If something has the words ‘Arkham Horror’ on it, I’ll buy it. At least, that’s true of the Arkham Horror Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. My love for Lovecraftian cards put the digital spinoff, Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace, firmly on my watch list from the moment it was announced, but it also colours my opinion of the final product significantly – for better and for worse.
Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace blends real time third person exploration with turn-based action point combat, swapping between the two regularly throughout hour-long missions. Though it’s no XCOM – what many consider to be the gold standard of turn-based tactical strategy – it makes a good attempt at the genre without trying to reinvent the wheel.
There’s a diverse cast of familiar faces from the tabletop games, and you’ll be taking two or three of them into missions that are set in such immediately recognisable haunts as the Miskatonic Museum and Arkham Asylum. The environments and character models aren’t exactly AAA quality, but the stylised direction this game takes works well.
For those unfamiliar with the Arkham Horror lore, the tabletop games centre around cultist plots to revive Ancient Ones (Cthulhu and chums), and Mother’s Embrace is no different. You’ll encounter all manner of horrific, twisted creatures that have been summoned and possessed by the unnatural forces of the Mythos, as your team of investigators seeks to unravel the mystery before it’s too late. This is all narrated to an impressively professional standard, with gloomy music and sound effects that drive home the creepy theme, and there’s some visual touches and editing tricks that help amp up the suspense when necessary.
Unfortunately the positives pretty much end there. Through the actual mechanics, gameplay, and execution, Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace largely falling short of the source material’s promise.
The game’s core gameplay loop begins to feel stale after just a couple of hours. As many memes have been conjured up around XCOM’s most ludicrous of misses, the fact that Arkham Horror’s weapons have guaranteed damage whips the depth out of the combat. You know you’ll do at least 6 damage with a bullet from your service pistol, so there’s no need to plan around worst-case scenarios and there’s very little tension involved. You just feel like you’re going through the motions.
Similarly, the ever-increasing Mythos clock adds a dash of time pressure to fights, but the effects usually serve as little more than nuisances to slow you down. Meanwhile, the implementation of sanity events outside of combat is unwelcoming at best.
You’re incentivised to investigate every option in every room, but looking at specific objects in the environment will trigger sanity checks that can leave your investigators with tedious traumas without warning or counterplay. While I will admit that this is very on-brand for the Arkham Horror lore – it’s human nature to want to know what’s behind every door – the horrors of the Mythos leave those that peek behind the curtain mentally scarred and it doesn’t make for particularly enjoyable gameplay.
Being punished almost at random for investigating your surroundings is a kick in the teeth (after all, it is the main thing you need to do, to complete most of the game’s objectives.)
The final nail in the coffin comes from sporadic camera bugs that forced me to reload checkpoints, including one section where I was essentially locked out of using a set of healing bandages if I wanted to progress.
While these issues all detracted from my enjoyment of Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace, I still appreciate what Asmodee Digital has attempted here. By bringing the Arkham Files universe to a more recognisable format through the real-time investigations and turn-based combat, they’ve put the series in front of a wider audience than a simple board game port would have.
On the other hand, I’d kill for a robust digital implementation of the Arkham Horror Living Card Game, and many of the mechanics in Mother’s Embrace are simplified to the point that the oppressive tension that’s synonymous with the tabletop is missing entirely, which is a crying shame.
With a healthy dose of appreciation for the lore, this feels like a short cult-y romp with familiar faces and locations, but I can’t see it enticing many newcomers to the Arkham Files canon. Do yourself a favor and investigate Asmodee’s cardboard worlds, instead.