I’m a sucker for all things Norse, whether it’s in video games or wider pop culture. In particular, I have fond memories of Rune and Viking: Battle for Midgard in previous generations and last year’s God of War was one of my favourite game worlds to spend a few hours exploring. I was therefore understandably excited to play Apsulov: End of Gods, a new horror game that promises to meld ancient Norse mythology to a futuristic sci-fi setting. With more than a passing nod to the brilliant Senua from Hellblade, the female protagonist in Apsulov is a far cry from the mute FPS marine staple, a move which goes a long way to ensuring Apsulov has a great sense of character and narrative.
It may sound like damning with faint praise to say that Apsulov is reminiscent of many other games, but the ways in which developer Angry Demon has manage to combine various elements and mix them with the Norse mythology to create something new is really impressive.
The overall story of Apsulov is best explained as a Norse take on Doom or Dead Space. Scientists dig too far into mysterious new materials and manage to unleash an apocalypse – do those pesky scientists never learn? Unlike the demonic or alien presences in the aforementioned titles, however, Apsulov’s enemies are straight out of the various realms centred around Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Yggdrasil itself plays an important role, the roots of which snake through the environments, oozing and clenching, and the World Tree is also the method of travel between the various worlds in order to locate the McGuffin of choice. In this case it’s artefact keys in the shape of skulls.
Apsulov is a very dark game, in many places pitch black, so it’s lucky that you have an augmented vision mode called ‘The Sight’ which lights up your surroundings and reveals secret codes and hints. This vision is limited, however, and needs to be recharged once it runs out. This is normally a routine process, but one section around the game’s midpoint involves negotiating a lengthy network of caves whilst avoiding creepy giant maggots in complete darkness. This soon felt like groping in the dark, but is just short enough to avoid becoming too annoying. When not shrouded in darkness, everything looks nice enough, although some outside areas are a little fuzzy around the edges, and the world and mood is effectively built through the voice acting and music.
The beginning of the game really grabs your attention. You wake up strapped to a medical chair whilst being operated on by a mysterious robot. The immediate sense of disorientation is skilfully incorporated into the tutorial as you stagger between interaction points at the robot’s insistence. This feeling of detachment carries on for much of the game and your character’s identity continues to be a major plot point. Alongside your Sight powers, you are also fitted with a prosthetic hand after a chilling scripted event. This hand, dubbed the Jarngreipr, gives you the ability to absorb and redirect the energy that powers the machines of Apsulov, with the origin of this energy wonderfully appropriate to the Norse setting.
There are times in Apsulov where the torture of your player character begins to feel a little gratuitous but Angry Demon have done really well in ensuring that they don’t cross the line between peril and torture porn. The menu and loading image of a photo-realistic female face and torso with runes cut into her flesh is particularly off-putting, however. Obviously, being a horror game, this shouldn’t deter fans of the genre, but it initially made me slightly worried that the game would delve into areas unpleasant for more than narrative reasons. Fortunately, the game itself is everything that the execrable Agony wasn’t, despite some surface similarities.
Exploring the worlds around Yggdrasil involves stealth, some combat, and a fair amount of environmental puzzles using the Jarngreipr. Whilst it’s nothing revolutionary, these different aspects blend together well to ensure that there is variety to the gameplay, even if none of the puzzles are particularly difficult. The exception is the bizarre afterlife realm you enter upon death. Reminiscent of the original Prey, this requires you to find two orbs in order to open a portal back to life whilst being hunted by a mysterious enemy. This became a little tiresome and I’ll admit to occasionally just letting myself get killed and returning to a save point instead. This minor annoyance is countered, however, by the interesting way in which that afterlife factors into the game’s narrative later on.
Enemies are limited in variety but the relative lack of combat means that this isn’t such an issue as it might be. What is slightly disappointing is an enemy that can only be seen through the Sight is relegated to two setpieces and doesn’t reoccur in the main part of the game. The final boss of the game is also particularly out of character as it feels like a FPS level but, again, Apsulov succeeds in situating this in the narrative.