REVIEW: ‘Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace’ Doesn’t Embrace Lovecraft Enough

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Arkham Horror - But Why Tho

Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace is the video game adaptation of the hit board game franchise of the same name. Developed and published by Asmodee, Arkham Horror puts players in charge of a team of investigators who are searching for answers in the ritualistic murder of an elderly professor, all set in H.P. Lovecraft’s popular universe. 

There have been many Lovecraftian games in recent years spanning the horror spectrum, from Darkest Dungeon to The Sinking City. Arkham Horror aims to carve out its small corner in the industry by bringing a blend of investigative and turn-based combat gameplay. When starting the game, players get to pick from a handful of investigators, each with their own personality, voice acting, unique ability, stats, and a focus on one type of investigation. This selection has the largest impact on the exploration half of Arkham Horror. 

During every level, players spend a lot of time exploring the environments to scrounge for supplies and gather clues and information about the world and lore behind the story. While searching, players come across “complex decisions,” or situations that require the player to choose from a couple of options like deciding whether to pat a corpse down to search it or to simply look at it. Each one of these decisions has an associate type, and if one of the investigators in your party has that type as their focus, they will advise you which option is the correct one. 

Exploring can be a balancing act, however, as a good number of the objects that investigators can interact with will cause the members of the party to make a sanity check, possibly lowering one of their two health bars. This helps add some tension to the exploration, but it can also occasionally be too punishing. 

Exploring also has various puzzles and side objectives to engage with, which add good variety to searching the areas. These puzzles and objectives can be difficult because the information players gather towards them is not recorded anywhere. This makes them much more difficult, but they also make figuring them out much more satisfying and engaging. 

The combat is rather simple. Each character has an initiative value that determines their turn order, and then combat starts with each character having five action points for the round. There is a decent array of weapons split between melee weapons, guns, and spells which have a chance of having a randomized bonus effect with every use. The standard turn-based mechanics are present, with characters using action points to attack, go into overwatch mode, move, and use various items. 

Encounters can be difficult later on in the game and do get more interesting once Lovecraftian monsters start popping up. But it still is a bit oversimplified for how much game time it takes up. The combat is so oversimplified that there are no hit percentages at all. Any shot or hit attempted is guaranteed to hit with a generous percent chance to become a critical hit as well.  There are not many options for weapons, with players getting a steady trickle of better options that replace the previous equipment without any alternatives. There are also very few items to discover while exploring, with most of what players find being bandages, cigarettes to raise sanity, and ammunition for firearms. 

Arkham Horror - But Why Tho

As simple as the combat is, it can still be punishing. Enemies hit hard and have large health pools, making those healing items extremely necessary at nearly every level. There is no option for perma-death, but once a single investigator goes down encounters quickly spiral to defeat. 

During every level, players also have to monitor a mythos meter that is broken up into five notches. Once the meter is full, the ancient ones that are watching the player’s moves interfere to try and impede their progress. This comes in the form of one of a few random negative effects, such as stealing ammunition from the party’s inventory or making all of the investigators make two sanity checks. Notches are filled at the end of every round of combat, making speed the priority, as well as whenever a player picks an incorrect option during a complex decision. 

The sanity checks are some of the most punishing as most investigators only have seven sanity. When their sanity reaches zero, the investigators are afflicted with a randomly selected trauma. These traumas carry more long-lasting negative effects like lowering their initiative value or making them more susceptible to status effects like being stunned or blinded by enemy attacks. Each investigator can have up to three traumas at once, and they can only be removed by leaving investigators back at the offices during a mission. This helps encourage players to use a variety of characters throughout the story, but switching between them does not do much with how simplistic the combat is. 

The narrative is simply serviceable. While also starting very slow, it eventually becomes a decent Lovecraft tale filled with cults, sacrifices, and insane asylums. However, it is disappointingly predictable. It hits the expected beats of a Lovecraft-inspired narrative and manages to keep the player’s attention, but shies away from going as far as it could with the source material’s motifs. This is even more disappointing with the recent narrative successes of other similar titles such as Call of Cthulhu, which embraces the darkness of Lovecraft’s mythos as well as the investigative elements, or The Sinking City, which critiques the source material’s latent racist implications while implementing the tone of the mythos faithfully. 

Arkham Horror’s presentation is also spotty. The voice acting and sound work is largely passable, but a handful of lines or performances are distractingly poor. The graphics have a good stylized quality to them that allows the horrors players come across to look as frightening as they should without requiring AAA-level production. However, many of the textures look very rushed upon close inspection. There are also a few technical issues that come up during a playthrough, with the camera frequently getting stuck in one angle and requiring loading a checkpoint to free it or some items and interactions still having placeholder text. 

All in all, Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace is an enjoyable title, especially for its modest price point. There is enough that it does right to make it well worth a playthrough, but the linear nature of the story and levels makes playing through the game again unappealing, even with the choice of multiple starting investigators. It does a lot of elegant translation of the mechanics from the board game into a video game, but there is a lack of cohesion and spice that make the ideas and mechanics not mesh well together. This leaves the game as a good enough option for fans of the board game who have already played all of the scenarios or fans of Lovecraft in general, but it carries little appeal for players who are not already invested in the setting.

Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace is available now on PC.

Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace is an enjoyable title, especially for its modest price point. There is enough that it does right to make it well worth a playthrough, but the linear nature of the story and levels makes playing through the game again unappealing, even with the choice of multiple starting investigators. It does a lot of elegant translation of the mechanics from the board game into a video game, but there is a lack of cohesion and spice that make the ideas and mechanics not mesh well together.