'The Descent Part 2'
Back then, no one was expecting The Descent to go on and become one of the most widely acclaimed horror films of the decade. Even today, Neil Marshall’s second creature-feature (the first being Dog Soldiers) remains a favorite among audiences and critics everywhere. This iconic film defies those expectations based on its cast and pitch — not a man in sight as six women battle a clan of cave-dwelling monsters — and then delivers a thoughtful study of friendships, grief, and survival.
So when a sequel was announced, fans’ curiosity and anticipation turned into nervousness once it was revealed that Marshall was neither directing nor writing the follow-up. Instead, the first film’s editor, Jon Harris, was promoted to director, and the script was handled by James McCarthy, J Blakeson, and James Watkins. Other details about The Descent Part 2 were scant prior to its 2009 release, but after it was finally seen, the response was mixed. Since then, those harsher critics have hardly budged on their opinions. If anything, a lot of them simply forget — or try to forget — the sequel even exists.
The thought of more brawling with Crawlers sounds like a good idea on paper, but something was lost in the execution. Marshall was opposed to another film from the start, and he was adamant about not directing it. With or without him, though, The Descent Part 2 was going to happen. Marshall, who signed on as an executive producer and a second-unit director, stipulated the sequel had to be a continuation of Sarah’s story. Last seen, Shauna Macdonald’s character had survived her ordeal, more or less. Everyone knows by now that the U.S. theatrical release chopped off the original ending shown in the U.K.; it was deemed too unhappy in an already bleak as hell film. In either cut, Sarah was technically still alive.
Pictured: Josh Dallas as Greg in The Descent Part 2
Acting as an extension of the first film, the sequel picks up where the U.S. cut left off. It is arguable that Part 2 can pair with both edits, but considering Sarah’s state of mind in the proper version, it is doubtful Sarah would have found a way out on her own. Even the truncated ending is hardly happier, and the sequel acknowledges why. After a random passerby named Ed (Michael J. Reynolds) finds Sarah on the road, the police begin a search for the other missing five women. Naturally, they suspect Sarah is behind Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and the others’ disappearances, and without any clear memory of the incident, Sarah cannot outright deny the accusation.
Getting Sarah back to the cave system requires questionable logic, even for a horror film. Apparently the police in these parts operate on the bizarrely improper protocol where traumatized people, suspects or otherwise, do not require any substantial psychological aid and supervision. No, Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) skips all that and immediately shoves Sarah back into the place where she just escaped, forcing her to be their guide for a rather hasty and ill-conceived rescue mission. Surely a psychologist would have protested or flat out disallowed such a decision. Nevertheless, Sarah, the idiotic sheriff, Deputy Elen Rios (Krysten Cummings), and three random cave specialists (Josh Dallas, Douglas Hodge, Anna Skellern) enter what will soon be their tomb.
Along with the audience, the first film threw Sarah and the others into a bad situation without much warning. The characters becoming lost and trapped because of poor judgment is par for the course in these kinds of stories, yet then having monsters show up was unexpected. Knowing there was no element of surprise this time around, director Jon Harris did not want to repeat the first film’s choice of having everyone discover the Crawlers’ existence all at once. So in true horror fashion, the sequel’s cast splits up once inside the cave system. Dallas, Hodge, and Skellern’s thinly written characters are here to increase the potential body count, so it is only a matter of time until they bite the big one. Their presence has no bearing on Sarah’s story, so at the very least they can provide satisfying death sequences. And that they do as various Crawlers rip them apart before getting to the main course.
Pictured: Natalie Mendoza as Juno in The Descent Part 2
Marshall’s chiaroscuro aesthetic in the first film is unmatched. Even more so when watching the sequel where subterranean scenes are bathed in light. Both Descent films used sets for the cave scenes, however, only the sequel makes that fact obvious. The excessive lighting leaves nothing to the imagination, and the characters’ surroundings appear artificial, hollow, and unconvincing. Perhaps worst of all is the Crawlers, whose facial redesign gives them the semblance of goofy orcs. Seeing far too much of the creatures now robs them of the power they once wielded in near total darkness.
The original Descent is a progenitor of today’s trend of metaphorical horror films, although Marshall’s conveyance of heavy thematic material is unprecedented. So much so that many viewers miss the bereavement metaphor altogether. Of course, that is why The Descent is held up as a masterpiece; it can function well with or without the subtext. On one hand it is a woman-versus-monster mash, and on the other it is a considerable exploration of life after trauma and loss, and the difficulty of making it out of a dark and hopeless place. The film’s duality as a piece of exemplary, B-movie entertainment and a touchstone of “metaphorror” is unrivaled.
While the first film saw Sarah descending into hell, its sequel is all about Sarah’s “redemptive ascent,” according to producer Christian Colson. The aim here was to give Sarah closure after certain revelations and decisions were made last time, including, most importantly, Sarah leaving Juno to die. Mendoza’s character has been harshly judged over the years, although plenty have also come around to her side. Yes, Juno was having a secret affair with Sarah’s husband, and Juno did kill Beth (Alex Reid). The latter was, however, an accident. Juno lying about Beth’s death did not help her case, but regardless of what went down in a moment of undue stress, she was still on Sarah’s side up until the very end.
Pictured: A Crawler from The Descent Part 2
If the sequel does anything of note, it is Sarah and Juno’s reconciliation. It indeed comes across as syrupy, convenient, and too tidy, but there is a sense of satisfaction about seeing two at-odds friends come through for one another in their hour of need. In the first film, Sarah could not put her personal feelings aside, at least until they all left the cave, and ultimately her grief and emotions got the best of her. She was unable to compartmentalize her feelings like Juno. It also never dawned on Sarah that Juno was mourning someone she loved as well. Messy and deceitful as the affair was, Juno clearly meant a lot to Sarah’s husband. Hence Sarah returning the token of that love — the necklace — to Juno.
Neil Marshall has called the sequel “totally unnecessary,” but he also said of The Descent Part 2, “I think it doesn’t take away from the first movie.” Both statements are valid, and one’s enjoyment of the first film cannot be undone by this more crudely written and shot follow-up, no matter how hard it tries. If nothing else, the sequel has senseless Crawler action in spades, and there is an attempt at a happier ending for those who found the original film’s conclusion too gloomy. The strange, last-second twist would have suggested another sequel was in the cards. Wisely, one never came to fruition. One mediocre and needless sequel is forgivable, yet a series of them is not.
Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.
Pictured: Shauna Macdonald as Sarah in The Descent Part 2
Paul Lê is a Texas-based, Tomato approved critic at Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central, and Tales from the Paulside.
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At this year’s Gamescom we tried to stack our schedule with as many horror (or horror-adjacent) titles as we possibly could.
Rushing around the expansive halls of the Koelnmesse venue — trying to make each of our back-to-back appointments — we barely had chance to catch our breath across the jam-packed three days we were there. Among other things, we previewed nearly an hour of Alan Wake 2, got the inside scoop on Still Wakes the Deep, had a lengthy hands-on session with Lords of the Fallen, and then went on a perilous expedition into the bowels of Moria.
But that only represents a small fraction of the exciting projects we saw here. In addition to those big tentpoles, we also took a look at the efforts of some plucky solo devs and indie studios who’ve been working away on interesting little titles that you might be sleeping on.
Here are 9 of the best that we think you should be on your radar.
There’s been something of a resurgence lately in old-school survival horror, with scores of indie releases trying to ape the feel of PSOne classics like Silent Hill. Between Puppet Combo’s Murder House and last year’s phenomenal SIGNALIS, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 1990s never went away.
CONSCRIPT is yet another example of a game that’s hoping to tap into this nostalgic craze. It has all the elements you’d expect to see in one of these throwbacks; from the low-res visuals to the top-down perspective, deliberately stilted combat, and obtuse puzzles.
However, what sets it apart from all the other titles that are cashing in on this voguish trend is its unique period setting. Dropping players into the trench boots of a French infantryman (at the infamous Battle of Verdun), CONSCRIPT renounces the schlocky thrills of Raccoon City or Derceto Manor, in favour of the very real atrocities of WW1.
A much more human enemy substitutes for the usual zombie throngs here, as you futilely try to repel the advancing German forces. On that note, none of the threats that you’ll be facing were concocted in a secret lab by avaricious supervillains, nor is there anything remotely supernatural afoot. It’s just the everyday horrors of war; pure and simple.
Explaining the concept to us at his Gamescom booth, Solo Developer (and history graduate) Jordan Mochi said: “We’ve all played enough survival horror titles that have monsters and ghosts. And I didn’t want to do that in my game, because I felt it would just cheapen the experience. I believe that depicting one the world’s bloodiest conflicts should be scary enough in its own right.”
On that point, we’re inclined to agree. After all, the short demo of CONSCRIPT that we played assured us that Mochi has been able to do justice to his heady subject matter. Indeed, his game envelops you in the hell of trench warfare, and authentically conveys the sense of impending doom that comes with harbouring the terrible knowledge that you may have to go over the front lines at any moment. Published by Team17, you can add CONSCRIPT to your Steam Wishlist now.
Hellboy: Web of Wyrd
Through no fault of its own, this one has a bit of a pall hanging over it, given that it features a posthumous performance from the late Lance Reddick.
For what it’s worth, we think he’s done a great job in the lead role here and brings a suitably cantankerous quality to his portrayal of Anung Un Rama. It’s pitch-perfect voice casting and you could envision him having one day become synonymous with the part (much like how Mark Hamill made the Joker his own) had circumstances been different.
In general, Hellboy: Web of Wyrd is shaping up to be a faithful adaptation of its source material that will no-doubt please fans. Created in partnership with Dark Horse and original creator Mike Mignola, it nails the recognisable art style of those comic books by seamlessly translating it into 3D. With thick heavy lines, bold colours, minimalist detailing and heavy shadows — plus a deliberately lower frame rate in certain places, recalling the Spider-Verse films — it’s a veritable feast for the eyes.
Elsewhere, Mignola’s world-building and lore have been respectfully preserved too, with one notable exception. This version of Big Red has had to quit chomping on cigars, not for the sake of his health, but rather for the game to secure its desired ESRB rating.
That one trivial concession aside, Web of Wyrd delivers practically everything you’d want from a Hellboy brawler. There’s opportunity to interact with your B.P.R.D colleagues, to wield the iconic Samaritan hand cannon, and to unleash the devastating power of the Right Hand of Doom. Throw in some weighty punch-ups against a diverse roster of eldritch creatures and everything falls into place.
Developed by Upstream Arcade and Published by Good Shepard Entertainment, Hellboy: Web of Wyrd will be released on the 4th of October. It will launch on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. You can add it to your Steam Wishlist here.
Forgive Me Father 2
The original Forgive Me Father was one of the better boomer shooters to come out in recent years, distinguished by its Lovecraftian theming and hand-drawn aesthetic.
When it came to the latter, developer Byte Barrel told us that their ambition was for every single frame to look like it could have ripped straight from a comic-book panel, and it was certainly very screenshot-worthy in that respect. Whether you were just standing around admiring the gothic scenery or blasting weird fishmen into tiny giblets with your shotgun, you could pause the action at any given juncture and just marvel at the grotesque artistry of it all.
Capitalising on what worked so well last time, Forgive Me Father’s upcoming sequel is aiming to crank up the splatter to an even more ludicrous degree. While one of the highlights in the first game was how you could shoot a zombie’s head off, only for them to then replace it with a spare noggin that they happened to be lugging around, that’ll seem positively tame compared to some of the outrageous sights you’ll witness in this follow-up.
The preview we saw at Gamescom was a non-stop orgy of blood, guts and eviscerations that reached near-comical levels of excess. After a frenetic shootout, you often couldn’t make out the environments anymore because every square inch of them was now covered in some kind of fleshy viscera.
On the less gloopy side of things, Byte Barrel is also making a few technical improvements to the established formula. Namely, Forgive Me Father 2 will have more interactive levels, an expanded upgrade system, a new hub area, and sprites that can face in up to eight directions instead of just one (meaning that you can now appreciate all that sweet, sweet gore from different angles)!
Brought to you by Fulqrum Publishing, Forgive Me Father 2 can be added to your Steam Wishlist here.
A fellow boomer shooter (and Fulqrum Publishing stablemate), Diluvian Ultra has a lot in common with Forgive Me Father 2. At least on the surface.
Both titles have embraced a retro design philosophy, whereby success is dependent on you constantly moving, unloading ammo with reckless abandon, and generally making a mess of the place. Indeed, taking things slow and playing cautiously in either of these upcoming releases is highly discouraged.
Which makes perfect sense in the case of Diluvian Ultra. After all, you wouldn’t expect a game about an undead, space zealot who’s hell-bent on getting revenge to exercise much in the way of restraint.
If you’re wondering what differentiates this one in such a crowded field, it’s the innovative approach to calculating damage. You see, enemies in Diluvian Ultra effectively have two colour-coded health bars; one measuring the integrity of their armour, and then another (sitting just beneath that) for displaying their life force. In order to whittle down the former, you’ll need to hit opponents with matching yellow projectiles, while the latter is depleted exclusively through the use of red attacks.
Where things get really interesting is that your so-called “lethal damage” fluctuates according to how much of the red bar is exposed on screen. So, if you’ve not worn down the enemy’s shield whatsoever, then your next lethal hit won’t even make a dent in their health pool. On the other hand, if you’ve completely sapped them of all their armour, then you could be primed to deliver a one-hit kill.
It’s an intriguing gimmick that promises to add an extra layer of strategy to combat and to get you thinking on your feet. Be careful though, because the same rules governing how your foes take damage also apply to you. You can add Diluvian Ultra to your Steam Wishlist here.
If you prefer your shooters to be of the slower, more methodical variety, then Ripout ought to be your jam.
A procedurally generated, co-op experience, it tasks you with exploring derelict spaceships that (surprise, surprise) are overrun with killer cyborgs. As with something like Left 4 Dead or last year’s The Anacrusis, there are only a finite number of missions to choose from here, but the scaling-difficulty, randomised objectives and unpredictable enemy spawns should keep you coming back for more.
Yet what most stood out to us was the relatively measured pacing. Taking a leaf out of Alien: Isolation’s book, you could feasibly go several minutes without encountering a solitary bogey in Ripout. Instead, the developers at Pet Project Games are content to let the mounting dread and anticipation do all of the heavy lifting, before then unleashing some unspeakable body-horror abomination just as you’ve let your guard down.
Where a lot of similar games feel like they have one tempo (i.e.: hordes endlessly pouring in without a second’s abate) Ripout has a nice ebb and flow that makes its scares all the more effective once they arrive.
Not to mention, it also featured our standout weapon of Gamescom 2023: the versatile pet-gun. A firearm that’s affixed to what appears to be a baby xenomorph, this can be used as your standard-issue assault rifle, but its true potential comes from that detachable critter.
With the mere press of a button, you can dispatch your pet to either distract opponents or to graft onto them. When it returns, it will then come furnished with their cybernetic enhancements and a new secondary fire for you to try out.
In our demo, we saw the pet fuse with a gelatinous sac that discharged poisonous gas, as well as a powerful laser capable of vaporising monsters to a crisp. Suffice it to say, we can’t wait to see what other tricks it has up its sleeve when the full game releases.
Published by 3D Realms, Ripout will be coming to PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC later this year. You can add it to your Steam Wishlist now.
Rounding off our list of shooters that we sampled at Gamescom, Remedium is more of an arcadey, twin-stick affair.
Although the gameplay is pretty typical in that regard, it was still worth a gander in our opinion thanks to its fascinating setting. Blending together aspects of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, renaissance history and viral outbreak horror; it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the genre.
The central conceit is that all progress in this world came to an abrupt halt after a dreadful plague began spreading throughout the population, infecting both humans and animals alike. You yourself have contracted this nasty disease — which, in a subversive twist, actually gives you some cool buffs in combat — and thus embark on a quest to find a cure.
Along the way, you’ll be gunning down waves of mutant dogs, birds and even rhinos with your old-timely blunderbuss. Speaking of which, the other distinguishing feature here is that almost every piece of equipment in your arsenal can be augmented with elemental properties, through the era-appropriate science of alchemy.
In practice, this means that you’ll be able to transmute grenades into water bombs, coat your rounds in flammable liquid, or reconfigure your weapon as an electrical conduit. Judging from our brief test drive, it looks like there will be great scope to fiddle around with these options and to create your ideal builds.
Don’t just take our word for it though. You can see what all of the fuss is about right now by signing up to the Remedium playtest on Steam!
Open-world survival crafting indies are a dime a dozen nowadays, and you no longer count on such overused keywords to turn heads. If anything, those labels are more likely to provoke beleaguered eye-rolls than they are to pique anyone’s interest.
Fortunately, Vorax has found a way to spice up these tired proceedings by chucking in giant deformed babies, bloated mutants, and creatures that resemble Belial from the Basket Case movies. Who knew that breathing fresh life into a genre could be so simple?
Developed by IndieGala (who are primarily known for being a digital storefront, but recently have branched out into development), the game has all of the usual trappings of this type of fare. You’ll be gathering resources by day, boarding up windows at dusk, and withstanding infected swarms when night falls. Just like in countless other games.
Yet it still managed to get on our radar due to its insane bestiary, more story-driven approach, and immensely satisfying chainsaw.
If you want to give it a spin for yourself, the very same demo that we played at Gamescom can now be downloaded off Steam.
Gori: Cuddly Carnage
A frenetic candy-coloured bloodbath, Gori: Cuddly Carnage more than lives up to its homophonous title.
The team at Angry Demon Studio (another fantastic name by the way) have delivered a balls-to-the-wall hack & slack, wherein not a millisecond of playtime can elapse without somebody being graphically dismembered.
The attention-grabbing hook is that you control an anthropomorphic, hover-boarding kitty cat who has taken it upon themselves to *checks notes* depose an occupying army of sentient unicorn plushies. Having somehow passed by quality control at the factory, these innocent-looking toys come in many different shapes and sizes, but are united by a common goal. That being to wipe out their human makers.
With mankind having sealed its own fate then, it’s up to you and your A.I. skateboard to defend the planet; one day-glo massacre at a time.
Yes, it’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. However, what took us by surprise was just how polished and mechanically refined Gori is.
A game with such a quirky premise could easily coast by on the strength of its zaniness and use it as a crutch, yet that’s not the case at all here. On the contrary, we found the platforming to be incredibly responsive, the combat to be buttery smooth and the vibrant spectacle to be consistently eye-popping.
Published by Wired Productions, Gori: Cuddly Carnage will be heading to PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC and Nintendo Switch in 2023. You can add it to your Steam Wishlist now.
The Time I Have Left
Overflowing with ideas, The Time I Have Left ended up being a real dark horse and quite possibly our star of the entire show at Gamescom 2023.
Structured as a desperate race against the clock, it casts you in the role of a woman (residing in some far-flung, dystopian future) who discovers that she has only 6 hours to live, owing to a fatal illness of indeterminate origin.
Resolved to make the most of these precious last moments, she makes it her goal to escape from the underground facility that’s currently holding her captive before that hourglass runs out. Even if doing so means fighting until her literal dying breath.
Of course, this proves to be easier said than done, given that the mysterious affliction is also causing her to flit back and forth between the real world and some kind of nightmare dimension that’s inhabited by demonic creatures.
Unlike Remedium — which similarly features a protagonist surviving on borrowed time — there is a proper countdown mechanic for every chapter here, forcing you to make tough choices about where you want to explore and what parts of the story you want to meaningfully engage with. Complicating these matters further, if you are ever defeated in the game’s turn-based combat (against bizarre monsters that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hieronymus Bosch painting), then you’ll skip ahead a few minutes, further increasing that sense of urgency.
There’s a lot going on in The Time I Have Left and we’ve hardly scratched the surface with this description. While we waited for our hands-on session, developer Ground Game Atelier told us all about their lofty aims, including how they wanted to explore the psychological blow of getting a terminal prognosis, and how an individual is supposed to process that and ultimately get their priorities straight.
With that said, if you’re in the market for something that’s not afraid to tackle hefty themes, this one could be quite special. Planned for release in 2024, you can add The Time I Have Left to your Steam Wishlist now.The Descent The Descent Part 2GamescomAlan Wake 2Still Wakes the DeepLords of the Falleninto the bowels of MoriaCONSCRIPTHellboy: Web of WyrdForgive Me Father 2Diluvian UltraRipoutRemediumVoraxGori: Cuddly CarnageThe Time I Have Left