Monstrum 2, Team Junkfish’s follow-up to its 2015 survival horror title Monstrum, has clawed its way to early access, assuming the form of an asymmetrical multiplayer game à la Friday the 13th and Dead by Daylight. After spending some time with Monstrum 2 in early access, and having had the chance to catch up with gameplay programmer Stephanie Bazeley, I’m optimistic about the future of the game — in spite of the rocky current state of it.
In Monstrum 2, up to four prisoners problem-solve their way across a labyrinthine, procedurally generated research facility in the sea while evading a fifth player, who is controlling one of three sea-experiment-turned-sentient-and-overwhelmingly-powerful monstrosities. The team must complete a series of objectives focused on allowing them to escape the facility.
Each match begins with the prisoners working together to activate a set number of backup switches. The number of initial switches that must be activated depends upon the number of players in a match. One fuse is typically a simple matter of flipping a switch, while subsequent boxes may require a code, a keycard, repairs, or the removal of a physical barrier blocking your access. You then must complete a series of tasks that will aid in repairing an escape vehicle and flee before the monster player catches you.
Playing as a prisoner is somewhat entertaining, but the difference in playing as a prisoner versus playing as a monster makes it clear that Monstrum 2 is early — even for early access.
The first issue I encountered was in trying the game with only two players. Monstrum 2 is billed as being a survival horror game for 2-5 players, meaning Team Junkfish considers the game to be playable as a 1v1 experience. This was the first type of match I tested out, first by assuming the role of prisoner while my friend hunted me relentlessly as the imposing Brute monster.
As a lone prisoner, my first order of business was to activate three separate backup switches, which I could locate by following a trail of wires spread throughout the base. However, death was swift and seemingly inevitable. I was able to avoid the predator stalking me by hiding occasionally, but the game is not about surviving until the timer runs out. I have to complete my tasks and successfully escape, lest I be stranded with the monster until the end of my life.
After three matches of switching roles and repeated prisoner failures, we tried something different. My friend, now the Bhagra, accompanied me on my tasks, making no effort to attack me. I activated my three switches, started up the main generators, gathered fuel to prepare my escape helicopter, and maneuvered machinery to clear the way for my escape. I was able to complete these tasks with about four minutes remaining in the match, but at no point was I running for my life as the sole prey of an invulnerable and severely powerful beast. Based on my early access experience, 1v1 matches are not currently a viable option in Monstrum 2.
Another issue is the scaling of missions once a prisoner has been eliminated, but this is an issue the team is exploring with the intent to make adjustments. For example, if you start with a four-player game, your tasks — from how many switches need to be activated to how much fuel is required to start a helicopter — is set. The game does not currently scale based on how many players are left alive. The team is hoping to soon have missions scale based on how many players are still alive for each section.
Being a human isn’t all bad, though. The tasks that require completion, and the puzzles that stand between you and the completion of those tasks, change quite a bit from one match to another, and the promise of even more variation in these objectives is intriguing and promising. The existing progression through levels can be fun — there’s something truly special about kicking in a bathroom stall so you can fetch a four-digit security code from a corpse on the porcelain throne that can’t be expressed in writing — and I’m eager to see the different ways the team plays with the procedural generation of the maps.
As of right now in early access, there are limited ways for prisoners to communicate in-game in Monstrum 2. There is no proximity chat or walkie-talkie option, so communication is limited to in-game text chat, pinging objects so that other players can see where it is located, and running around in circles in an attempt to communicate something. While, realistically, you’d likely limit verbal communications if you were in an actual situation where you were running like hell from a genetically modified beast, in a game setting I’d like to ask my co-prisoner if he’s got bolt cutters.
According to Bazeley, there are no plans to add in-game voice options. She said that, while a lot of people in the community have asked for it, the team knows that a lot of people also dislike it. This is where playing with friends feels like the ideal way to experience Monstrum 2. Right now, the only option for playing with friends is to set up a private lobby. However, the team is looking to add the option to queue with friends for a larger lobby in the next update.
Comparatively, as a monster in Monstrum 2 early access, your task is quite simple: hunt down the prisoners and kill them before they are able to escape. Or, if you’re feeling uncharacteristically pacifistic, you can simply hold them off until the match timer runs out.
Regardless of the monster you choose, playing as a monster is quite entertaining. The three current monster options are the Brute, the Bhagra, and the Malacosm. Each monster enjoys a small cache of abilities to help with the location and slaughter of the comparatively helpless human survivors. There is no way to fight back against the monsters, which is probably one of my favorite features of the game.
Bazeley confirmed that this is a fairly common sentiment in the community as well, as “it keeps the fear factor of running into a monster and going ‘NOPE.’” This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a limited number of tools that can temporarily stun an approaching monster — the flash of a camera being one such way — but there is no use in taking a swing at an approaching monster with a sledgehammer. It will just make you dead faster.
My favorite of the three monsters was the Brute, a hulking beast that can charge players and kill them in a single hit. He was a bit slower than the other two, and this made the match feel more even. There are gaps in feedback when attacking as a monster, though, limiting your ability to know if you’re even hitting your prey. Half the time, the monster’s arms do not even appear to swing when hitting and the prisoner just falls down dead from the unintentionally invisible attack.
Prisoners do not suffer from fatigue, meaning that a chase could continue indefinitely if the monster is not able to use its abilities effectively enough to catch its fleeing prey or the prisoner is not crafty enough to use their surroundings to hide briefly. I honestly love this — so much is working to the monster’s favor in the game already, and I like to think that, in a situation where I were really fleeing from a monster, mere fatigue wouldn’t be enough to slow me to a walk.
Monstrum 2 is not particularly intuitive right now in early access — icons for the different interactables don’t appear until you’re nearly on top of them, and the objectives are unclear until you’ve played a few matches and can make assumptions about a general way you’re supposed to progress. With any timed matches, objectives need to be clear. Likewise, there are a variety of items that serve a variety of purposes — tape can be used to cover security cameras as well as to repair damaged wires — but the items are not yet consistently reliable due to a lack of polish.
The audio in the game is a major issue, both for prisoners and for monsters. It’s difficult to tell where footsteps are occurring; multiple times I heard monster footsteps that sounded close but were actually on the other side of the map. The audio for a close monster is inconsistent as well — when it does trigger, the monster is often already in the process of beating you to death. In a game that leans heavily into horror, audio is critical to not only the gameplay, but also the overall atmosphere. I’m eager to see that fixed moving forward.
In general, most of my major complaints with Monstrum 2 are related to lag and clipping issues. Several times, I found myself murdered through a wall or closed door as a prisoner, or swiping at a human as a monster with the aforementioned problem of not seeing my own arms. Bazeley stated that Monstrum 2 will remain in early access “as long as it takes,” with a focus on improving the lag and frame rate in order to make the game experience more fluid and enjoyable, as well as adding in additional features.
So, what makes Monstrum 2 different from other asymmetrical multiplayer games? According to Bazeley, there are a few key answers: bringing back Monstrum’s procedural generation; the addition of more procedural content, more monsters, more escape routes, and more things to do; and the large map sizes that give them the ability to create a variety of monsters that are all different in how they work. I do hope that different environments are added to the mix, because as genuinely interesting as the fortress is at first glance, it does lose its appeal after a few matches.
Asymmetrical horror games are a niche genre for which I indisputably am the target audience. Monstrum 2 is one such game that gleams with potential. In its current state though, it may be difficult to see that potential. But a game like Monstrum 2 does not enter early access because it is complete — it enters early access to gather as much feedback as possible from the people who are going to be playing it. With regular updates, both in terms of content and polish, the game will most certainly shine.