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The Red Lantern

Posted by GG Goblin On November - 3 - 2020

Starting a new life in Alaska was never going to be easy.

 
Don’t collect and eat mushrooms from the wild unless you know what you are doing. Good advice, not that I like mushrooms anyway, and why would I pick them when I can get some from the supermarket and be totally safe. I struggle to understand people who go out of their way to do something that could be potentially dangerous when they just don’t need to. I have never even put up a shed before, but I am going to build myself a four bedroom house. I feel cold when I open the fridge, but I am going to cast aside my comfortable city life and head to Alaska to create a dog-sledding team. This last one is the starting motivation for Timberline Studio’s The Red Lantern. Sure, Alaska looks pretty and dogs are fun, but the constant threat of death would put a slight downer on things for me. As a rogue-lite survival game, The Red Lantern proves that life in the Alaskan wilderness is not for me.

 


 
The player takes on the role of The Musher, voiced by Ashly Burch from Life is Strange. Players had better get used to her voice as The Musher does have a tendency to constantly talk to herself throughout the game. Having decided to cast aside her life in the city and move to Alaska to form a dog-sledding team, The Musher really has no idea what she is doing and simply getting to her new home will prove to be an adventure that she may not survive. Still, before the player can start on their epic journey, they will have to gather a team of dogs, and dogs make everything better.

 
A team of five dogs is what the sled needs, but the player already has one with them. This means choosing four more dogs from a selection. Each of the dogs has its own personality, along with certain skills that may or may not be useful during the journey. Being able to choose the team instantly gives the player a bond with their dogs, but they can then build that bond as the game progresses.

 
Once the team is chosen, then begins the journey across the beautiful Alaskan wilderness. This is played more or less automatically, with encounters popping up every so often to give the player a choice to make and something to do. You see, the survival side of The Red Lantern is all important as The Musher is ill-prepared and will very likely starve to death before reaching their destination. While heading off to check out whatever encounter the game has thrown up could potentially lead to running out of food much quicker, it may also reward the player with some meat in the form of a Moose to shoot or whatever. There is a level of risk and reward here, and setting up camp to cook some meat both for The Musher and the dogs is a reward worth working towards.

 


 
However, this being a rogue-lite, the player should be prepared to fail quite regularly, at least in the beginning. Players will mostly die from starvation, although there are other hazards out there in the wilderness. But that’s okay, and is all part of the game, because after a fail the player will wake up realising it was all just a dream. The good news is that The Musher will learn from these dreams and sensibly increase their supplies to suit whatever caused their death. Also, certain tools found in the previous run will be carried forward, explained in the game as the dream reminding The Musher to include them.

 
The rogue-lite nature of the game also means that the encounters are random, and so the player will not know what to expect on their next play through. This works well to start with, but the game relies highly on the emotional impact of certain events, and the bond with the dogs. This impact is gradually chipped away at through repetition to the point that it becomes difficult to care about The Musher and her dogs, knowing that death will just mean trying again rather than any lasting feeling. It is a shame as the developers have obviously put so much effort into the narrative in The Red Lantern and having the player invest in The Musher and her team, but the rogue-lite setup means that players will have stopped caring long before they reach the end.

 
The visuals are a highlight here. The developers have done a great job of depicting the bleak Alaskan wilderness, complete with frozen lakes and snow-covered forests, and the views can often be breathtaking. The stylised visuals and use of light look great both on the big screen and in portable mode. The random nature of the game means that with every encounter the player could be treated to something new to look at. The Red Lantern is a very attractive game.

 


 
The Red Lantern favours narrative over gameplay, but is atmospheric and involving enough to carry it all off nicely. The rogue-lite game features maybe take away some of the emotional impact of the game over time, but the visuals are nice enough to almost convince me to move to Alaska and form my own team, except I would die, so I won’t. But still, for anyone who wants to experience the Alaskan adventure but doesn’t want to get cold, or starve to death, The Red lantern is a good way to spend a few hours.

 

 ★★★★★★★½☆☆ 



 

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