Once again, I find my old frame hurtling through time and space to another video game realm. When I slid into the dimensionally displaced city of Arkham, I adopted the clever pseudonym Mord Aithinsworth. I woke up in some dingy attic over the top a noisy bar, from some horrible dream about a man with questionable fashion taste.
I had some expectations going in. I was adopting the persona of a conman, a charlatan, a nogoodnik - in other words, a not-very-nice person at all. I was expecting in this world of madness to sneak, creep, and generally lie my way through things. And I was mostly correct. There was a problem with my expectations, though one fixed with a growing understanding of the genre I found myself in.
Stygian isn't just a horror game, nor is it just a noir mythos game. I mean, it is those, but it also smacks of pulpy adventure stories. There is a loving camp to everything (that thankfully does not break the grim tone of the game.) The story makes mention of masked vigilantes, but all the heroes are dead now. There are evil criminals - ones that would be at home in a Dick Tracy comic, though maybe with a darker source of power and debauchery? And combat with the eldritch horrors was a more viable option than I was expecting going in… Though still not the best of ideas.
Aside from the skill set of managing and successfully engaging in combat, Stygian also requires players to maintain personal health through survival mechanics. This means that not only do you have to keep an eye on health before diving headfirst into conflict, but you have to be aware of other things such as hunger, fatigue and most importantly sanity. Unlike hunger, which can be automatically quenched by simply having rations in your inventory, sanity has to be delicately managed, else you will succumb to the Abyss and, well, die.
One of the ways to do this is to steer clear of horrific scenes such as mangled bodies, never presenting yourself with the opportunity to be affected, however, this will impede your progress. Losing sanity means you will be afflicted by some form of mental illness during a playthrough (schizophrenia was the most common for us), resulting in gameplay being altered, such as certain dialogue options being ruled out or the general perception of your character changing.