Now Available on Steam Early Access
Developed by Jochen Mistiaen
Soft sprinklings of piano overwhelmed by the haziness of a roaring snowstorm, a melancholy scene of blurry white as our protagonist sits listening under the dome of an ancient structure. As we enter into this hellish palace however, the player realizes something is different; something ominous and evil.
You awake in a familiar and darkened library of a palace, the demonic statues peering down from before you as the crackling of a fireplace is heard. At first little is known of the surroundings we've become enshrouded by other than the need to explore and escape it. As you scour the dark hallways portraits and statues of former inhuman residents sit proudly on shelves and grotesque, surreal paintings line the walls. One thing is being made clear to the player; this palace is not of any realm within human knowledge.
Venturing deeper into the heart of this ghastly mansion of antique oddities you come across various personalities who seem to be old acquaintances that have anticipated your arrival. They speak to you in cryptic messages bearing skeletal faces with no skin, claiming to wear their "masks of flesh" no longer. According to these dark personalities, this hellish realm is your home and where you belong.
Will you succumb to their wishes and remain a piece of the palace enshrouded by snow and demonic mysteries, or will you escape the overshadowing blizzard with your life and defeat the chaotic souls that rule the pits of this Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" inspired Hell?
For a combat system that seems so simple, it offers a lot of variety in how you strategically approach each foul demon of Hell encountered in this strange palace. Tapping attack gives you quick but weak swings with your metal spear in rapid succession, whereas pressing forward in time with a swing performs a heavy lunge attack. As useful and strong as the lunge attacks are they leave you wide open to counters and should be saved for a final blow. Pressing back in time with a swing creates a quick back-step maneuver that the player will be forced to rely on to time and escape deadly blows and create the perfect opportunity for a counter attack.
While it may not be as deep or flashy as the Dark Souls series, Malebolgia is clearly striving for the same kind of slow and calculated approach to long and brutal encounters with single diabolical creatures ranging from slow, lurching ghouls to terrifying and majestic chimeras. Endurance is the key to your survival as you go toe-to-toe with your enemy blocking, bashing, and taking only the most ample of opportunities to lunge and make your final strike.
Malebolgia has a striking visual style and while many will find the minimalistic, archaic design of the palace to be drab it provides a deliberately moody and heavy atmosphere all around you. The muted and dull colors with black and white checkered floors bring out the distinct red found in various books or curtains, all looking like something out of Twin Peak's dreamlike "Red Room" scenes.
The chilling ambiance of the background music fits the harsh imagery, sounding like something straight out of the torture chambers of a medieval castle. The monsters are brought to life with ghastly grunts and haunting chants from later magical enemies that ring in your ears as you attempt to focus your energy into dodging beams of their evil energy.
Malebolgia is a game that clearly puts an emphasis on atmosphere in the end, and it succeeds in providing a genuinely strange and creepy encounter many times over. The combat provides just enough engagement through your exploration of the surreal surroundings to keep you on your toes and wondering in fear which frightening creature will be around the corner to greet you next.
With an already considerable amount of love and care put into patches and overall polish to the look and feel of the game, this is proving to be another one of the finer examples of exciting Early Access experiences to be a part of. Malebolgia's halls are already a deranged pleasure to explore and clearly hold even more potential for odd secrets and other cryptic strangeness, I'm eagerly anticipating what other surprises Jochen has in store.