In the Pit

An "audio-only" stealth action game. Control a horrible monster who lives at the bottom of a dark pit and eats the people who fall in!

Look around on-line, and one will see In the Pit called innovative by some, lazy by others. Created for the Experimental Gameplay Project, a monthly competition which challenges developers to create new experiences and do it within seven days, Studio Hunty's In the Pit is a game played solely via audio cues without any visual feedback whatsoever. The game boots with a simple message -- "this space intentionally left blank" -- but once that fades away, there's nothing to see, everything of note being narrated to the player from the controls and goals to basics such as pausing and exiting the game. Given the emphasis on listening to the sounds in the pit to navigate the pit and advance the story, the developer recommends players play with a surround sound system or at least with stereo speakers. Sound separation is very important here, and In the Pit can be a nice way to show off a nice 5.1 surround sound system, but it also is likely the only way to play the game.

Although comparisons have been made to WARP's Real Sound, the first black screen video game, Real Sound is more of a radio drama and not a playable experience as is In the Pit. This indie game feels much more akin to WARP's Enemy Zero, a FPS which allowed players to see their environment but forced them to locate invisible enemies via audio cues which proved to be quite stressful, especially when coupled with a slow charging gun. While In the Pit's gameplay draws attention to it, the game's theme is also rather original as well, having players assume the role of a monster, sightless and trapped in a hole by an unknown captor. The narrator drops humans into the pit to feed the monster, and players advance through the game by locating the person and devouring him. Initially, the food is drugged and lay motionless for the monster to track and kill, but eventually the people become more mobile and threatening to the creature. The eight minute trial lasts long enough to allow players to work through the voiced tutorial and grab a bit or two to eat depending upon how quickly the meals are discovered, and unfortunately for me, a surround sound-less player, In the Pit leaves me little reason to invest into the game to check out the remaining nine or so levels.

Players track down their prey by listening to their breathing. Naturally, the closer the monster gets to the human, the louder the sound of their breaths. The monster will hear the victim's heartbeat when closing in just steps away, and the controller rumbles when near as well. This is my first of three points of contention: the controller rumbles as the player closes in, but it also rumbles when the player runs into a wall. The only way to distinguish one rumble from the other is to leave the controller at rest as the collision rumbling will cease when standing still, but this becomes annoying when the victim is breathing loudly and the controller shakes seemingly no matter where he or she moves the creature. The game says it's a pit, but the floor map feels more like a maze at times, the game's paper thin walls still letting sound travel through to disorient the player. The second control gaff is that the player is never informed how the creature moves about the room with the analog stick. Does tapping up advance the creature one square, or does the game utilize a 3-D platformer style control in which the player needs to hold down the stick to get anywhere? The creature splashes when moving quickly, and as such stalking one's prey requires minute movements which fail to give the player any sense of position as he or she moves about the pit. Is the pit creature a Rancor-like behemoth, a Jason Voorhees killer, or a fluffy bunny? While I like how the darkness leaves certain things up to the player's imagination, it also makes visualizing movement problematic.

Finally, the game lives and dies on its sound production, which will ultimately determine it's worth to the player. The narrator is well acted, but the puddle splash, breathing, and other effects lack variety. I suppose one could argue that the consistency aids gameplay, but it also diminishes the quality of the atmosphere to hear so many canned audio clips. The biggest issue though, and the one which ultimately had me passing on the game, is that I simply lack the surround sound setup the game needs. Stereo effects will help people get their bearing along a horizontal plane, but they also lack the depth this game needs to succeed and feel as immersive as it wants to be. Without the added assistance (I assume), it was too easy for me to get trapped with no little as to how proceed. In the Pit is a blind game, meadering through the darkness, and if the stumbling gameplay doesn't grab the player, there's nothing else the game can offer with the complete lack of graphics and music. In the end, I would agree that while the concept is neat and innovative for those who are in position to enjoy it as intended, the execution can feel a bit lazy given the sparse environmental sound effects and audio repetition.

I suspect the biggest deterrent here is the price, as 400 points with nothing to show for it beyond a bit of talking and heavy breathing might be cheap by 976 standards, but it feels woefully overpriced given today's attitude towards Xbox Indie pricing. Reportedly built in nine days and ported to XNA from that 2006 PC experiment, In the Pit is a solid idea and worth investigating, yet the game needs more time spent on fleshing it out to truly make it an experience not to be missed, at least for those with better audio setups.

★★★☆☆
March 2, 2011
November 18, 2008 | 400 points
Developer | Video | Download

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