reviewed El Paso, Nightmare
Please stop charging money for demos.
I get the rationale behind it. I understand that indie development is a complete and utter hellscape where it can be nearly impossible to secure enough funding for even a single person to live an uncomfortable life. I understand that putting out these smaller-scale releases can help to get a little extra cash flow, and maybe make it a little easier to make the game you actually want to make. I understand that it's part of a greater business strategy. I get it. The problem with El Paso, Nightmare is twofold; it won't be anything like the final game, and it isn't fun.
El Paso, Nightmare is intended as a prelude to the upcoming El Paso, Elsewhere, which seems to be a Max Payne game where you gun down cryptids instead of New York City goons (you could argue there's little fundamental difference between the two groups). Nightmare, though, isn't a third-person shooter, and it doesn't have bullet time like Elsewhere advertises; it's a two-parter of a vaguely bad horror walk-about, and an extremely bad arena wave shooter.
The horror part isn't especially egregious, but it's also not that interesting. You walk around a dimly-lit motel searching for colored hearts to open corresponding colored doors while sneaking past unaware monsters. The penalty for getting caught by them is almost negligible: they deal very little damage, and you'll outrun them by just walking in a straight line. You can chug down the very plentiful bottles of painkillers strewn about the map to heal (remember, the final game is going to be like Max Payne), and you're basically guaranteed to be carrying the maximum amount of them on you at all times. It feels like an extended kiting tutorial for enemies with exceptionally uncomplicated AI, which is a major waste of time. In a game with a runtime of under thirty minutes total, this is an unacceptable fault.
At the end of the sequence, though, the music shifts from this boring ambient track into a legitimately interesting, heavy, plodding, Southern Gothic hip-hop song. It was a different enough sound from what I usually hear in games like this that I immediately perked up. It was interesting. I wanted to hear more. Surely the game was about to get fun.
Unfortunately, all that was left for me was a wave shooter that felt like a very, very bad custom Killing Floor map. It's kind of shocking. This would have felt dated ten years ago, and it feels positively ancient now. All you do is run around for about fifteen minutes before the game decides you're allowed to progress, and then you wake up from the nightmare. It's a snooze, ironically. The weapons feel bad to use, and the monsters are so simple that they're boring instead of threatening; what you're left with is something that's too easy to be scary, and too clunky to feel satisfying.
When you wake up from the nightmare, there's a lengthy sequence where you can listen to the protagonist leaving a voicemail for his dead father explaining why he didn't go to his funeral. This is a sudden, heavy turn, but I kind of liked it. It's acted well, which is strange considering how amateur the voice acting is everywhere else in the game. I don't know why this sequence got so much care put into it, considering how easily you can skip it. I bet some players wouldn't even notice that they could listen to the answering machine that it's left on and proceed straight to the credits.
El Paso, Nightmare is bad, but it's a very weird kind of bad. I know I don't hate it, but I don't think there's much of anything here to like. The good moments are little sparks that immediately get snuffed out, and the overwhelming majority of the game is just a slog. I sincerely hope that Elsewhere ends up being better, because I can see the potential here. Considering how poor this is, though, I won't hold my breath.
Reviewed on Jan 05, 2023