Hot off the presses comes a new title from Rake in Grass, developers of the ultra-successful Jets 'n' Guns. It's called Larva Mortus, a top-down shooter in the style of classics like Crimsonland and the RIP series, and the even more-recent Robokill. In Larva Mortus, you play a 19th Century ghost hunter (or rather, an "agent of exorcism"). Plow through monsters and demons with your trusty broadsword and an assortment of weapons, such as shotguns and flame throwers, to rid the land of supernatural evil forces.
Even after scouring Google for a good 10 minutes, I couldn't find any actual meaning for the phrase "Larva Mortus," so we'll just have to assume the developers wanted to give it a spooky name. And rightly so, as it's one of the creepiest action/shooter games I've played in quite a while. Not necessarily your typical Silent Hill or F.E.A.R.-type scary; more along the lines of a B-movie horror flick. Be forewarned: there's a fair amount of "gore" (blood) in the game as you chop and blast your way through enemies, although there is an option to turn the gore off, replacing the red blood with green blood, or even no blood at all.
The story takes place in Europe, beginning in the western part of the continent. You're job as a monster hunter is to assist helpless citizens being plagued by the undead or other supernatural entities. There is a main storyline to follow that begins with you uncovering a long-lost artifact, although you won't be able to jump right into it when you first begin. You'll begin the game rather weak, with just a broadsword and a six-shooter. You can level-up RPG-style by gaining experience points for every monster you kill, letting you raise a variety of attributes including speed, health regeneration, melee power and more. You'll need to take a few beginner quests first to beef yourself up and get some better weapons. Quests are scattered across your map screen in the form of letters, with details available on each one such as objectives and difficultly level.
Unlike the aforementioned Crimsonland and RIP, levels aren't one big area to run around in, waiting until you can kill every monster on the screen. Instead, the levels in Larva Mortus are more akin to Robokill, which features a series of inter-connecting rooms in each level. You'll have an objective in each level, often as simple as just clearing out the entire area of monsters, or something more specific like rescuing souls or destroying ritual sites. Each room you enter will feature a variety of monsters, ranging from spiders to zombies to bats, and many more. Some doors will require a key to open, forcing you to backtrack. However, if you exit a room without "clearing" it (destroying all monsters inside), they all respawn next time you re-enter.
When it comes to gameplay, Larva Mortus is pretty wicked. If you're a fan of top-down shooters already, you'll have no problem adapting quickly to the run-and-gun play style. As usual, use the [WASD] (or [arrow]) keys to move and push the left mouse button to shoot as you move your aiming reticule around the screen. The middle mouse button throws a stick of dynamite, heavily damaging monsters within a certain radius. The right mouse button cycles between your weapons. You can also use the number keys  to  to choose weapons quickly. If you need help, two handy overlays can be seen by pressing [F1] and [F2].
Although your weapons are limited to eight, it's a pretty respectable number in this game. When you first begin, you might find your sword handier than you thought it would. Ammo can become scarce at times, and the sword hits surprisingly hard compared to your pistol. As long as you're not facing enemies that fire projectiles at you, it's a good idea to use your sword as much as possible, and pump a few extra points into your melee power. The first new weapon you should come across is the two-handed pistol, a semi-respectable weapon, but with an annoying frequent reload rate. The always-popular shotgun makes an appearance, which packs quite a punch if you're up close and personal. Other weapons include a machine gun, crossbow, cannon and more.
There's also a variety of items that can be picked up along the way, some of which merely boost your score, and others that help you in different ways. For example, the Lucky Charm raises your chance of monsters dropping power-ups and items, and an Enchanted Scroll provides a 50 percent bonus to the length of time power-ups last. Power-ups (or bonuses) are one-time pickups that temporarily enhance your character in some way, such as giving you unlimited ammo, beefing up your armor, increasing your run speed and more. They prove handy in a pinch, when you're a bit outgunned and in danger of being overpowered.
Analysis: Top-down shooter fan or not, Larva Mortus is one heck of a polished and enjoyable game for any action fan. Many would expect nothing less from the creators of Jets 'n' Guns, a game with a fanatical following. The graphics are spot-on for this kind of game, and the lighting and shadows add a spooky ambiance, combined with the fitting music and creepy flashes of faces or other ghost-like imagery. In some levels it'll be so dark you'll need a flashlight to see clearly (luckily auto-mounted, so you don't have to switch between it and weapons). Impressively-drawn cut scenes add even more to the overall experience and feeling of the game; a well-defined horror genre, even if it's not quite as scary as the jump-out-of-your-seat Doom 3 variety.
Once you create a character profile, the game auto-saves your progress so you can resume where you left off at any time. Difficulty can be changed at any point in the game between easy, normal and hard. For those of you score-junkies, there's even a trophy room where you can admire the artifacts you've picked up along the way. Through-and-through, Larva Mortus is a valiant effort from Rake in Grass, and one that I believe exceeds initial expectations. The blend of action/adventure/shooter/RPG elements meld seamlessly with one another to create a stylized, gratifying gaming experience.
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