What do you get when you throw plague doctors into a blender with turn of the century penny dreadful pulp-novels? A lot of noise that attracts all the guards, seriously, might as well use the shotgun at that point.
New Blood Interactive‘s Gloomwood is a love letter to the first person sneak’em’up genre, demonstrating the team’s impeccable ability to zero in what makes beloved cult-classics tick and incorporate those creative influences into something wholly new. It’s hard to decide if the works they produce are remixes, spiritual successors, or homages to the titles they have reverence for, but I do know one thing: they’re incredibly fun and polished to an incredibly high degree.
Starting off as an independent solo project, Dillon Rogers quickly garnered attention for their thief-alike which led to them being brought under New Blood’s wing. Now with production overseen by David Szymanski of DUSK fame, the project has grown into something truly beautiful for those of us who were diehard fans of Looking Glass studios and the fundamentals they established for the immersive sim genre. Gloomwood is slick, responsive, and has incredibly easy to grasp mechanics with a sound design backend that would make Greg LoPiccolo proud. Stepping in to provide additional atmospheric audio is the illustrious Taylor Shechet, who, funnily enough, also provides the musical bumpers for our podcast, and his contributions add a weight as thick and heavy as the fog pervading the streets of Gloomwood itself.
Every minute spent creeping through dark corridors, observing the watchful tinted-gaze of guards as they patrol the town exudes astounding tension. But not once will you find yourself pulled out of the experience by frustrating controls or needlessly confusing level design, every element of Gloomwood feels incredibly well tuned and responsive. Thief, by all accounts, was actually a lot harder to get into across the board despite its masterful implementation of mechanics, and it has not aged as well for a modern audience which is precisely where Rogers’ vision for the work shines like a gold coin in the inky depths. What we have here is a sort of immersive sim crowdpleaser, something that will appeal in every silent step and held breath to both newcomers and devout fanatics of the genre.
Behind every wandering glimpse of a dreadful crow-man in the fog or creeping shadow cast across the floor is an intentional degree of world-building. Gloomwood‘s particular choice of tube-loaded break-and-pump action shotgun very deliberately evokes a Victorian era that never quite was, having been directly inspired by a rare prototype firearm design called the Burgess Folding Shotgun. This fine attention to detail, right down to the fact that the game pulls on a particular variant that never made it into the final patent, demonstrates that the work isn’t merely a work of fiction, but is a story grounded in historical obscura. Other fine details like saving at a phonograph are reminiscent of Resident Evil‘s typewriters, serving as a diegetic anchor to the game’s immersive fiction while maintaining a lovely suspension of disbelief.
Waxing nostalgic aside, Gloomwood is a fantastic piece of art and has established such a strong presence in this demo that it’s sure to leave the audience craving the full release now more than ever. It’s delightful to see that the hype has paid off, and Dillon Rogers reliably delivers like the midnight chime of an ominous clocktower. We can’t wait.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice