Seeing the look on my doggo’s face when I placed a hunk of meat in its bowl was all I needed to fall in love with The Red Lantern.
Place more in and its eyes seem like they’ll pop out of their head. Even more and it’ll do a little dance. The game does an incredible job of creating individual behaviours and characters for these pups and they’re all adorable in their own special way.
I’ve got one who rolls around on its back, playing in the snow before it’ll pull you on the sled, and another who stands watch like a grand protector over all.
But this is how the game gets you, grips you, gets you invested. Then it really hits you. Hard. Because this is a game about survival and not everyone is going to make the trip.
That’s life in the wilderness, I suppose. You have to make the right turns, keep yourself warm, don’t let anyone starve, and be sure not to waste your resources unnecessarily. All in between giving your best boys and girls scritches behind the ear, of course.
The Red Lantern is like other roguelikes you’ve played. You learn things from each run – what to ignore and kill – who the best doggos are to take on a run with you, and what kind of threats await. Even things you may not even suspect are a threat.
You’ll have to stop to make camp, be wary of riding in the dark for too long, and make the most use of the light you can. Understanding the environment is crucial to your survival.
The first thing you have to do is pick your team of five from eight potential dogs. As mentioned, they’re all very different, and the game makes it clear to you what type of doggo you’re looking at. One’s friendly, another is reserved, another quite aggressive. Each one will have a strength you need to survive, but at the same time a weakness which can take you off course.
Something I learned quickly in The Red Lantern is that it’s actually easier for me to die rather than my four-legged friends. I was more than happy to keep them fed and happy, ignoring my own ails, and that’s just not a trade-off you can safely make. If you die or pass out, it’s game over and you’re starting from scratch.
Each time you die on a run, the game resets with your journal filled out with entries about the environment, and occasionally some things remembered which can help you in a future run.
The aim is to reach a new safe haven on the other side of a procedurally generated Alaska. Each run will be different, with so many different encounters to stumble into. From bears, to squirrels, and other mysteries. Sometimes you’ll bring a gun and sometimes a fishing rod. With the gun, you only have a limited amount of bullets available to you, so timing your shot will be essentially and sometimes even then, it’s not quite enough to get you what’s needed.
That’s why the game encourages rest and respite as much as it does progress. You will not make it from one side to the other in one go and you do need to make sure you’re taking good care of yourself, otherwise the whole trek will fall in on itself.
And no matter how careful you are, how many bullets you save, and how little you stop, your caution can be upset with a poor run of luck. The game is not always going to play out the way you want it to, so you have to be prepared for that.
What’s surprisingly compelling about the game, though, is Ashley Burch’s quirky monologues as she dashes through the snow. Her wits always brought a smile to my face, and her warmth with the pups is infectious – whether she’s being playful with them or understanding of their individual needs.
Burch completely nails the character, both someone who is looking for life’s next adventure, but also adventurous and in awe at the dazzling world around, deathly aware of the perils she faces. She balances it perfectly.
As much time as we spend together, though, it never seems quite enough and I wanted to learn more and more about her character as the game went on.
The Red Lantern is a beautiful game, but it’s also a deeply affecting one. It has the power to warm your heart and crush it in equal measure, all while filling you with a sense of wonder as you explore its rich and stunningly realised world. This one has crept into my Top 10 games this year and for good reason. It’s incredibly special indeed.
+ Absolutely stunning environments
+ The transition between runs is wonderfully done
+ Ashley Burch absolutely nails it
+ Doggo cuddles!
– Can feel a bit repetitive after a few runs
– Brutal difficulty to start with
The Red Lantern is now available on PC, Switch, and XO
Code kindly provided by Popgenda
Tested on Switch