The Land of Pain Review
The Land of Pain Review
Despite the problems I had, I consider The Land of Pain to be a remarkable creation. Familiarity with Lovecraft is not a prerequisite for enjoying the game, and I highly recommend it to all who love a good scare.
Posted: 12/04/17 | Category: Review | Developer: Alessandro Guzzo | Platform: Windows

Genre: First-person survival horror
Release date: September 13, 2017

Introduction  
 

The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. - HP Lovecraft

Welcome to the Lovecraftian world of The Land of Pain. It's a game that skillfully builds on the Cthulhu Mythos.

Just as I'm in awe of Lovecraft, who alone created an entire universe of unthinkable monsters, I'm in awe of this game's developer, Alessandro Guzzo, for having created The Land of Pain practically single-handedly. Built with CryEngine, it's a beautiful-looking game with a narrative that stays remarkably true to Lovecraft.

I previewed the game last July and it really impressed me. I couldn't wait to play the full version. I could tell it would be truly scary. I was correct.

Horrors! 
 

For me, effective horror is the kind that gradually permeates a player's mind and emotions and stays there, building on itself and bringing heightened sensitivity to the environment. It's expecting something terrible to happen but not knowing when, where, or even if it will.

Good horror will keep you on-edge and off-balance. It will have you not wanting to know what terrible things might await you but being irresistibly compelled to find out anyway.

The Land of Pain has all of this and more. It conjures up fear of the unknown at its finest.

Where Am I? 
 

The demo I reviewed essentially represents the first 30 minutes or so of the game. Rather than rehash things here, I'll just say that your retreat into the woods for some R&R turns into a nightmare wherein you're transported to another world -- one that has certain things in common with the world you know, but also has major (and horrific) differences. If you'd like further details, please have a look at the preview.

You are thrown into this unwelcoming world without knowing why you're here or what you're supposed to do. The atmosphere alone fills you with dread. You have nothing with which to defend yourself.

Of utmost importance is finding a way home. You have no choice but to search for answers in this sinister place.

Fear of the Unknown 
 

At the end of the demo, I was left outside the door of a small, blood-splattered structure. I had already seen some grotesque things, but these were nothing compared with what I was going to see (or not see -- I'll explain in a bit).

The gameworld is enormous, providing plenty to explore. Along with traveling on pathways and through wooded areas, you investigate assorted structures (some quite bizarre), caves, swamps, graveyards and maze-like mines. Some areas are quite dark; others are illumated by torches, lanterns and streetlamps.

Early on, you find a lantern to carry with you. Unfortunately, light can reveal your presence to a loathsome creature that pursues you through much of the game. To make matters worse, this creature is invisible most of the time (hence, the aforementioned thing you don't see).

You can tell the creature is in the area by the otherworldly sounds that accompany it and the subtle way its presence alters the environment's appearance. But you're unable to tell precisely where the creature is or how close it might be. It could be lurking anywhere, waiting to strike as you make your way through the game.

This kept me in an almost perpetual state of anxiety. I'd hear the rustling of a nearby bush and think it was the creature. I'd step on some crunchy undergrowth and think it was the creature. I'd hear strange sounds close by and think they were the creature. You get the idea.

To avoid being killed, you must run and/or hide. You're unable to run indefinitely, as you have a limited amount of stamina. As it's depleted, your character becomes winded, slows down and eventually comes to a stop. This is not a good thing when a creature is nipping at your heels.

Hiding didn't work out too well for me, either. Neither did yelling at the creature to leave me alone.

Eventually, I did manage to survive my creature encounters reasonably well until I reached a large area approximately halfway through the game called...

The Swamp 
 

IMO, this is the most difficult part of the game. Much to my chagrin I spent many hours there, being killed.

The area is foggy; parts of it are very dark even with the game's brightness control turned all the way up, and there are fewer ambient lights than in other areas. The diminished illumination from the environment also made the use of my lantern more conspicuous.

I likely made matters worse by leaving the path and proceeding through dark underbrush with my lantern off in an effort to elude the creature. This also resulted in my barely being able to see where I was going.

TheLandOfPainSwamp-Dark2A portion of the swamp, without benefit of lantern or ambient light

Once I was fairly sure that the creature wasn't in the vicinity, I'd be so turned around that I wouldn't know which way to go. More often than not, my choice of direction would take me to a place I'd already been.

If the creature did manifest and I succeeded in outrunning it, I'd be unable to tell where I was at the end of the encounter. This also resulted in my inadvertently revisiting places I'd already been.

After awhile, I started to feel as though I were permanently trapped in the swamp and doomed to go around in circles forever. I began to question my ability to finish the game.

After having found everything so enjoyable (frightening) up until then, this thought was pretty discouraging. So I persevered.

Story 
 

As you proceed through the game you learn about the history and nature of this disturbing world, primarily through journal pages and drawings left by others. Some of the pages also provide hints as to what to do next.

I prefer not to discuss the story's details, as I think they're best discovered by the player. As the creature continues to pursue you, you encounter dead, mutilated bodies and copious amounts of blood. You come across torture devices. You hear moaning and screaming. The ground shakes. A deep, malevolent voice invades your head.

You keep going. You must find a way home.

Music and Sounds 
 

The Land of Pain has little music, but what's there enhances the atmosphere nicely. There are plenty of sounds.

Low-pitched background audio plays to create an undercurrent of foreboding. Ambient sounds, such as crickets, toads, crows and mice are quite realistic.

There are rustling sounds that could have been made by the player or someone/something else. This kind of thing happens throughout the game, in both dark and illuminated areas. It can be extremely unnerving, and prompted me to leave the area quickly. (Scaredy-cat, scaredy-cat! You're damn right.)

Then there are the other sounds. Screechy, squishy, gurgling, disgusting, gawd-awful ones. Sounds that made my skin crawl and my stomach lurch.

At times, there are no sounds at all. Talk about unnerving...

At various points, the player is showered with dirt, tree leaves and other debris. Boards creak. Twigs snap. An occasional mouse or other small beastie scurries across your path. There are big, booming noises in the distance.

You hear screaming that sounds human. You also hear nightmarish sounds that are distinctly non-human. If I may mix a metaphor, the use of sound is where The Land of Pain shines brightest.

Mechanics/Puzzles 
 

This is the only area in which the game let me down. After the demo was released, Alessandro promised to look into re-mappable control keys. The full version still lacks this option, leaving most controls -- WASD and keys representing various functions (such as F for the lantern and C to crouch) -- clustered together on the LH side of the keyboard. The space bar controls jumping. You press the Shift key to run, and the mouse is used for directional control.

I'm left-handed, and this setup is awkward for me. So much so that I had to repeat certain maneuvers four or five times in order to succeed.

The game also obliges you to execute some jumps (fortunately for me, not too many). These require a degree of precision, and I frequently failed due to the game's unwieldy controls.1

Alessandro has been quite responsive to other concerns, such as a crashing issue. So it's possible he will yet find a way to incorporate re-mappable  keys.

Progress is autosaved, and checkpoints are plentiful. They don't interrupt the action and are indicated by the brief appearance of a small floppy disk at the upper LH corner of the screen. So if you die, there isn't a lot of backtracking to be done.

Puzzles consist primarily of the find-item-and-use-it-someplace-else variety. None is inordinately difficult.

In Conclusion 
 

I understand that others have completed The Land of Pain in 6-8 hours. I was at it considerably longer. Being stuck in the swamp accounts for some of it. So does fumbling with control keys. But I also took my time where possible and looked at/listened to everything -- and I mean everything. I drank in as much of the game's chilling atmosphere as I could. I just love feeling frightened -- particularly when it's done as skillfully as it is here.

It's my hope that Alessandro will continue to develop games such as The Land of Pain. He has a talent shared by few developers: an understanding of true horror (rather than just throwing a bunch of "jump-scares" at the player).

I ask only one favor: Next time, Alessandro, please remember us left-handers. I, for one, will love you for it.

Despite the problems I had, I consider The Land of Pain to be a remarkable creation. Familiarity with Lovecraft is not a prerequisite for enjoying the game, and I highly recommend it to all who love a good scare.

If you remain unconvinced, the free demo is still available on Steam.
_________________________________________

1 I'd love to see a Let's Play made by a lefty using default keyboard/mouse controls. Any takers?

 
Genuinely scary
+ Engaging Lovecraftian narrative
Compelling use of sound
+ Beautiful graphics
+ Satisfying ending
 
Control keys can't be re-mapped
Some areas are particularly dark 
 Logo
 
 
Trailer:
 

System Requirements

MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows 7/8/10 (64-bit OS required)
Processor: Dual core 2.8 GHz 
Memory: 4 GB RAM
DirectX: Version 11
Graphics: GTX 460 1 GB/Radeon 5850 1GB
Storage: 5 GB available space
 
Specials from Digital Download
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