VIDEO: Play This: Golden Light, also available on YouTube.
Golden Light is a headache on paper, a singleplayer prop hunt survival horror roguelike FPS. Massage those temples and come on back, because dipping out on the bloated albeit necessary genre description would mean missing out on one of the weirdest horror games I’ve played in a long time.
It’s in Early Access, but doesn’t feel incomplete and probably won’t until I reach the deeper floors of The Gut, an infinitely deep maze of offices and meat and monsters. It’ll be a minute before I reach that point, and even if I do, developer Mr. Pink is putting out updates pretty quickly. The Backstreets update adds a new biome, enemies, bosses, weapons, story bits, and even Twitch integration—more stuff than I’ll be able to get through at a healthy pace.
The goal is to get through as many floors of The Gut as possible, exploring for weapons, gold, skill modifiers, and the keys required to unlock the elevator to the next floor. But here’s the big catch: Enemies can take the shape of any physical object. I’ve been stalked by books and houseplants, swallowed up by doors. Not only are enemies pretty sturdy, but killing them damages your reputation with The Gut, and you wouldn’t want to make an infernal office maze mad, would you? Running is usually the better choice, but rarely easy. Your enemies can hide as easily as you.
Secondary items can help or hinder depending on whether you toss em at enemies or chow down, but there’s no way to know what anything does until you try it. Because as you move between floors, finding keys and unlocking the elevator, the rules change too. A meat apple might poison enemies on one floor, or cast a love spell on them on the next floor—and even then floor-specific rules might change what effects poison and love have.
Golden Light’s constantly shifting mental reality perfectly suits the warped, untrustworthy physical reality. It’s a nice little foundation for a story I’ve yet to unpick. The Gut swallowed someone I love, but I don’t think this is going to be about saving the princess. You’re playing as an unreliable narrator in a surreal, deceptive space. I’m expecting subversion all the way down.
I especially love how Golden Light’s disorienting logic doesn’t just sit in the visual presentation and game systems, but extend to the controls, with a sickly, slow mouse-look imitating input lag. This is not a game for anyone expecting something conventional or easy to slip into, but for me (and I’m still pretty early on) I love kicking around in queasy, resistant games like Golden Light. And while maintaining tension, mystery, and a sickly unease is paramount here, there’s still a game under that heavy blanket of thematics, and one I’m slowly beginning to understand even if it resists me at every opportunity.