Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure / 1st person
Developer: Mindmeld Multimedia
Platform: Windows 95
Emulator: DOSBox Daum
Added to the lair: 9/23/20
When you're a vampire... attitude is everything.
Gothos is... well it's something. It's not good, but it's something. Entertaining? Yes, absolutely! Good? Let's not get crazy now.
The 90s were rife with FMV games of varying quality - more bad than good, let's be honest. Even the objectively bad ones could often entertain with their "so bad it's good" charm though. As I've admitted more than a few times here, I'm a garbage cinema junkie - if I look up from my screen, I'm greeted with posters of R.O.T.O.R., Starcrash, and Megaforce on my wall - so this sort of thing probably appeals to me more than most, to be fair. Even with that caveat though, it needs to be said that Gothos has, quite possibly, the worst acting I've ever seen in an FMV game (quite a feat!). This is literally high school play level stuff we're talking about. How you react to that statement should be the primary deciding factor in whether or not you give Gothos a try. As someone who loves this kind of crap, I was totally on board, but if you don't, you should probably sit this one out.
The game starts with you getting instructions from your coven commander - some dude that looks more like a line cook at Denny's than a vampire leader... but hey he has nice hair! He's got bigger plans than all this, you know - he's studying marketing in his off hours. He's taking... night classes? Get it? Because he's a vam... I'll just see my way out.
Anyway, he tells you that your mission is to find some kind of legendary vampire scrolls that a meddling mortal scientist has unearthed. Oh and that you need to look out for some Deceiver something-or-other. It's all very important.
...oh and by the way, he does this entirely dubbed with a laughably awful pitch-shifted (down) voice which he's trying to lip-sync to; failing miserably, but giving it a noble effort nevertheless. In fact, every vampire in the game - yourself included - has absolutely terrible pitch-shifted voices that are supposed to sound intimidating but just end up sounding hilarious instead. Probably not the effect they were going for.
Gameplay involves wandering around the rather labyrinthine city, encountering various NPCs to chat with (and occasionally sate your bloodlust on), picking up a few items here and there (often from people you kill), and trying to locate all the pieces of the scroll.
Navigating the city is much more confusing than it should be thanks to the rather bizarre decision - whether for budgetary reasons or just incompetence, I'm not sure - to only show each location from a single perspective (with the exception of a very small number of "image bubbles" employed in a handful of locations). You move in traditional north, south, east, and west fashion, but every section of the movement grid is only ever shown from one direction, and it isn't always north. This essentially means that, in many cases, you're given the impression that you're walking backwards when you want to move in a direction that happens to face away from the camera perspective in your current location. Then, to make matters worse, the direction of the view changes from one location to the next, with seemingly no rhyme or reason - you might click near the bottom of the screen to move south and then on the next screen find that clicking near the bottom would move you east. It's truly bizarre. This means you'll need to constantly consult with the map (by pressing tab) and checking your orientation with the compass from one screen to the next. If you don't, you'll end up walking around in circles a lot.
And, as it turns out, walking around in circles isn't something you really want to do here because as you move from one screen to the next your blood meter decreases - if it completely empties, you die. You can refill it by drinking the blood of NPCs (and consequently killing them) - most NPCs are viable recipients of this, in fact - or by feeding on rats which you'll find in various sewers and alleyways. Some NPCs are apparently a bit on the skanky side though, and will actually reduce the blood meter if you feed on them.
The most prominent and important element of gameplay is the response system. Basically every NPC you talk with will ask you questions - you respond to these by choosing the attitude of your answer, from angry to nice, with several steps in between; and based on these responses the conversations will branch (significantly in some cases). You don't know what you'll actually say in your response, just the attitude of the response. This, as you can imagine, can lead to some very weird conversations. It's made worse by the fact that your replies, more often than not, feel almost entirely removed from the conversation itself. Some of your responses are just completely out of nowhere. The developers seemed to be at least somewhat cognizant of this fact because they actually put in an option to disable the voice of your character, and you're left to just assume how you reply based on the attitude that you choose. I... actually kindof think this is preferable between the two considering how awful your character's voice sounds and the fact that they rarely even seem to be participating in the same conversation. Similar conversation systems have been employed in a few other games of the era like Rianna Rouge, Midnight Stranger, and Mode (all of which are planned for eventual release here) with Midnight Stranger (1994) being the first example of such a system to my knowledge. In the case of Midnight Stranger and Mode the player has no verbal response when choosing the attitude, just like playing in Gothos with your voice disabled, so it's obviously not too outlandish. It's probably worth leaving on in your first playthrough if for no other reason than to hear the horrendous acting... although I'm not sure how many people are going to play through Gothos multiple times, but I digress.
Every location in the game is an actual photograph, not something rendered by a computer. I actually kindof like this because it gives the game a weird and unique look. This is going to sound like a completely off the wall comparison, but it actually reminded me a lot of a series of choose your own adventure books that I read as a kid called "SURVIVE: Could you be a [insert animal]?" There were books for a mouse, a frog, a fox, a deer, etc. The mouse one is what specifically came to mind - there were lots of photos of dirty, muck-ridden floors that you had to traverse (it was a lot like Bad Mojo, actually). In Gothos' case, they're low resolution, often out of focus and poorly-framed; seemingly taken by people that didn't have any idea what they were doing... but I kindof like it for reasons I can't quite explain.
But that acting... hoo boy... that is really what it all comes down to. And it's not just one or two characters we're talking about here - it's nearly the entire cast. In fact, on the rare occasion that you talk with a character that isn't completely terrible it really sticks out and makes you realize how low a bar the game sets. It's so bad. I'm not going to complain about this too much though because it's just so consistently hilarious. If you're a bad movie aficionado - not one of these posers that thinks because they've seen a couple Asylum abortions that they're suddenly an expert - you know that an essential part, a key ingredient as it were, in good bad movies is the presence of earnestness and genuine effort... misguided, clueless, stupendously bungled effort, but effort nevertheless. A knowing, elbow nudging, self-aware film that sets out to be bad from the get-go in some sort of vapid "Do you get it? It's awful!" exercise will never, ever be funny to me. The whole point in proper so-bad-it's-good cinema is in reveling in the complete and utter failure of someone to make something that they intended to be good. It has to be an earnest attempt to make something genuinely good that went horrifically (and hilariously) wrong. I really believe that describes Gothos. I believe that the developers actually thought that these vampires were COOL. I don't believe there's a hint of irony in any of it, and that's just marvelous.
Much like bad movie appreciation itself, I would expect that most people would not understand the appeal of something like this at all. I get it. I really do. And, in truth, I've always said that the idea of a "good bad game" doesn't really exist in the same sense that a good bad movie does, because watching a movie is a passive experience, whereas a game requires your active participation; and if a game has awful controls or any number of design choices that just make it completely unfun to play, that's not going to be a good experience, no matter how much you love Birdemic. But in this case, the gameplay is simplistic enough and the bad acting so central to the experience that the concept actually kinda works.
If you've made it this far, I think it's safe to say you already know if Gothos is something you'd be interested in. I can't exactly give it a glowing recommendation in any objective sense, and I realize this falls even further within the treacherous waters of personal taste than most content here, but I can honestly say that I got a lot of enjoyment out of it; for reasons most likely unintended by the developers, sure, but who cares? I've played games that were "better made" in any number of ways that bored me to tears, annoyed me, or just didn't stand out in any way... I'd rather play Gothos than those games.