If turning on a TV in the US has taught me anything, it’s that a lot of people like murder porn, and that you really shouldn’t turn on a TV in the US. Enter Polish developer Movie Games Lunarium, who are currently hard at work – no pun intended – creating the follow-up to 2018’s Lust for Darkness. Lust from Beyond: Scarlet serves as a prologue to the full game, telling a largely self-contained story set in the same universe. If you’re looking for more information on the main game, make sure you check out our early preview of Lust from Beyond.
And yes, you do get bonus points if you get the reference in the title.
Lust from Beyond: Scarlet is available as a free download on Steam.
STORY – IT ESCALATES QUICKLY
Alan was a perfectly normal guy, until he started having strange dreams. His life fell apart as he became increasingly obsessed with anonymous sex and masturbation. Oh! If you couldn’t tell already, potentially uncomfortable topics are heavily featured in this title, including, but not limited to, non-consensual sex. If you don’t want to deal with these subjects, you are safe to leave now, as LfB: Scarlet will not appeal to you at all.
Back on topic, Alan develops a sex addiction around the same time these bizarre dreams kicked in. He went through life further feeding his obsession until one fateful night, he agrees to meet a woman named Rhea. She tells him to go to an abandoned theater in the middle of the night, and the game begins with Alan climbing into the filthy bathroom through a broken window.
I was genuinely impressed with the quality of both the writing and voice acting on display here. While the two are talking over the phone, it’s quickly and organically established that Rhea must have promised Alan a particularly kinky encounter. The two talk dirty quite a bit, and it’s all convincingly delivered. While they use a lot of clichéd lines – mentioning how improperly they have been behaving, and how deserving they are of corporal punishment – this actually turns out to work in the story’s favor. It’s almost as if Rhea was reading off a script or something.
She instructs Alan to follow the trail of her clothes she left behind. This is clever on two levels, one of which I will get back to in the Gameplay section. From a story perspective, it’s an excellent way of making both the player and the protagonist repeatedly picture a decreasingly dressed woman. This creates a sense of anticipation that grows stronger in tandem with the silent dread and tension the dark, derelict environment commands. Sadly, this is as good as the erotic horror gets. Rhea has a number of obstacles prepared, and she insists you solve them before, ahem… claiming your reward.
Lust from Beyond: Scarlet is split into three acts, with Act 1 being the search for Rhea. It’s all downhill from there. I won’t spoil any of the story after that, but things get a lot more blunt, bloody and explicit from here on out, and a lot of it falls flat.
GAMEPLAY – IT WON’T OUTLAST AMNESIA
Act 1 is your standard-fare first person indie horror game. You explore a dark, empty building, opening every single drawer and cupboard you can, just in case there’s a plot critical item or note in there. This is where the trail of discarded garments comes in handy; since the clothes mark the critical path, you always know which way is progress, and which way offers more optional exploration. Combine this with the excellent placement of light sources, and you should be able to find your way around. There is exactly one puzzle, all other obstacles are of the use-X-on-Y-variety.
Act 2 features the “Interactive Sex” the developers advertise on the Steam page. In the context of the story, the two sex scenes are intended to be equal parts enjoyable and discomforting; however the lack of resistance and friction between the participants made these moments feel more like two 3D models clipping into one another than anything else. I did find them quite funny, which is definitely not the intended effect.
The term “interactive” is used very liberally here, as there is simply a series of Quick Time Events requiring you to press the Left Mouse Button at the right time. These button presses do not line up with the rhythm of the act, making me wonder what they are meant to emulate. The QTE’s can be skipped in the options menu, which really goes to show how little the interactivity matters here.
You will find yourself in the alien world of Alan’s nightmares a few times. These segments offer fairly basic puzzles and stealth encounters; nothing you haven’t seen before. Any patroling enemy that sees you will immediately rush you, with no grace period to break line of sight.
This is also where Scarlet’s obligatory sanity mechanic comes into play. A number of particularly gruesome sights can take a quarter of your mental health when examined too closely. What does and does not meet the minimum requirements of being disturbing seems a little arbitrary, but it creates a fitting feeling of unease when around mangled corpses.
Apparently the game features insanity effects as popularized by Eternal Darkness, but I dropped my sanity as low I could and didn’t experience any. I don’t think I did, anyway.
Despite having previously found a bolt cutter – an equally deadly weapon with far better reach – Alan only decides to fight back once he picks up a tiny pocket knife. The final act contains exactly one stealth encounter with two guards. You’ll have to distract or kill them to open the path forward.
Creating a distraction is fortunately more involved than in many other stealth games, as you can’t just throw a rock into a corner. Instead, you have to reuse an object that was previously part of a puzzle to make noise. I really enjoyed this clever repurposing of an existing part of the world. The developers claim that the environments are full of interactive objects, which is frankly not true. My first thought when trying to draw attention was to use the knife to smash a wine glass on a nearby table, but that proved impossible.
Speaking of knives, let’s talk combat. It’s not great. You have to hold down RMB and then click LMB to attack. To my knowledge, there are no instant-kill stealth takedowns, so the best you’ll get is the first swing during the ensuing slap fight. There’s no way to block attacks, and no reliable method of dodging them either. It’s unclear how it is determined how many hits an enemy can survive; I think hitting them in the head kills them more quickly, but even replaying the encounter multiple times I couldn’t find a pattern. I am willing to forgive the lackluster combat, however, since it is specifically meant to be panic-inducingly unreliable.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – SCREAM BLOODY MURDER
The real world environments are sufficiently realistic and make excellent use of light and darkness to create a genuinely haunting atmosphere. The abandoned theater setting isn’t necessarily explored at its fullest, but the auditorium offers an understated, yet visually impressive hub you will return to several times. It lacks the fidelity of a AAA title, but looks good enough to be fully immersive.
Movie Games Lunarium lists H.R. Giger’s work as an inspiration for Lust from Beyond: Scarlet’s art direction, and the nightmare world is unmistakable evidence of that. These dream (?) sequences essentially look like someone took one of Hans Ruedi’s (yes, that’s his name, and it’s very funny) paintings and stretched it across all level of geometry and some enemies. It’s honestly, and ironically, rather uninspired, making what was meant to be a unique aspect of the title look like a wet, gray, squiggly mess.
Character models are serviceable and stylized enough to avoid falling into the uncanny valley. While bodies are realistically proportioned and textured, the few visible faces look quite goofy when speaking. And since some of you are probably wondering, yes, genitals of all shapes and sizes are fully modelled and visible. A detail most won’t see (but I had to confirm, for science) is the fact that enemies in skirts do in fact not wear underwear.
Before starting the game, you have the option to blur any sexual content; a nice feature for anyone planning on creating content for it, as well as those uncomfortable with explicit material.
Animation quality is a mixed bag. The protagonist’s movements are reasonably believable, but any enemy encountered walks like they just crapped their pants. Interesting, considering they aren’t wearing any. Their attack animations are hilariously flaccid, and lack any real impact. At first, I was going through the game carefully, avoiding danger best I could because I didn’t want to find out what the bad guys would do to me. Then I got backed into a corner by one of them and laughed rather loudly at the wimpy swings they threw at me, killing me without fanfare. All tension was gone, and I could no longer take the threat seriously.
I don’t remember if there was any music, so there either isn’t any, or it’s so forgettable it isn’t worth mentioning. Sound design is nothing to write home about either, everything sounds pretty much the way you’d expect it to. Every time an enemy sees you, the game will blare an orchestral sting into your ears as your newly found pursuer screams at the top of their lungs. This is an incredibly effective jump scare, I hate it.
In terms of voice acting, there’s a huge divide between the best and worst performances. As mentioned earlier, Alan and Rhea deliver their lines convincingly. It’s obvious that Rhea’s voice actor in particular had a lot of fun with her character, going all out in her attempts to seduce both the protagonist and the player.
On the extreme opposite end, there’s the generic male guard. While his laughably monotone performance is barely noticeable in combat, running away from him will cause him to repeatedly swear at you from a distance. I had way too much fun being chased by an enemy I was meant to be intimidated by.
Lust from Beyond: Scarlet was reviewed on PC. An early key was provided by PlayWay.