We don’t normally review video games here at BGQ (well outside of digital board games), but when Asmodee Digital and Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) decided to make an adventure game set in the Arkham Horror universe, my interest was immediately piqued. I’ve been watching the teaser videos over the past year, eagerly awaiting a chance to try out the game. Well, the time is nigh! Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace drops you into the Lovecraftian universe from FFG’s Arkham Horror Files and tasks you with stopping an evil cult’s machinations (doesn’t it always?).
If you’ve ever played one of the FFG’s Arkham Horror Files (Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness) then you’ll find familiar characters and theme here. You start the game off by choosing one of a handful of adventurers to lead your investigation—the murder of old lady Tillington. The gameplay is actually split into a few parts. Each mission will have you first exploring around the level—a mansion, Miskatonic University, New Orleans, etc…—interacting with objects (which will be highlighted) to either find items, gain clues to the mystery, or just adding to the background story.
Eventually, you’ll be drawn into combat though. Many times you’ll be given advance warning as doors with red mist flowing beneath them signify a battle is in the next room. Combat is handled via a turn-based system (ala X-Com) with each character getting 5 action points to use to attack (ranged, melee, or spells), move, reload, trade, or set to overwatch. Once all the baddies are dead, you are sent back to the expiration mode.
Thought the game, your characters will be making lots and lots of sanity checks. If your sanity ever drops to zero, you suffer a trauma—a random impairment to your character. There is also the mythos clock. When you make a wrong choice in adventure mode (more on that later) or after each round of battle, the clock will tick forward. Once it gets back to the top, your team suffers another setback—extra sanity checks, stolen ammo, penalties to all future sanity checks, etc…
After you’ve completed your mission, you are dropped back into your office to switch characters, heal, and reequip for the next mission. All in all, expect the game to take around 7 hours to complete.
As an avid Cthulhu Mythos gamer (I’ve played more Lovecraftian games than I can count), I had high hopes for Mother’s Embrace. It’s Arkham Horror as a video game, how much can go wrong! Well, turns out, quite a bit.
The game suffers from a number of issues that really drag down the whole experience. So let’s start with the exploration mode. The good is that the game provides a variety of levels to explore, even if they all feel kind of empty. From the Big Easy to Miskatonic University, none of the levels really felt alive. Your characters will walk around at a slow pace (with the option to hold down the trigger for a slightly less slow pace) and only occasionally see another person. Eventually, you’ll come across an object you can interact with. This is where the game stumbles again
Many times you are giving a few choices of how to interact with the object. The problem is there is no rhyme or reason for how to do so. Unless your character has a relevant skill, you are just going to guess at the best choice to make. Wrong choices will advance the mythos clock. There is no puzzle here either you know what to choose or you must guess. For example, you find a locked tome. Do you pick the lock or force it open? Or you find a cabinet, do you empty it, have a quick look, or look through it? The names give you absolutely no clue as to the correct action. This system just makes no sense.
The other issue with the exploration mode is that it’s pretty much on rails. You’ll move around, explore every point of interest you find until the mission is done. There isn’t really much of a reason not to explore everything other than some sanity loss. There aren’t any branching paths or divergent options here. Just click and move on. No puzzles, no decisions, not really much of anything to make players feel like they aren’t simply along for the ride. I will say that the story and text of things you find are interesting, and do help to keep you engaged with the game. So that’s a plus.
When you are pulled into combat, things are pretty easy to grasp. Each character is usually weak, average, or strong in one of the three combat areas mentioned earlier. This will determine how many action points their attack will take (from 2-4). The issue here is that while combat is easy to do, it gets repetitive pretty quickly. There really isn’t much of a difference between the wrack spell or a shotgun, other than the spell is 50-50 to wild cast (causing a minor effect). The spells don’t seem to invoke the feelings from the Arkham Horror Files tabletop games where they always had unintended consequences. For the most part, you’ll just shoot things until they die. Even later in the game, combat doesn’t really get any more interesting.
Despite most of my gripes, Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace isn’t all bad. For the most part, the game worked well and was fairly bug-free. I played on a PS5 and never had any issues. The story itself, while not wholly original, still managed to keep my interest. And I really enjoyed reading the descriptive text on objects I interacted with, which helped set the mood for the game.
I know Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace isn’t a AAA title, so expectations need to be tempered. That being said, once I was done with it, I had no desire to revisit the game. For the most part, I felt like I was a passenger, rather than in the driver’s seat. At first, I was kind of hoping it would at least go the route of Telltale Games, which while linear, still have player choices that matter. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen here. Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace feels more like it should have been a $10 tablet game than a $20 console/steam game.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – Despite taking place in a universe with a wealth of lore and excitement, I felt pretty disconnected from the game most of the time.
• Exploration is on rails
• Goofy interaction system
• Combat gets repetitive