Having cut its teeth on subversive, single-player horror games over the past few years, Team Junkfish is branching out into the 4v1 multiplayer market. The project is Monstrum 2, a sequel that adapts iconic elements of its predecessor into a new gameplay structure.
Several members of The Escapist team went hands-on with a beta build of the game, finding that the foundations are firmly in place for a compelling, highly replayable experience. We also had the opportunity to pose some questions to Team Junkfish founder Adam Dart.
In its basic premise, Monstrum 2 sticks to the script set by the likes of Friday the 13th and Dead by Daylight, with four disempowered players trying to escape from a fifth player controlling a vicious monster. While the objective-based escape gameplay will be familiar to Monstrum fans, the asymmetrical multiplayer offers a stark contrast to the lonesome, methodical processes of the first game.
Dart attributed the decision to reimagine the IP to two core reasons: an internal desire to diversify the studio’s portfolio and skill set and “many of the fans from Monstrum 1 wishing they could play it with their friends.”
Those twin factors tallied with the team’s own love for the IP, so they began the process of creating a game that remained true to the spirit of Monstrum while also being designed for multiplayer. Suffice to say, the efforts so far have been successful.
Players begin each match in a chamber somewhere in the Hongsha-Miller research facility, a vast, dilapidated seafort. The environment is procedurally generated for each playthrough, but a defining characteristic every time is the complexity. Distinct from the natural landscapes that dominate the genre, Monstrum 2’s facility is a claustrophobic place of small rooms, tight corridors, and multi-leveled modules.
This structure makes each match a frantic experience, amplified by the tight time frame allotted and the threat of permadeath. This combination of tense elements further differentiates the game from its competition. Dart said that part of the intention of this feature set is to eliminate “corpse-camping by the monster and (keep) the game going for everyone.”
However, at present, the game feels remarkably tough for the prisoner players. Getting your bearings within the facility is difficult enough, yet it is compounded by the number and obtuseness of objectives, as well as the relatively short time frames. Meanwhile, the items provided to ward off the monsters need a bit more punch.
On the other hand, playing as the monsters is cathartic. Bearing down on hapless prisoners as the hulking Brute or hanging from the ceiling and pouncing upon unsuspecting prey as the xenomorph-like Bhagra is an immensely satisfying experience. That does not mean the gameplay here is perfect though, with attacks and skill usage feeling imprecise.
To be clear, none of these complaints are game-breakers, and of course, the purpose of a beta is to acquire feedback to improve the experience, with Dart saying the game is being “co-developed with the community.” And that process has already begun. Among the current priorities are “polishing up the animations, debugging and refining the mechanics so you’ll see a much more complete product, and hopefully much smoother and more intuitive gameplay the next time Monstrum 2 is opened to the public. We have a set of game balancing parameters in mind, and we are testing it with our closed beta players to verify and adjust if necessary.”
That comes on top of ongoing tweaks to factors such as match length, number of objectives and item availability, and consideration for modifiers and custom modes to enable players to tailor their experience. Whether those features will make it into the initial launch or be added in during the early access period is not yet determined.
What is certain is that the team wants to go hard on embedding story crumbs into the environment for players who want to know more about Monstrum’s world. Right now, the facility feels barren of narrative content. However, glimpses of the background story and characters are available on the team’s development blog. More of that will be incorporated into the environmental blocks that are currently in production. Dart also said that the team’s efforts involve adding “notes, ID cards, posters, reports… little details strewn around the facility in ways that make sense for the environment. We do have mechanics planned that deliver lore, but the priority at the moment is to focus on the gameplay first.”
Of course, that is a wholly sensible approach, and it is paying off. Monstrum 2 needs a bit of polish, but it gleams nonetheless. With the right group of players, there’s a lot of fun to be had. And everyone will be able to get in on it sooner rather than later. Team Junkfish is targeting Q4 2020 for the early access launch and “getting close” to locking that in.
After that, the focus is on stabilizing the game and finalizing the content. And after that? “Rest assured that we hope to port it over to consoles as soon as we are able,” said Dart, implying that a console version has been strongly requested by fans.
Be it running in circles from the Brute, coming face to face with the Bhagra in a crawlspace, or picking off the prisoners one by one, there’s a simple pleasure and a horrific charm to be found in Monstrum 2. And this is one game where the more makes for the merrier.