Developer/Publisher: Flynn’s Arcade // Price: $2.99 (Steam/eShop)
Review copy received from publisher
The horror genre is not something in which I usually engage. Creepy and suspenseful is ok, but gore and jump scares are a big no. Given this information, it seems like a very odd choice for me to actively play a horror based game. But there was something about Lambs on the Run from Flynn’s Arcade that sparked my interest. It is promoted as a survival horror game and that’s where I would normally move on. However, when looking at the screenshots, I didn’t see the dark hallways illuminated by a single flashlight that are commonly part of the genre. Instead I saw daylight and outdoor environments. How do you get a horror game from that?
Players take the role of John, a man desperate to find his daughter Mary in a post-apocalyptic world. The people John meets in this journey are fighting for survival which means that John is often seen as an enemy (or possibly even food). The journey takes place through a number of scenes; each one containing a small puzzle that must be solved to continue the journey. Many of those puzzles involve quick reactions to avoid death from the people around John which brings about the horror aspect of the game.
Lambs on the Run has multiple “gotcha” moments. In any given situation, a maniac with a weapon can charge at John unexpectedly from off screen causing an instant death if the attacker comes into contact with John. These moments made my swear jar a little bit richer, both because of the jump scare from a sudden surprise and having to restart from the last checkpoint when I inevitably failed at avoiding the attacker. I enjoyed a little jump scare, but restarting from the last checkpoint became tedious at times. Some of the checkpoints are too far apart requiring players to complete long stretches of the game because of a failed “gotcha” moment. In a way, Lambs on the Road is similar to a rogue-lite, where each run from checkpoint to checkpoint has a little more progression. Instead of being a skill-based exercise though, it’s simply one of memorization.
Thankfully, it is easy to avoid most of the story elements when restarting a section. I say “thankfully” because sitting through some of those scenes once was more than uncomfortable, so I was relived when I discovered I could pass them by without reliving them. That protected both my mental state and my time when restarting from a previous checkpoint. Lambs on the Road has extremely dark story elements, like suicide and cannibalism. It was extremely unsettling through parts of the game, and I was completely unprepared for that. While it didn’t have a major impact on me, I can see it having a large impact on some players based on their personal experiences and mental states. I think there should be some warnings at the beginning of the game to prevent someone from being triggered.
A Sprint, Not a Marathon
I enjoyed my time with Lambs on the Road, but it is an incredibly short adventure. Even with all of the restarts, I saw the credits in about an hour. I was completely shocked when the credits started rolling. How could it be over so soon and in the middle of the story? Based on what I can find online, this is the first in an episodic series, although there is no evidence for this on the Steam page or in the press kit. Realistically, Lambs on the Road feels like an extended demo instead of a full game. If the intent is to be an episodic adventure like the Telltale Games series, just be up front about it.
Lambs on the Road is a bit of a mixed bag. The pixel art is strong and adequately displays the post-apocalyptic setting. The puzzles, although simple, help to shift focus away from the surprises which helps support the horror aspects of the game. I am pleasantly surprised at how the developers managed to create a side scrolling horror game through the simplicity of misdirected focus. However, those moments of fright often become insta-death situations leading to tedious repetition of segments of the game because of the infrequent checkpoints. This could be mitigated by either more checkpoints or better usage of the health meter John has. It is unclear why John has three health points when every attack depletes his health completely. Plus, the repetition extends what is already an incredibly short game. Despite its shortcomings, Lambs on the Road was still an entertaining experience for me. If this is indeed an episodic experience, hopefully those shortcomings will be addressed to make the game an even better as we complete John’s adventure to save his daughter Mary.
|Pick up and play|