Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh

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Hunt for an evil priest who’s hiding in Argentina.

PC Release: August 10, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Wow. With a title like Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh, it’s easy to see that someone’s gunning for a memorable game title. Not since 2013’s Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs has there been such an eccentrically named horror game… though as Machine for Pigs demonstrated, an eccentric title hardly guarantees memorability. Thus far, the Doorways series has had a rocky ride when it comes to memorability, and Holy Mountains of Flesh is its last chance to knock a positive impression out of the ballpark.

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Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh is a survival horror game and the final installment of the Doorways saga. Like the previous games, Doorways: Prelude and Doorways: The Underworld, the title was developed by Argentinean dev Saibot Studios. Players also once again assume the role of grizzled paranormal investigator Thomas Foster. Unlike the previous games, players can play Holy Mountains of Flesh in either first or third-person, and the title places a far greater emphasis on solving puzzles.

Holy Mountains of Flesh picks up some time after Thomas’s battle with a sadistic German surgeon in Doorways: The Underworld and sees the agent off to the remote mountains of Argentina. This time, Thomas’s mission is to bring in Juan Torres, a sadistic priest who rules a mountain village through black magic, cannibalism, and other atrocious acts. Thomas also reveals that this assignment is to be his last job for the Doorways agency.

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Fun fact: apparently Mordor is in Argentina.

Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh challenges players to explore forbidding environments, solve tricky puzzles, and elude creepy monsters. The game is quite a bit longer than previous Doorways titles, with each of its three acts being longer than the entirety of Doorways: Prelude. Even though Juan Torres is Thomas’s prime suspect, the investigator also has to contend with the many ghouls and monsters prowling around the town. Additionally, he’s beset by no shortage of audio and visual hallucinations, which make the already desolate town even grimmer.

Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh makes a positive first impression with its level design. The game features a variety of environments for Thomas to explore, including an abandoned elementary school and an elegant mansion. The village connecting these areas feels empty and uninspired, but players can look forward to a lively mix of open areas and constricting corridors in each of the game’s principal locales. The result is a noticeable improvement in Saibot’s level design.

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Mountains of flesh confirmed.

Holy Mountains of Flesh also features the series’ best lighting. In a far cry from Doorways: Prelude‘s abject lack of lighting, Holy Mountains of Flesh understands how to light itself. None of the game’s many areas are lit too little or too brightly, giving players enough light to see without compromising atmosphere. The only drawback to this improved lighting is how quickly it kicks in; a room may look dark from afar but will suddenly bloom with light once players enter. It’s hard to tell if this is an FOV issue or something else altogether.

Finally for the level design, Holy Mountains of Flesh goes beyond varied level structure by incorporating a wide variety of textures. Whether it’s a grimy classroom floor or an beautiful drawing room in the Torres mansion, each area of the game is decked out with environment-appropriate textures that further add diversity to Holy Mountains of Flesh‘s world. Players weary of samey levels need not fear running into that issue in Holy Mountains of Flesh.

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And here we have the elementary school that Leatherface attended as a child…

The environments in Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh are also riddled with notes, which shed some badly needed, long-delayed light on who Thomas Foster actually is. It only took three games, but the protagonist finally discusses his job, why he does it, and what he hopes to accomplish by bringing serial killers to justice. It’s difficult to elaborate without spoiling, but Holy Mountains of Flesh re-contextualizes Thomas’s job by adding some unsettling details as to why he does what he does. These tidbits are implemented at a regular, suspense-building pace throughout the title.

For all the details that the Doorways saga finally gives to Thomas, Holy Mountains of Flesh takes away some of the humanity that the character expressed in The Underworld. Thomas no longer physically or verbally reacts to the things that jump out at him, which takes away from the character’s personality and makes the game less spooky. Why Saibot decided to remove this feature after implementing it in its previous game is a mystery, but it’s an unfortunate design choice that makes Thomas feel less like a person and more like an abstract pair of eyes.

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I guess this guy’s not a fan of surprise parties.

Another feature that Saibot seems to have introduced and then neutered is Doorways‘ monsters. Enemies in Doorways: Prelude rarely posed a threat unless the player deliberately provoked them, while creatures in Doorways: The Underworld hunted for Thomas and gave chase a la Amnesia: The Dark DescentHoly Mountains of Flesh prefers Prelude‘s formula, making it difficult for Thomas to be in mortal danger and therefore impossible for the player to feel scared. Just like in Prelude, monsters rarely attack unless Thomas ventures into darkness, so the only way to die is to forget to stay in the light. This takes the survival out of the game’s survival horror.

Then again, the assertion that Thomas is only ever in danger if he strays into the darkness isn’t strictly true… but that’s only because Holy Mountains of Flesh ends with a boss battle. Yep. A game that’s supposed to be about subtlety and wits ends with an arena-style confrontation against a huge monster. While there’s nothing wrong with boss battles per se, implementing one into a game that’s supposed to be about survival horror makes Holy Mountains of Flesh feel capricious.

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CAGE MATCH!!!

Boss battles and optional danger, though, can’t hold a candle to Holy Mountains of Flesh‘s biggest flaw: its puzzles. On the surface, a greater dedication to puzzling may not sound so bad, but Holy Mountains of Flesh makes its conundrums frustratingly opaque. The game engages in old-school, adventure game-style nonsense by challenging players to read vague instructions or pixel-hunt for hidden switches. This problem is at its absolute worst in the game’s second act, when Thomas has to shuffle pieces of a basement around in order to reach a door.

By their very nature, puzzles are supposed to challenge a player’s patience, but no puzzle should do so at the expense of logic. Puzzles that force players to try random combinations until the solution clicks into place aren’t really puzzles; they’re marathons. Not even the shifting maze puzzle in Doorways: The Underworld was as frustrating and tiresome as the conundrums present in Holy Mountains of Flesh, which is no small claim to make.

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Don’t even get me started on the constellation puzzle.

Even with easy-to-avoid monsters and mediocre puzzle design, Holy Mountains of Flesh‘s atmosphere makes this game difficult to despise. For all the game’s design failings with creatures and conundrums, its atmosphere is unmistakably spooky. Holy Mountains of Flesh makes decent use of ambient sound design, with low sounds in the background pierced by the occasional, startling noise in the foreground. The monsters, neutered as they are, can cause neck hairs to stand on end with their sounds and are much better animated than the creatures in previous Doorways games.

Additionally, Holy Mountains of Flesh gets props for running well. The game can run smoothly on devices of various sizes and configurations despite its high amount of polish. Players can tweak what they need to in the game’s options menu, in which Saibot continues its healthy habit of providing a decent palette of toggles. Players can also switch between third or first-person at any time using this menu (though, as always, Art as Games recommends first-person for the scariest horror experience).

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(shivers)

There’s a common theme running through all of the Doorways games; each title is at war with itself. By and large, the three games in the series do a good job of establishing atmosphere and sound design, but are much more inconsistent with puzzles and monster encounters. Holy Mountains of Flesh represents the series’ fiercest inner conflict, as its deep atmosphere and good level design clash with declawed monsters and frustrating challenges.

Unfortunately, the design facet that tips the balance against Holy Mountains of Flesh is, like the previous two games, its storytelling. While it’s refreshing to finally get some details on who Thomas Foster is, the story of Holy Mountains of Flesh is interspersed with exposition and cutscenes that muddy the narrative rather than “flesh” (ba dum tsss) it out. The game’s narrative is indeed “complex” as its Steam store page claims, but not in the way that Saibot Studios probably intended.

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Homely…?

This is slight spoilers territory, but Thomas seems to be in the justice industry as much to torture people as to bring them in for questioning. Holy Mountains of Flesh reveals a much darker side to the character, but doesn’t do a good job of explaining why. The game also picks up and muddles around in plot threads from Doorways: Prelude, hinting that what Thomas is experiencing isn’t real but not bothering to answer the questions that crop up. It’s a phenomenon reminiscent of Japanese horror design, in which titles from that tradition of video games love burying players in detail without rhyme or reason.

Because of this bizarre fondness for unexplained details, Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh fails to stick the landing. There’s nothing wrong with an ending that raises more questions than it solves, but when those questions are raised in apropos of nothing, well… that’s bad storytelling. It doesn’t do for a horror game to simply throw a wrench into its own implications and expect players to go along with the ride. Holy Mountains of Flesh is a game whose story erratically drives all over the road in a desperate attempt at spookiness, only to end up in a ditch for its trouble.

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Game over, Thomas.

Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh might suit the niche gamer who’s into obscure puzzles and danger-lite games, but most horror fans don’t care for either of those things. A word of advice for Saibot Studios: the dev has atmosphere and suspense nailed down pretty well in its game design, but puzzles and storytelling need a lot of work. The studio recently announced that it’s hard at work on its next title: a game apparently unrelated to the Doorways series. Hopefully Saibot takes this advice to heart, because there’s talent on that team. Now all it needs is a little more consistency.

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You can buy Doorways: Holy Mountains of Flesh here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.