I have no bullets as I skulk through the dreadful Victorian port of Gloomwood, peering around corners and holding my ear up to doors as I evade a sanguinary cult. One enemy mentions he’s going to check inside, so I bolt to the corner of a room and lean out of his view as I shatter a bottle and ready my blade. My health is critical, so after I clear him out I make an uncalculated beeline for the front door in hopes of finding a stray medical syringe to salve my wounds. As I stumble doe-eyed towards the exit, I’m greeted by three wretched huntsmen who heard my clumsy play, jeer at me, and swiftly bash my head in until I’m nothing but a fresh coat of blood on an already crimson dock.
I’m not usually drawn to immersive simulators, but discovering the best routes around Gloomwood‘s insatiable hunters is both anxiety-inducing and creatively rewarding. This lo-fi, terror-infused ode to Y2K stealth survival horror stimulates the part of my brain that loves testing scenarios out in a sandbox (and hitting reset when things go sour). After playing through four hours of Gloomwood‘s early access I wish I could time travel to its release date just to learn more about its gothic realm of Bloodborne-reminiscent mysteries.
Creators Dillon Rogers (DUSK) and David Szymanski (DUSK, Dread X Collection) are developing this chilling period piece, and it’s being produced by game dev collective New Blood Interactive. From its opening moments, Gloomwood wields its horror inspirations proudly — similar to ULTRAKILL, the upcoming FAITH: The Unholy Trinity, and other New Blood games — yet it miraculously finds its own footing without leaning too hard on retro references.
Escaping from this cursed quarry warrants a lot of trial and error, an immersive sim staple that encourages your brain to stop auto-piloting and think openly about what paths are available. Should you stealthily lure your foes into the shadows one by one, or is it better to toss an explosive barrel at the whole pack? It is so gratifying to re-evaluate your methods and eventually tackle a corridor in an optimized, intimate way. Gloomwood early access sets itself apart from its contemporaries by emitting an eerie, persistent tension that insists you innovate at every moment.
To illustrate: after breaking out of my decrepit jail I see a huntsman in the woods, just standing nonchalantly with his back turned. He’s standing between me and freedom, so I have to take him out. I walk up and stab him from behind when suddenly I hear “Do mY eYeS DeCeIvE Me?” and another huntsman (obscured by a tree) shoots me point blank. I was antsy and didn’t take precaution, so I took a well deserved L. That death was a comical and clever moment where I palpably felt the developers’ presence: they set up a prank through the level design, and I fell right for it. With moments like this, Gloomwood quickly teaches you to stay curious and keep your guard up.
Another cool component of Gloomwood is the Resident Evil, Tetris-style inventory management. It’s a small feature, but properly organizing your suitcase can save you from fumbling a clutch item in the heat of the moment. Plus, I love Tetris. More games should just have Tetris-like elements in them.
All in all, Gloomwood‘s early access on Steam is a breezy, haunting playground that will make you eagerly anticipate the full spine-chilling release. The developers are also implementing player feedback frequently, so it’s the perfect time to help influence the shape of an already awesome immersive sim.