‘Abermore’ review: an ambitious heist simulator busted by bugs

Housebroken

It’s always unfortunate when an immersive sim trips over its own cloak and falls upon its own dagger. These games are so rare and so uniquely difficult to create that beating one about the head with a critical blackjack feels counterproductive. Sadly, there’s no shadow dark enough to hide the fact that Abermore is a mess, a potentially interesting heist simulator rumbled by bugs and technical issues.

You play a neophyte thief recruited into the cabal of the Unhanged Man, a legendary terror of the decadent city of Abermore. You soon find yourself in the Unhanged Man’s shoes, planning the ultimate heist to release your mentor from captivity. With just over two weeks to put together a crew and source the required equipment, you need to pull off a string of small robberies to build up your cash and reputation with the city’s criminal elite.

Each in-game day sees you embarking upon a new job, picked up from NPCs either in Abermore’s Black Market or outside in the district colourfully known as the Gutter. Once you’ve selected a job and outfitted yourself with relevant gear from your stash, you hop on an underground railcar and travel to the procedurally generated joint you’re about to ransack.

Abermore. Credit: Four Circle Interactive.
Abermore. Credit: Four Circle Interactive.

The core of Abermore is a standard immersive sim template. The levels have a varying number of guards and security devices such as alarms and cameras. There’s an equally diverse number of ways to bypass these obstacles – sneaking through shadows, crawling through vents, clambering across ledges, picking locks, knocking out guards, deploying randomly acquired powers known as Tarots, and whipping out a gun. Once you’ve completed your objective, whether that’s to assassinate an NPC or steal items, you can head for the nearest exit and escape to start a new day.

While there’s nothing radical about Abermore’s central design, there are plenty of smaller mechanics that will prove pleasing to immersive-sim fans. Turning off lights by shooting a lightswitch with a crossbow is a nice tough, as is ‘hiding’ unconscious NPCs by putting them on toilets or cramming them into dumb-waiters (which you can also use as makeshift elevators).

Perhaps Abermore’s most interesting mechanic is its ‘strike’ system, whereby suspicious NPCs register odd noises or strange sightings at a security terminal. Receive enough strikes and the house goes into a higher alert phase, tightening security and generally making your life harder.

Abermore. Credit: Four Circle Interactive.
Abermore. Credit: Four Circle Interactive.

There’s a decent stealth caper in Abermore’s DNA. But it’s tough to enjoy when the game is constantly threatening to break down. The experience is rough around the edges, from the lumpen character models to the way NPCs seem to slide along the ground in their walk cycles. But such aesthetic quibbles are forgivable should a game play well. Issues such as in-game shadows cutting in and out and the game failing to register whether or not an objective has been completed are more difficult to ignore. The audio is particularly prone to errors, like the music doubling up on itself and sound effects looping for entire missions. Occasionally the sound stops working entirely. Have you ever tried playing an immersive sim without sound? It’s hard!

Problems occur so often that they begin to feel like cursed modifiers. Maybe all your ranged weapons will stop working. Worse still, your character could spawn at half their normal height, meaning you have to spend an entire mission navigating seemingly oversized furniture.

Meanwhile, melee weapons are astonishingly fragile. Your blackjack gradually degrading as you knock out servants is reasonable. It breaking instantly when you knock out a noble is ridiculous – unless the implication is that aristocrats have naturally thicker skulls. Elsewhere, breaking a plank of wood with a sword results in the blade shattering, as if made of glass.

Abermore. Credit: Four Circle Interactive.
Abermore. Credit: Four Circle Interactive.

Much like Thief and Dishonored, Abermore’s setting attempts a synthesis of medievalism and modernity. But Abermore is less careful about where it draws inspiration from, presenting a city where jettied stone buildings sit under rail bridges, which in turn sit under vast neon signage. The results feel incoherent, pulling you out of feeling immersed rather than pulling you deeper in.

The procedural generation, meanwhile, may technically provide an infinite number of geometrically unique levels. But they all feel identical, built from the same limited number of room tiles. Moreover, the procgen makes it difficult for Abermore to provide a consistent challenge. Several times I walked into a mission and had grabbed enough loot to complete it within the first couple of rooms, which certainly made the game easier, but wasn’t exactly satisfying.

Abermore seems less like a poorly designed game and more like an unfinished one. While it is seriously flawed, it isn’t an Underworld: Ascendent-level disaster. Beneath the bugs and broken bits, the game is intermittently fun. The script may take an hour or so to find its feet and feature some awkwardly deployed British slang but it otherwise succeeds in lending a darkly absurd vibe to Abermore. Some of the dialogue choices are supremely funny and there are some well-executed worldbuilding asides, such as the man who gets paid to give people tough-looking facial scars so they’re less likely to be targeted by criminals.

That said, as a game clearly on a budget, Abermore would benefit from greater focus. We’d trade the impressive but largely ornamental open-city component for a bug-free experience and greater mission variety or, alternatively, a linear campaign of 10 meticulously crafted heists. Thief and Dishonored aren’t just remembered for their systemic flexibility; levels such as the former’s First City Bank & Trust and the latter’s Clockwork Mansion are iconic in their own right, made replayable through their elegant layouts and intricate challenges. They don’t need an algorithm to make them worth revisiting. That’s the uphill struggle Abermore sets for itself, even before the bugs start dragging it down.

Abermore launches on March 29 for PC

The Verdict

Abermore‘s attempt to blend immersive sim mechanics with procedurally generated levels is undermined by an array of technical problems.

Pros

  • Some interesting embellishments on the immersive sim format
  • Well written
  • Strong premise

Cons

      • Extremely buggy
      • Procgen levels feel samey
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