The Unholy Society looks nice but is mostly empty of any substance. Repetitive combat and pointless pop culture references dominate this very short game that ends just as things finally get interesting.
You know preciously what The Unholy Society is from the second you launch it. The groovy tunes and the image of a priest bursting through a stained glass window on a skateboard tell you all you need to know.
It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is fine. I just wish it had the decency to take my time more seriously…
References, References Everywhere
The Unholy Society is a comedic adventure about Bonaventura Horowitz, a badass exorcist who fights demons with the power of prayer and pop culture references. So many pop culture references, in fact, that they are what I remember most about the game.
Bonaventura, or Bon for short, goes back to his hometown of Silent Virginia to attend his sister’s wedding. She is marrying a pale pretty-boy named Eduard, who looks suspiciously like Robert Pattinson. The Unholy Society is full of these nods to movies, TV shows, and other games. I wouldn’t really mind them all that much if they weren’t there to compensate for the game’s lack of story.
Oh, events occur, words are spoken, and twists are twisted, but nothing happens. Nothing exciting, anyways. The story seems to take a back seat to all the puns, quotes, and “homages.” It’s all just references for the sake of references.
To make things even worse, The Unholy Society abruptly ends just as the story finally gets interesting. According to the game’s description, this is only the “first part of BonBon’s crazy adventures.” However, it feels more like a prologue or even a demo than a full experience. I was genuinely shocked when the credits rolled, though the game’s low retail price should’ve probably tipped me off.
The Baffling Art of Exorcism
The Unholy Society divides your time between two main activities: Walking back and forth, looking for hotspots to interact with, and combat.
In your “travels,” you get to meet a funny and diverse cast of characters. They usually end up sending you to bring them random items, often comically close by, or to talk to someone else. You’ll get to know the same two streets of Silent Virginia very well as you walk (or skateboard is your feeling cool) from one side of the level to the next and back again.
But you do get to chat with a dog, which is always a plus in my book.
Silent Virginia is full of demons and other supernatural creatures that don’t take kindly to wisecracking exorcists stepping into their territory. They’ll attack you on sight, and you’ll defend yourself with prayers, a few items, and a lot more luck than skill.
Combat in this game is a bit weird. To hurt your enemies, you need to combine magic runes to form prayers. Prayers are basically spells you pre-select before the fight begins. The prayers you select will determine which runes are available during the encounter (more on that in a bit). Runes are invisible at first, so you need to scan the environment with your cross and highlight them in the proper order before a timer runs out and demon attacks you. Whenever you cast a spell, get attacked, or mess up the correct order, the runes teleport to a different spot on the screen, and you need to find them again.
Since you have just a few seconds between attacks, and there’s no way to tell where a rune is without scanning over it with your cross, your chances of winning feel completely random. It all depends if you happen to stumble upon the rune you need to complete the spell. I found it utterly frustrating to be frantically searching for the last rune in the sequence, only to run out of time and having to start it all over again. I ended up restoring to mostly using the weaker spells just because they were shorter.
After a few fights where I didn’t seem to be able to complete most of the spells I chose, I realized that the runes I needed just weren’t there. Apparently, there is a maximum number of runes on-screen for each fight, around five or six. If you choose spells with too many different ones, you won’t be able to cast some of them. Annoying, to say the least.
Luckily, combat isn’t very challenging, though fights do take a lot of time. I did stumble on a bug that sent me back to the final boss fight right after I beat it, so I had to wipe the floor with him all over again. All in all, fighting demons in The Unholy Society becomes a chore after the first couple of encounters. Thankfully, there are no random encounters, so there are only a handful of fights to go through.
Comic Book Preacher
Visually, The Unholy Society goes for a retro comic book style. The 2D graphics are perhaps the highlight of the game, especially the environments. The streets of Silent Virginia are a bit bland, but the combat scenes are much more detailed and visually appealing. The first-person view lets you appreciate each environment as you scan every inch of it with your cross during an exorcism.
The characters all look and move around like puppets on strings. It’s a design choice I’ve seen before, and I’m pretty fond of it. I like the comic book aesthetics, flat colors, and somewhat minimalist yet sharp design. I only wish the characters would pop out against the background a bit more.
The groovy beats from the main menu follow you into the game. They really do create an old-school atmosphere and help the game channel the right, too-cool-for-church vibe. There’s no voice acting, but it never feels necessary.
The Unholy Society is a disappointing game. Its gameplay is painfully repetitive, it prefers pop culture references over substance, and the story ends abruptly when it finally starts getting interesting. The visuals and music are admirable for what they are, and I did like the game’s overall vibe and aesthetic.
Maybe when the next chapter (or chapters) comes out, The Unholy Society will feel like a worthwhile experience from start to finish. Right now, though, the only thing it manages to exorcise is my enthusiasm.
Developer: Cat-astrophe Games
Publisher: Cat-astrophe Games
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2020
Our The Unholy Society review copy was provided by the developer.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.