horror, or ancient gods may very well feel a sensation of familiarity with certain elements of the universe that Movie Games Lunarium has expanded upon with its second main entry into the Lust series.
Before assuming the role of our protagonist, the game opens with a brief glimpse of the crazy world the player will soon be plunging headfirst into as an outsider, but from the perspective of a member of the Cult of Ecstasy, one of the two factions featured in the game. After exploring a parallel dimension and then taking in the beauty of a Victorian-style home, both perfectly ordinary experiences for an average gamer, the opening closes with a brief glimpse at an orgy. Right-off-the-bat, Lust From Beyond makes it clear that it isn’t pulling any punches with its Adults Only rating.
I felt surprised, but at the same time, with the mystery and implied insidiousness of a secret society (and cult) beckoning me to unravel its dark deeds at my own peril, I became fascinated and eager to learn more. I always feel drawn to games like Deus Ex, or shows like The X-Files, that dealt with the intrigue and conspiracy of secret organizations, never knowing who to trust in any given situation. Would this be such a journey?
With the introduction behind us, we meet Victor Holloway, the antiquarian everyman we will be controlling during our descent into the madness. Victor owns his own antiques shop and lives above it with his girlfriend Lily. He also has nightmares about the mysterious otherworld that we glimpsed briefly in the introduction. After a sexual encounter between Victor and Lily causes an argument, Victor resolves to go see a psychiatrist about it, and sets out to explore a dreary little town named Bleakmoor. I guess some truths remain in advertising, although if the town’s name was “Happy, or Definitely Not Infested with Sex Cults”, I certainly would have felt an increase in amusement as the story unfolded.
While playing in first person, Lust From Beyond is in many ways a traditional adventure game. You may need an object later, but until you know you need the object, you cannot pick it up, so you will spend a decent amount of time looking around, poking around, and figuring out what the game wants you to do next to progress. Lust From Beyond does not advertise itself as just a first-person adventure game, though, it also wears the label of survival horror. So, the question must be asked, is this 6-10 hour long deviant sex romp through Bleakmoor scary?
Well, here is the first area where I need to take the game to task a bit. I must admit that the hostiles at no point horrified me. After suffering a repeated club impact to the back of the head if I was too slow to run away, I began to feel irritation rather than pleasure. Once I was able to procure a knife, the irritation subsided, instead a feeling of joy, thanks to the opportunity to defend myself. However, we haven’t yet reached horror, either.
I suppose most of the horror elements of the game come from its environments, but I can only call them horrifying metaphysically, and only if you stop to think about them. Is the concept of an entire tangentially connected reality, twisted by an all-consuming lust, a place with no conscious thought, that looks like the bastard child of a xenomorph hive and the Doctor Strange movie, itself, horrifying? Maybe, but it is also kind of interesting to look at, especially when it isn’t really a threat to you.
You see, Lust From Beyond does many things very, very well. It expands on its predecessor, growing the lore of its world and the mythos of the old gods in its lore. It is graphically a beautiful game, especially in 4K, as I was fortunate enough to play it in. Indeed, it is clearly crafted lovingly and expertly by a passionate team of developers who took their named inspirations to heart. Its ambient sound and music are, I dare say, perfect for the game and its setting. Nothing ever sounded out of place or took me out of the moment.
However, is it scary? No. I’m just not sure why it isn’t. I don’t think the game’s horror feels subdued by the inclusion of weapons. I found Alien Isolation to be delightfully tense and half of that game I was carrying a shotgun with me. Nor do I find the game’s lack of difficulty a likely culprit for its lack of horror.
It bears repeating, Lust From Beyond really is shockingly easy. If you know someone who is looking to move up the difficultly scale from Gone Home, this would be a good step-up. The most difficult part of the game is an infiltration mission of sorts. Even when that mission is at its hardest, with the player stalked by a dangerous and indestructible enemy, it isn’t really difficult, it is just frustratingly slow. The juggernaut enemy moves so slowly that he is never really a threat, but fast enough that you have to keep moving. Since he always knows where you are, he will always slowly follow you until you leave the area, which is unspeakably annoying when you are trying to figure out what to do next, or God help you, solve a puzzle.
So yes, the game is easy and only occasionally frustrating in difficulty, but Lust From Beyond is a more, shall we say, intellectual game than something more demanding of your reflexes. It wants to tell you its story, share its puzzles, and terrify you. Why then, does it seem to struggle with that final element, that element of fear? I can’t quite put a finger on it, but I feel like it is a lack of investment. Looking back at the horror games I “got into” the most in the past, Alien Isolation more recently, Silent Hill from a bygone era, I remember caring about Amanda Ripley, Harry and Heather Mason, and James Sunderland. The protagonists in those games opened themselves up to me as a player by thinking aloud during some of the quieter moments and sharing their personalities with me as the player. I know more about Mary Sunderland from Silent Hill 2 than Lily from Lust From Beyond despite both given similar amounts of screen time. I saw the relationship of James and Mary unfold through only a few pieces of dialogue and flashbacks but saw how their relationship ended and shaped Silent Hill 2.
By comparison, I can’t really say that I knew or cared about Victor or Lily. I did not spend much time with them as a couple, or see them interact in intimate ways, which is ironic considering the sexual component of this game. I only really got the briefest introduction into their relationship, and it wasn’t enough to make me care that everything happening in the game was started by Victor trying to fix a damaged part of that relationship.
In fairness, I am comparing games developed by huge studios with an enormous budget to a game developed by six people, but I feel like criticism is justified because the one thing you should always be able to tighten up regardless of the size of your studio is the writing. That isn’t to say that Amanda Ripley was a brilliantly written character, just that a smaller studio can definitely do more to make me care about the protagonist.
There are more flaws than just the writing, of course, but I feel like the writing was a big focus of the team, and that they took both the story of the game, and the larger story of the game’s universe itself, very seriously. Thus, I wanted to dedicate a significant portion of my review to the writing for that very reason. Now, with the writing aside, while the sound design is otherwise marvellous, the voice acting felt very hit-and-miss for me, with some performances shockingly good (Austerlitz’s speech on the stage of the theatre was exceptionally entertaining) and others coming across as just passable. Sometimes the dialogue itself feels…off, or not quite natural, and other times the line delivery by the voice actors feels forced or wooden.
The voice acting is a minor issue, however, and besides, there is no shortage of horror fans who love the bad acting in cult classics. Hokey or cheesy line delivery certainly won’t ruin this game for many. No, the biggest flaw the game has, and the only aspect of the game that I really hated, was the linearity in its playability. I don’t mean the story, or the structure of the campaign, though, but rather the way the game itself functions. You see, besides options, the menu has one choice when you start Lust From Beyond, New Game, and after that, you will only ever have two choices, Continue and New Game. The game offers 16 chapters and two different endings (with 10 different variations of those endings!), and despite that there is no chapter select! There is not even a manual save point system. There are only checkpoints, which overwrite one another, and prevent you from seeing anything else in the game unless you start a new game, erasing your existing game, and replay the entire thing from start to finish once again. It just utterly baffles me.
What is arguably worse is that there’s actually a very good number of collectible items and readable items with lore scattered throughout the game, but there is no way to read any of it or enjoy it from the main menu. If you missed a note or some piece of lore that would have completed a story in your record book, well too-bad if you wanted to replay the game and try to find that one missing record, because you will need to find everything all over again as soon as you start a new game. This leaves Lust From Beyond in the odd position of encouraging replay on one hand and discouraging it through its game functions on the other.
It is also worth noting that a tremendous amount of content in the game is content from Lust From Beyond: Prologue and Lust From Beyond: Scarlet. I think almost all of the sexual content comes directly from those two free demo prequels to Lust From Beyond, which makes almost all of the new content related to the story alone and not the settings, characters, or even the sexual positions and modelling.
For a game that offers an exceedingly story focused romp though, the endings felt like enormous let-downs to me. One seemed to just set the game’s world up to continue with a sequel, and the other was an end-of-the-world scenario that would’ve been more interesting to see in motion or in still images rather than fading to black, but at least had some interesting radio panic at the end of the credits.
Despite its frustrating flaws, I can still recommend Lust From Beyond for the right kind of person. It is undoubtedly a niche title, as most AO games will be by default. While you can play the game in censored or uncensored mode, there is still going to be an overindulgence in gore and sex in your experience. Obviously, it helps to be a horror fan and someone who appreciates a good bit of world building. If you like a slower paced game, one that has fewer tense moments and more exploration, then I can give this game a solid recommendation for you. If you are looking for the next Resident Evil 7 while you wait for Village to get here? This probably isn’t for you.
Also, while it might seem odd, I can’t really recommend this game for the shameless perverts out there. There are only a handful of sex scenes, and most of them serve to further the plot. There are long sections of plot heavy gameplay, a sex scene, and then more long sections of plot heavy gameplay before another sex scene, and that is the pattern of the game from start to finish. So, if you are considering picking this up for any reason other than a desire to see its story unfold, don’t!
Admittedly this review sits on the long side, and in-depth, but I feel the care that Movie Games Lunarium put into this project and wanted to take equal care in respecting that labour of love in my criticism toward it. In the off chance that they read this opinion, I hope they find some of what I’ve said useful and continue to focus on refining their craft to perfection. If nothing else, it is my greatest wish that they know how engaging I found the experience, something equal parts familiar, and equal parts uniquely theirs.
In closing, and going forward for the series, my favourite parts of the game were spent getting to know the side characters, talking to them between major plot points, asking them questions and interacting. There were hints of extra details in those character dynamics, places I feel were left unexplored though. In a cult of deviant and aberrant sexual behavior, how do characters handle romantic feelings? How do people challenge the authority of a figurehead when there are world-shaping magic elements? What choices can I, as a player, truly make to shape the path I am on, rather than just going along with the machinations of characters who don’t have my interests aligned with their own? Even with its problems, the story was still fascinating enough that the brief interactions I had with the characters in it left me longing for more. I wanted to see how they interacted with one another, interacted with me, and why they wanted what the cult, as an organization, wanted.
It is difficult to give a numerical value to a game like Lust From Beyond, because I can’t rate it on how hard the developers worked, how much effort they put into the designs, or the potential that the series has for future instalments. As it is, I feel that a 7 out of 10 is appropriate, for a game that is intriguing despite its flaws, and on the right track also not forgetting it’s relatively low price. Here is to seeing what this promising and talented team of developers can bring us in the future.
Score 7/10 – Review Code Supplied by Publisher.