Dolmen, from Brazilian developer Massive Work Studio and publisher Prime Matter, just launched for Xbox, PlayStation and PC. At first sight it looked like a blend of Dead Space and Souls-like gameplay, so how did it turn out? We tested the console version.
When Koch announced their brand new Prime Matter publishing label last year, Dolmen was one of the key titles in the lineup, despite being from a relatively unknown developer. It was ambitious for sure, which is something we alluded to in our earlier preview as well. It’s a feeling that carries over to the final version of the game as well, for better and for worse.
The dolmen that the game is named after is a crystal-like substance that’s opening up an interdimensional portal that’s letting monsters stream into the dangerous world you’re about to enter. You’re sent in to retrieve (parts of) it, and for unknown reason you travel alone – except for maybe the Souls-like mechanics that the developer is aiming for. In a sci-fi world with plenty of firepower, you’d think that backup wouldn’t be too much to ask, yet here we are – your employers are happy to talk to you during your mission, but it’s all you. Suspend your disbelief, and you’ll be fine.
It doesn’t help the world-building element of the game though, as Dolmen has trouble dragging you in with its narrative as well as its level and visual designs. There’s a mix of generic sci-fi locations and organic matter here that’s interesting to watch, but it’s something we’ve seen before and Dolmen struggles to make much of a visual impact outside of some of its impressively large bosses. There’s a sense of atmosphere, but too often it gets broken up by visual glitches – and when you consider that a game like Dead Space is close to 15 years old at this point, this doesn’t feel like a two console generation jump forward.
Part of that isn’t just visual, but also game design. Games like Dead Space, and this is also true for games like Dark Souls, instill a sense of dread in you. Through atmosphere, but also by very carefully placing enemies and dangers between you and the next checkpoint. In Dolmen, enemies attack too frequently to allow any kind of tension to build up. That doesn’t make it a third person shooter though, because there’s a solid Souls-like heart beating in this one – something that immediately becomes apparent through the weapons you head into combat with.
Again, suspend your disbelief, because for some reason you get sent into this crucially important mission with a severely underpowered gun. This, along with stamina that refills very slowly, makes the early game feel less than thrilling, but things do get better as you progress. You’ll have to monitor your energy levels though, as you can store a limited amount of energy in your space suit that can be used to supercharge your guns and abilities or to heal yourself. It’s a novel approach to resource management, and one of Dolmen’s best features. As with your weapons it’s quite limited early on, but your choices for mixing up what you spend your energy on grow over time.
In both weapons and energy management, Dolmen successfully transports the Souls-like genre to a sci-fi game world that we usually see in third person shooters and survival games, so for that reason alone it’s worth checking out if “sci-fi Souls-like” appeals to you. You might also be interested in the fact that you can play the campaign in co-op as well, though this wasn’t something we got to try out during our review phase. There’s an ambitious gem in here somewhere, but our feeling is the same as it was after our preview: this one needs a bit more polish.