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Game Info:

Monumental
Developed By: Whipstitch Games
Published By: Black Shell Media
Released: January 22, 2016
Available On: Windows
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 
Price: $9.99

*Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is an advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review code!

The first-person puzzle genre has endured quite a few twists and turns over the years. In the early years, games such as Starship Titanic or Rama reveled in presenting an unknown world full of complicated challenges for you to solve. More recently, games such as Portal introduced a more action-styled element to the puzzles. Others either toe – or blatantly cross – the line of “walking simulator”, where the only puzzle is how they got so much media attention and praise in the first place. Occasionally, however, you can find a game that throws back to an older age that expected you to play with pen and paper at the ready, and Monumental certainly fits that bill.

Monumental is a first-person puzzle game set in a mysterious alien world. The Mandrake Research Facility has gone some time without a transmission, and you are sent to check up on the five researchers stationed there. In the process, you’ll comb through the facility, poke around an abandoned ruin, and plunge into the depths of the central temple – and uncover some details about the alien civilization yourself.

The entirety of the game involves wandering around each of the three aforementioned areas, discovering obstacles, data nodes, alien runes, and so on. The puzzles have a decent amount of variety to them, though you’ll mostly solve math problems, manipulate colors, or activate sounds in a particular order. While you only deal with good old fashioned English and Arabic numerals in the research facility, out in the ruins you’ll need to decode the aliens’ language and base-8 number system.

 

Monumental
Highlights:

Strong Points: Satisfying puzzles; interesting alien world
Weak Points: A few unintuitive puzzles; occasional freezes/softlocks during loading
Moral Warnings: A few dead bodies, one with a blood-covered shirt; text descriptions of one-sided attempts at adultery; Barbie-style naked humanoid aliens; a single minor curse (hell)

The puzzles, as the main attraction, do their job and do it well for the most part. While the game is mostly linear, some small sequence breaks are possible with enough thought. There are a rare few instances where the puzzles simply don’t make logical sense, the most egregious being gaining entry into one researcher’s room: the password requires a combination of colors that’s found randomly plastered to a wall in such a way that it just looks like part of the futuristic scenery. The code also requires you to back out of the terminal entirely if you get it wrong, which is different than every other terminal in the game. Luckily, there’s an in-game hint system for moments like these, with each one giving you somewhere between a light nudge or a heavy push in the right direction. There’s no punishment for using these, aside from the total number of used hints being displayed on your save file as a monument to your shame.

That said, even that puzzle could be figured out with enough thought, trial-and-error, or simple desperation, and the vast majority of the puzzles are similar. The interface only adds to the experience: you can, and are required to, take pictures and record audio, and can display those recordings at any time. It’s a quick, user-friendly solution to writing everything down on paper – though that old method still comes in handy quite a bit. The relative ease of access to your references, combined with the standard high quality of the presented puzzles, creates a truly satisfying experience.

The controls are a bit hard to get used to, however. You use the mouse wheel to scroll between your various gadgets, and right-clicking activates them - this is rather simple and intuitive enough. Complicating matters, though, is the addition of device-specific menus where your notes, pictures, or sound clips are stored; these are brought up by clicking the mouse wheel, and right-clicking from there displays or plays the selected data. While there is no way to delete unwanted pictures or audio, which is especially annoying when you mess up the controls and snap a photo of the bare floor, the ease with which you can scroll through them makes it almost a non-issue. There are keyboard controls for the interface as well, but the game never outlines them and you can’t configure the keys, making it one puzzle the game could do without.

Monumental
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 76%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 2/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 92%
Violence - 9/10
Language - 8/10
Sexual Content - 9/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Monumental’s presentation is decent enough, neither impressing nor disappointing. The graphics look rather nice even on the lowest settings, but a few objects – mainly otherworldly flora and the like – have strange muddy textures on them that at best make the world look alien but usually just make it look unappealing. Each of the three levels as well as the title screen and credits has their own song, and while none stand out, they do convincingly set the intended tones and never get irritating to listen to. The audio cues you’re intended to record and input stand out clearly from the music, and replaying something via the menu cuts the music entirely to provide unimpeded access – though sometimes the music won’t come back at all without a visit to the pause screen. Finally, the alien civilization itself is engaging and fun to explore, with the only real complaint being how underutilized it is: the developers clearly mapped out an entire alien language, but never use it anywhere but the title of the game on the title screen. All puzzle hints and solutions are instead plastered as-is on seemingly random walls, which can break the immersion somewhat.

The biggest issue Monumental has, however, lies in its stability. As mentioned previously, the music can cut off after listening to an audio recording. Changing the graphics quality in-game results in an unplayable mess of random textures that requires a restart to fix. The game itself runs smoothly – but only when it loads at all. While the first level loads reliably, the ruins and temple levels can and will get stuck at about 90% loaded. Sometimes even successful loads will visibly freeze the game, spinning circle mouse cursor included, but at least you know it’s loading when that happens. If you softlock on a loading screen, your only options are to wait the fifteen minutes or more for it to sort itself out, or open up the task manager and manually end the process. Worst of all, this happens in up to a third of all loading attempts. Needless to say, the flow of the game is severely hampered when you’re forced to quit playing, and it makes entering a new area something to fear rather than be excited about.

There are only a few minor moral issues to find in Monumental. You’ll stumble upon some corpses along the way, one of which wearing a blood-soaked shirt. Among the notes left by the researchers, a few describe one man’s attempt to seduce a woman away from her husband, though neither of the two married individuals want anything to do with it. The aliens are depicted as humanoid and naked, but it’s only as disturbing as an Academy Award. Finally, there is a single use of the word “hell” in one of the research notes, but the language is clean otherwise.

Overall, Monumental is a superb puzzle game marred by a few leaps of logic and some severe technical issues. While solving the challenges and exploring the alien civilization are rewarding, it’s hampered when the game fights you to simply view them. The loading issues are such that it’s hard to recommend it at full price to anyone but the biggest puzzle genre fans or those with extreme patience, but there’s definitely a rewarding experience waiting for you if you decide to pick it up.

-Cadogan

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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