Studio Hunty’s first-person action game In the Pit tells the tale of a murk-dwelling beast (you) who devours poor souls who fall into the Evil King’s dark, dank pit. The game essentially plays like a chainsaw deathmatch except for one small difference: you can’t see anything. Since you’re a blind ravenous beast, this game is based around audio cues. It’s not a one-sided handicap — the pitch-black environment also hinders your armed prey, who occasionally stand still and hold their breath in an effort to listen to you slosh through the sewage. (Hint: stop moving when they do that, lest they fire an arrow through your gruesome heart.)
When I first heard the concept, my mind turned to Kenji Eno’s Enemy Zero, in which the player hunts monsters by following a trail of high-frequency beeps. Players could actually see the surroundings in Enemy Zero; they just couldn’t see the bloodthirsty aliens, because they were invisible (which, in retrospect, didn’t make much sense). I suspect Eno realized that players rely on sight as a crutch, even if visual cues aren’t governing the action.
With that in mind, it was pretty brave of In the Pit‘s designer to completely eliminate graphics. Some could construe that as laziness or an inability to draw, but based on the amount of effort and creativity put into the audio-centric concept, I would consider such assumptions hasty. In the Pit isn’t a beep-following adventure like I expected — in this game, you’ll hunt down each opponent by the sound of their breathing, heartbeats, or humorously-acted voices. It’s surprisingly immersive, and surround sound or headphones are essential to enjoying the full experience. Although simple in design, I can’t imagine it being done much better.
In the Pit features a dozen characters, at least half of which are humorously memorable. There’s a big difference between people who think they’re funny and people who really are funny; Studio Hunty fortunately falls into the latter category with witty writing and appropriately hammy (but oddly believable!) voice-acting. If someone told me that this were a sidestory from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I would almost believe it. The plot’s transition from “feed my beast”, to the Quest for the Chalice of Gazonga, to the salvation of an oppressed populace, is ridiculous but works due to cleverly coherent writing. Each of the game’s nine deathmatches build on earlier plot points, often in unexpected ways. It’s like an episode of Seinfeld; the joke seems kind of funny at first, but then keeps building and building until you realize you’re trapped in an elaborate web of absurdity. By that point, practically every line is a quip.
Malicious king: “Succeed and I shall reward you with this large, un-cut diamond.”
Blind archer: “That sounds like a square deal.”
Should you perish during any encounter, you can continue right from where you died. Death can actually be amusing, since it often leads to extra lines. In addition to first-person ambling and eating, you can also dive beneath the water’s surface, which is great for hiding from the wizard’s “dark vision” spell or . . . other things that I won’t spoil.
In the Pit may be simplistic, but it’s an intriguing, creative game that showcases the designer’s talent and makes me anticipate his future efforts. Audio-centric games are an essentially untapped well; kudos to Studio Hunty for making that well appear worth tapping.