Chzo Mythos – PC
Developer: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
Publisher: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
Release Dates: September 29, 2003 – January 25, 2007
Nerd Rating: 9 out of 10
Reviewed by Greg Mustache
When one of the most popular and most brutal video game reviewers on the internet sets out to make a video game of his own, it’s an act of standing up to the oldest response to criticism in existence: if it’s so easy, you try it. Many people conflate the idea that to judge something means purporting to be capable of producing an iteration of that something that stands up to one’s own judgment, being able to prove that not only can you build a glass house, but prove it to be thrown-stone proof. Most of those people don’t realize that criticism does nothing so much as teach the critic what not to do.
I would be lying to say that Chzo Mythos is a stone-proof glass house, there are problems that demand more suspension of disbelief than they really invite. Most painfully, it suffers the kind of logic problems that often come with both adventure games and horror stories, with 7 Days being the most crippled by it (Why can’t anyone do their own job? Why are we napping in separate rooms? Why are the escape pods not ready for escape?) and 6 Days coping with it best. But I can say in all honesty that these games present an otherwise very well-crafted glass house, one that I have visited many times and always find welcoming.
Chzo Mythos, comprised of four games (5 Days a Stranger, 7 Days a Skeptic, Trilby’s Notes and 6 Days a Sacrifice), is a horror adventure game series that follow the misadventures of a cat burglar named Trilby and the events following his breaking into a particular mark’s home. He goes from a gentleman thief to a Call of Cthulu paranormal investigator and beyond even that before the end of the games, and the player is brought along on his weird ride through space and, literally, time. I find it difficult to describe without ruining some of the best plot twists, it feels a bit like offering a piece of cake and then scooping up frosting with a fingertip while I tell you how tasty it is, so let me get my fingers out of the cake a moment.
Point-and-click adventure games tend to be their own breed of awkward, but the Chzo Mythos games avoid most of the nightmarish pixel-hunting escapades; important items are highlighted when moused over and the interface is clean, functional, and most importantly, doesn’t distract from actually playing. Trilby’s Notes is the exception, as it makes brilliant use of a text parser both as a means of engaging the player in the story and a means of furthering immersion, while still basically keeping to the premise of the point-and-click games (use this, open that, ad infinitum). Being that the PnC genre was born in a time when frustrating bullshit was considered good gameplay (lookin’ at you, Kyrandia, fuck you and your two apples), it’s refreshing to play a game that uses the mediumfor the benefit of the story and the horror it seeks to express.
The “horror” part is where Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee gets a chance to really shine, because fear and tension and all the earmarks of the genre, in the absence of film and complex graphics, have to rely on the basics of story and atmosphere. The tales told individually in each game are in service to an overall plot, one that, however awkward in places, is cohesive and whole and obeys a consistent set of rules in the world it builds, all the while still drawing the player deeper into the nightmarish complexities it holds. Our eyes are gradually opened to the frightening realities of Just What Is Going On Here, each installment giving just enough to want more. And that, I think, is what makes the series stand out in the genre: the characters and the individual events that the player witnesses are only characters engaged in individual events, rather than a well-loved friend we’ve walked with through Hell. They are mere dots on a pointillist canvas, and we only see the big picture after all is said and done and we can step back far enough to really look at what has happened. The score also dramatically improves from the second game forward; the Tall Man’s Theme is the current gold medalist in the Songs That Give Greg Mustache Nightmares competition.
The frightening elements come as both subtle details (Trilby’s Notes, drawing most obviously on the influence of Silent Hill 2) that imply horrifying things without stating them, and the more overt touches of madness that cause exactly the right kind of startlingly disjointed feeling. These are the things that carry the series through the admittedly dumb plot problems, and they are what keeps me coming back to them as often as I do. After all, this kind of game is supposed to hurt.
and it hurts.
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