Hot Steam-ing dumpster dives: Climbing The Tower

By: Ashley Rivas

There is a line, an incredibly nuanced and often hard-to-see line, that separates the “so bad it’s good” from the “just plain bad.”  Most people know this, and acknowledge it, specifically for film.  And yet…..the fascination for bad movies just wasn’t there for me.  Watching nightmare movies was fun, but it didn’t capture my curiosity.  I wasn’t moved to such powerful degrees of hatred, confusion, or fear that my psyche snapped.  It didn’t make me either really cackle or want to throw things through my screen.  In short: I failed to become obsessed.

Huh.  Whaddya know, there’s a shit ton of video games on the Steam store that are so desperately bad that they can’t hope to climb out of their infamy.   That sounds…fascinating.

Fascinating

Winner!

This series will look at those reviled games, the Dumpster Dives, and examine a few things about them:

  1. Why they’re bad. What makes this game so shitty?  Is any of it subjective, or is it just raw badness regardless of opinion?  For example, a “bad” story or graphical aesthetic can be a matter of opinion (sometimes).  Buggy and glitchy to the point of unplayable?  That’s just objectively bad.
  2. If anything about the game is good. Sometimes the idea is there, or a single mechanic works really well.  It’s not enough to save a dumpster fire, but it’s something worth acknowledging.  Also, there’s reason to hold out hope that I will find at least a couple bad games that are guilty pleasures; who, for me, do trigger a so bad it’s amazeballs reaction.
  3. Who the developers At the end of the day, there are still people behind this game.  They put effort into making it, though whether or not they put actual heart and soul in it can be debatable.

We’ll be using a familiar scale to gauge how many eyeballs I wanted to cut out of my skull while playing the game (this may surprise you, but it can be more than 2).  Games are rated from 1 to 5 this time, with 1 being a total shitstorm the likes of which the planet has never seen, and 5 being “fuck the reviews, this was FINE”.  Note that FINE in this case means fine as in acceptable, meeting the barest minimum of passable entertainment guidelines.  This is probably less a measure of absolute quality than one of quality relative to expectations.  You (have every right to) expect less going into a $1 steam dumpster dive than you do paying $40 to play as Darth Vader on top of the $60 and 5 years of life EA vampire-sucked out of you.  We might even get something that crosses over into being…good.  But I hope not.



The Tower


Why did I pick it?

My method for all of these games will start the same. 

  1. I go to the Steam store, sort the games by user rating, and then go to the veeeery last page.
  2. Once there, I start poking around to read game descriptions, see screenshots, maybe watch a video, and look at a couple of the reviews on the page.
  3. I don’t go deep into reviews because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I know I’ve got a winner if I spot frustration, rage, confusion, or distress. It’s even better if a few reviews are violently different; are they paid?  Lying?  Or just insane?

In this instance, I got a few pages from the back when I spotted the Tower.  It looked like an Amnesia ripoff, and the reviews were frustrated enough with the buggy nature of the game that it seemed promising.  The deal was sealed with the cryptic description:

“I awaken once again. Shackled. Beaten. Broken. And yet there is hope. An opportunity…”

Enter the darkness of The Tower. A unique, constantly expanding dungeon crawling experience. Gather your senses and find your way through the hellish corridors of your prison.


Why is it bad?

There are lots of obvious reasons as to why a game is bad, and they’re not always subjective. Sometimes they are, sure; I might like painful grinds, and you might think they’re an example of poor design or a blatant cash-grab. But if something is broken in the game itself, that’s universally bad.


Demerit #1 – The Plot

In terms of a narrative, I can try and explain the premise, based on the strange text scrawls and horribly quiet dialogue.  Seriously, you had a voice actor.  Why did you have so many fucking text scrawls?  Was your actor hourly or something?

You’re a guy in a medieval tower. Your name is Ethan. But they call you The Englishman. Even though they just gave you a name.  A code name is way cooler, duh.  So I’ll call you Ethan Englishman. EE is in this tower for something, and apparently this is the most hellish tower ever. They torture people in here. It’s got a bad rep.  This is an evil place, almost as bad as the White House with Melania’s horror Christmas decor.

VR
Oh cool, I can play this $2.99 game in VR.

That’s it. That’s all you know. OOOH SPOOKED YET?  You start the game by getting dragged to a cell, which you escape four months later. How did you escape?  I dunno.  Not important.  You fall into a subterranean area of the tower (except it’s not, because you see clear sky later and are definitely on regular ground level), find another couple of cells, and meet a crazy prisoner. He starts shouting some gibberish, so a guard comes over. I ran to hide, and off camera the guard kills the prisoner. Based on the sound effects, it’s supposed to be gruesome, I think? Or the guard is butchering a pudding. That could be what happened too, and that’s also gruesome. Either way, you turn the corner to see your former maniac friend, and all you see is an arm.

Arm
That’s the arm. That’s also me squinting at the arm because THIS GAME IS SO GOD DAMN DARK.

An arm. Please, soak that in for a second.  There is a single arm lying there in the ground. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in a game in a long time, and I just watched my husband play through Fractured But Whole.  This was like a prop in a C-grade horror movie.

If these guards are supposed to be intimidating, or fearsome in any way, it’s not conveyed. A brutal murder is offscreen. Any torture to EE is not shown. The murder animation for the guard is comical. I’m not advocating torture porn, but if you want me to be scared of these guys, you’ve got to give me a reason to be scared, not make me laugh. Take away the arm and just give sounds, then have a trail of blood showing that they dragged the body away. Give me a couple cutscenes during the 4 month gap showing EE trying to keep his sanity. I know you guys can add more cutscenes, you’re fucking pros at it based on how many you already have (but we’ll talk about that later).

Eventually, I got past where I’d died before because I managed to crawl and move forward at the same time, which was actually way harder than it sounds because of the input mapping. I made it to a big rock cavern where I saw the sky, but the door was locked. I backtracked to a holding cell, but the door was locked. Which must mean I need a key, yeah? But the only place to go was the guard…room, I guess, where they were sitting and eating shit. I snuck in, grabbed a key, and jammed into the holding cell where I saw this guy.

Squats in the dark
He’s in there, squatting it up. The devs couldn’t be bothered to turn on a light.

Yeah. Just doing squats. It’s leg day in The Tower. Stay thicc. Get swole. In total darkness.

I made it to another room, and ran into some chick who is supposed to be my wife…maybe?  EE started babbling shit about missing his family at random points in his memorable encounter with maniac prisoner, so maybe we’re all treasonous swine taken in by the crown.  Right when she said my name, it cut to black. And rolled the slowest credits ever over a lovely pastel landscape, set to a moody so—

WAIT THIS IS AN ACTUAL SONG LICENSED BY OTHER MUSICIANS, HOW DID YOU GET TO PUT THIS IN YOUR GAME?? You acknowledge it in the credits as being owned by Sony, but did you pay for the license? Its not altered in any way, not a parody or transformative, so you’ve got to pay for that shit if you’re using it in something commercial (unless it’s parody or something like that, which is a whole area of copyright law I’m not getting into here).

End
WE MADE IT, GUYS.

Also, more importantly, WHAT THE HELL KIND OF MOOD ARE YOU TRYING TO CONVEY?!  This is like the final punch in the nose from this game, like it’s trying to insinuate that it’s pensive, or moody, or mysterious and deep.  What kind of fucking atmosphere have you created to earn that?  What kind of character have you written to make me feel like this song is warranted?  YOUR GAME TOOK 15 FUCKING MINUTES, IT’S A GLORIFIED DEMO!!


Demerit #2 – The Mechanics (or lack thereof)

What mechanics does The Tower offer you, the Player Character?

Crouch. And walk. That’s it.

That’s all you get to do as a player. Your character delivers dialogue automatically, cutscenes occur and remove control constantly, and your amount of agency is limited to the explicitly linear path that gives you the chance to pick up ONE item. It’s a key. A KEY! HOW GROUNDBREAKINGLY ORIGINAL!  WOW, THANKS DEVS!

This is a glorified walking simulator.  This is that beautifully wrapped Christmas present in a huge box that actually contains a huge pile of garbage. Someone wrapped garbage and put it on the Steam store. It’s a steaming pile of shit.

There are certain things that should work in your game, that you should test rigorously.  Or things that will come up in testing no matter what.  Like the fucking save system.  You know, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR A GAME WITH PROGRESSION.

Respite
This is a lie. There is no respite.

I made it past the first half of Medieval Walking Sim The Tower and fell into a deeper area of the tower (I guess?), and a few more crawling minutes got me to a save point. Cool. I saved, entered the next area, tried to crouch past the guards, and died. By die, I mean an animation played where a guard kind of rushed at me, and grumbled something, and I think hatcheted my head off.  This is purely conjecture.

The menu reloaded, and whaddya know, I couldn’t load my save. It was nonexistent. The little box was grayed out like it wasn’t even an option.  I freaked out for a minute, then hit New Game with about as much resignation as I could muster.  The game then had the AUDACITY to say that all previous data would be rewritten. It knew something existed, but I couldn’t access it.  But wait, it gets better!  I got to an area I’d already been to that had a cutscene where a maniac prisoner had been murdered.  But this time, the game didn’t play the cutscene.  The dismembered hand was already laying on the ground. So the game knew I’d already seen this, and had my save data, but refused to allow me to access it.

In terms of other broken things, there’s the menus. They work sometimes, if you Alt Tab out a few times.

Demerit # – It’s not actually a game

A game is something that’s hard to define, especially in our current era of strange, groundbreaking, or genre bending innovations. Generally speaking, a game is something where a player interacts with the developed system through designed mechanics to advance something (the plot, their character, the difficulty, levels, etc). It’s a broad definition, but it’s the umbrella way to fit all of the oddities and all of the mainstream.

Save
Who needs a save system? Fuck ’em, right?

This isn’t that.  This is a demo where you can barely interact with the world around you in a meaningful way.  Games have to have some degree of player interaction, and this does not.  It’s short, it’s boring, the plot is nonexistent, and they have the balls to charge you $2.99 PLUS TAX for this “experience”. 


What’s good

Merit #1 – The graphics

The graphics are surprisingly adequate. It’s a pretty game, even if the lighting is way too dark to be able to make anything out. I was impressed by some of it, although the filters added on the camera drove me fucking nuts.  Having a constant lens flare/water splatter/drip on your screen is annoying at best, mind numbing at worst.  And my mind is dead now.

graphics
The ground is nicely made. So are the walls. Not, so much, that font.


Merit #2 – The premise

It’s actually a cool idea. Having this be a scary torture tower set in the dark ages basically writes itself, and having the villains be people is an awesome way to create a kind of horror that doesn’t rely on monsters to create fear. It works on a primal level of being a prisoner, of being stripped of rights and humanity and left subject to people who take delight in holding their power over you. 

react
My reaction when I fell into the depths the first time.

And yet, somehow, that doesn’t happen here.  They can’t be bothered to write a game longer than 15 minutes, because this…this is only episode 1.  HOLD ON TO YOUR BUTTS, BITCHES.  #CANTWAIT4SEQUEL #TOWER2TEASERNOWPLZ #TOWERTOWERTOWERWOEROWEORAWEROAWKEOWER

react
My reaction when I fell into the depths the second time. This game will suck the joy out of you.


The Devs

I want to try and end these with little insights into the developer, to remind us that people create things and while they don’t always work, it’s still good to not try and hate them too relentlessly.  But I can’t find much about Narrow Monolith.  They haven’t posted to their Twitter since 2015, where they released THE TOWER REMASTERED EDITION!  Is this…is this what I played?  Now I’m on a mission to find the original version, damn it.

I did find a Reddit thread where someone pulled together a quick history about Narrow Monolith’s published games, and since I’m focusing on The Tower here, let’s start there.  They posted their major remastered update in 2015, and got a couple of “sound design is excellent” and the “voiceovers are great”.  If you heard any sound design, good on you, because all I heard was ambient noise and clattering shit.  The voice acting was alright, fair enough.  But when people commented on not expecting this update at all anymore, Narrow Monolith’s response was “So sorry about the wait…-_-“.  Uh, what? 

Things got much more interesting with a little more detective work.  I eventually saw the following:

kickstarter

But the link didn’t work.  I started looking for info on their Kickstarter, and eventually stumbled upon this little gem.

Basically, the article covers how the Kickstarter page (oh yes, I eventually found it) mentions getting a key for The Tower when it releases on Steam.  Pay 10 pounds, or about $13.47, and get a copy of the game when it releases in addition to the SUPER SECRET BACKER ONLY FORUM!

The only problem?  The game was already on Steam.  IT WAS ALREADY FUCKING ON STEAM.  You can see the screenshots with the date captures in the article.  What a blatant, horrific money grab.  Not to mention they’d already put their IndieGogo page up for the 2015 remastered edition before the early access launch (a page which is completely gone at this point). 

I don’t want to rehash the entire article, but basically, the game had a troubled early access launch on Steam in August of 2014, and was on the store with an update in April 2015.  The reviews hit them hard, and publicity from Kotaku for being an early launch didn’t help.  They launched their Kickstarter in June of 2015, and ended it in August.  Check out the article in full to see just how shady these assholes are, but basically, they had a bad launch on Steam, and tried to get Kickstarter to fund a game that was already made and available for purchase despite knowing that it hadn’t done well.  They also ignored promise updates and basically charged $10 at launch for what I spent $3 to play.  Can you imagine paying $10 to play this?  Without the refund policy?

I want to make this section about giving devs a chance, about showing their humanity and making fans aware of the struggles that go into making a game, even if it’s a bad one.  But I can’t justify that for this team.  Their operations fucking stink, and they were as shady as humanly possible during their funding process for this game, both in and outside of Kickstarter.  From charging different amounts for a game that’s already out to going missing after promising an update, they’ve done nothing but dodge out of obligations and con whatever tiny following they had.  That’s EA nonsense, right there. 


Final score: 0/5.  

I’m not even going to give this a 1.  Fuck this game.  Fuck this game and the lies it tells.  Stay as far away from this shit as possible.  It’s not fun to play as a “bad game”, it’s not fun to show your friends, and it’s not fun to think about the people that were probably swindled by this shit.


What’s next?

This was exhausting, and frustrating, and my tears must make for delicious little snacks for you readers.  While I really like finding misery in my daily life, I’m going to aim in a bit of a different direction for the next game:  I want to find something strange

I want more confusion in the reviews than anger, more cries of “what the hell just happened to me?”  Whether that stems from subject matter or broken mechanics, I don’t know yet, but if this next game can scramble my brain, we’re just fine, friends. 

Juuuust fine.

About The Author

I'm a big ol' nerd, and I want to effuse that nerdiness for the rest of my life. I spend as much time as I can drawing and playing video games, and I've taken that to the career level now since I'm back in school to be a game designer. I'm the mom to three puppies and a fat kitty, and the wife to a fellow nerd.

No Comments on "Hot Steam-ing dumpster dives: Climbing The Tower"

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *