Citadel Unchained

Citadel Unchained does hardly fit into any genre; the developer (Hodslate – their game „Caverns of Underwood“ was featured here) describes it as a 90s inspired open world game, and I’m willing to adapt to this just because I can’t find anything better.

If you search for gameplay in the classical sense, you might not find much. You have a list of tasks at hand, mainly to destroy items that are scattered over the map. Since there seems to be no way to save the game, you would have to collect them all in one single run, and some of them are spread seemingly haphazardly in rear areas of the map. There is at least one enemy, but they won’t make for much of a fight – getting killed is probably much harder than killing them. Your objectives are rather a vehicle to make the player enter and explore the games quite bizarre world.

Everything there is covered with a thick, grey fog – as you advance through it, you cross outlandish villages and jaggish mountain ranges; offish, cyclopic structures are spread throughout the map. Other people are represented as shields that show their appearance and usually a few lines of text, increasing the mood of loneliness generated by the abrasively environment. According to the description, there is a rich lore within – but you will only obtain fragments, and are left to speculate what happened or happens here. The rough models increase the peculiar, yet coherent atmosphere of the game.

I’m very sure that all of this was done very consciously by the developer – they went through some lengths to create the atmosphere at hand, making all models and the vast majority of textures (some via photography) themself, using an ancient version of unity as basis, and providing – again – a very saturnine dungeon synth soundtrack. The developer is active as an musician in this field, and I do believe that Citadel Unchained can be viewed as an expression of themes and emotions typical for this genre and its relatives – monotony, desperation, death, hopelessness, destruction but also a glimmering romanticism within – transferred to another medium.

The result is a game with a very own, distinct respiration – comparable maybe to what I have seen of Pathologic, but much rawer, more elementary, and direct. I believe it would be best to view this game like a symbolist painting that attracts you through well focused, sublime, but at the same time indefinably notions – at the end it doesn’t matter if you are unlikely to penetrate to its heart. Citadel Unchained is terrific in its rawness, intransigence, and singularity.

Citadel Unchained is available for Windows and Mac. It worked fine and out of the box with wine as long as I didn’t minimize the game.

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