Review | The Last Case of Benedict Fox

Originally published at: Review | The Last Case of Benedict Fox - XboxEra

After an impressive showing at Microsofts Summer Showcase back in 2022, The Last Case of Benedict Fox has finally arrived, straight on to Xbox Game Pass. Developed as their first new console game by Polish team “Plot Twist”, what we saw was a delightfully macabre Lovecraftian MetroidVania mixed with a detective story and plenty of tentacles; it certainly had me intrigued.

Mind Your Manor House

Metroidvanias can be tricky affairs. We all know the deal by now – huge, sprawling maps with all sorts of hidden routes and pathways, some blocked off awaiting powers not yet earned. In this tale however, there are some key differences. Benedict Fox is a detective after all, but even then, he’s not your normal everyday PI. Benedict has a unique partner, a peculiar demon that lives within him, an inner voice that is part malevolence and faithful friend. The year is 1925, and after an initial introduction to teach you the basic controls, you arrive at the Manor house of your estranged father.

Unfortunately, all is not well. Benedict’s father has shuffled off this mortal coil in suspicious circumstances. Who killed him? And Why? Well, that’s up to you to find out. And thus begins a somewhat convoluted and occasionally clumsy plot of secret organisations, faith, alternate dimensions and the lines between heaven and hell itself. I won’t spoil the plot beyond mentioning your father’s corpse is not the only body you’ll find within these walls, and there’s some unique attempts at story telling here. Sometimes it doesn’t all quite go to plan, but for a first effort, I can only applaud it.

How does Benedict go about solving a crime without suspects, few clues and no one to interview? Well, using his demon companion, he can travel into limbo, and in to the very memories of the dead to ascertain the truth. This forms the beginnings of piecing together the frankly enormous, tangled web of limbo, which is far larger than you would think at first.

As things progress, you’ll gain access to the separate maps, with the manor house acting as a hub where you can upgrade your abilities and recruit the help of companions you find along the way. This can include things like upgrades to actual equipment like health tonics, smoke grenades or a flashlight. Wonderfully, traversal is handily aided by Anchor points, unlocked as you explore or via defeating enemies or activating them directly. They’re fairly generously spaced out, and thanks to relatively short loading times, making getting around a breeze. And you will be doing a lot of back and forth as you try to piece together the mysteries of the dead, and just how and why they died.

Monster Hunter

You’re not alone in Limbo, with various demonic beasties out to get you, and Benedict, armed with his tentacled demon companion, has a few tricks up his purple sleeves. Your primary method of combat is a handy knife, and repeated successful melee attacks charge your flare gun, which pleasingly slows time for a few seconds as you draw and aim before releasing a shot.

Upgrades to your weapons are earned through play and exploration, in addition to increasingly powerful attacks via your companion, such as shooting forth tentacles to grab an enemy and slam them into the ground. You also have defensive moves, like dodges, smoke grenades, and a neat little spell that’ll turn you temporarily to stone. Combat isn’t perfect, and some of the animations feel and look a bit strange on occasion. There’s also an annoying frequency of off-screen beasties smacking you down as you’re transitioning from one screen to the next that feels more than a little cheap.

You’ll also encounter members of an ancient order that overtake certain parts of Limbo, and send some seriously mean enemies after you. One particular foe, known as the Inquisitor, is not to be trifled with. In the early sections of the game, your only option is to run and destroy an incense burner in the area to banish them and escape. Each defeated enemy will earn you ink that you can take back to upgrade your companion abilities via, well, getting some lovecraftian tattoos. You can “bank” your ink at Anchor points, rather than risk losing it upon death.

There are also very creepy areas known as Twilight Zones – these are displayed in black and white, and require the flashlight to access and come out alive, lest the many, many shadowy and quite creepy tentacles grab you and kick you out of Limbo for good.

In true MetroidVania fashion, you’ll encounter all sorts of doors and obstacles designed to impede your progress, and what I particularly liked is that not all of them are about just having the right “power” unlocked. You are a detective after all! Instead you’ll need to have your brains and your wits about you as you contend with things like quick-time mini games where you cut the fingers across weird mouths that scream and knock you back if you get wrong, or perhaps puzzles with a unique symbol that requires conjuring.

Even more deviously, there are full on puzzles and an entire language to unlock and scrutinise, with plenty of mathematical quandaries to conquer with the use of a Conundrum device, a notebook and some peculiar symbology. It makes for a refreshing change to the usual progression seen in these sorts of games. Yes, you’ll still want to unlock your usual triple jump and ground smash, but it’s just as important to use your brain as it is your body. Or, in the name of genuine accessibility, you can opt to do absolutely none of those things.

Feature Packed

The Last Case of Benedict Fox has a surprising number of genuinely thoughtful features, way beyond the usual “standard” fare that most indie titles release with. If you want to have zero challenge and just explore, you can turn on god mode, make all enemies one hit kill, and even auto solve every puzzle you come across, should you wish.

One feature among these that I would recommend using just because, is the “I hate feeling lost” setting, which will show (via iconography), the kinds of doors and paths ahead, without displaying just a vague question mark. It’s super useful, and great for players that prefer to just explore or perhaps love combat and hate puzzles. Having said that, there aren’t any options to tweak the subtitles to your liking, but the game is translated into 7 different languages.

Visually, the game can be quite a looker, with backgrounds and environments oozing and squirming, the everyday objects of the memories and lives of the dead interspersed among rivers of purple goo, books and bedside tables, and more. It’s clearly a labour of love from the development team, and the ambition on display is clear. And I get it – when you’re going up against a MetroidVania giant like the Ori franchise, you want to be seen to be able to compete. Indeed, the game is also built using Unity.

Ambition could be seen as a Sin, Benedict.

Alas, the game is so jam-packed with things, it starts to get a little…wonky at times. I know many players, including myself affected by more than a few bugs at launch, including a weird save bug that can cause players to lose hours of progress. The devs are on the case, and a patch is on the way to clear some of these issues up, but in the interim, I’d recommend hitting X while in the map screen and saving and quitting the game manually, rather than relying on Quick Resume for the time being.

I myself had one instance where Benedict was just rooted to the spot, and another where I was forced out of the map entirely, both requiring me to reboot the game. They both only happened once, but it’s worth mentioning.

Additionally, even while using the performance mode, there are a few sections (particularly in a snowy area) that cause some serious performance drops that can be quite jarring, but otherwise, it’s a mostly smooth experience, at least on my Xbox Series X.

The problem that is a little self-inflicted, is the sheer to desire to do everything. There is so much game in here, and while that shouldn’t be a negative, the pacing can sag at times, risking boredom, and combined with a genuine lack of good signposting can leave the player scratching their head and wondering where on earth to go next. Perhaps I’m just not a very good detective, but many quest lines and paths for investigation were frustratingly vague, without checkpoint or direction, leaving the player revisiting areas and just testing for where they maybe haven’t been. In my 15 or so hours with the game, I definitely wandered aimlessly on more than a few occasions, and I can’t help but feel there could have been a better way to assist players in knowing what to do next.

As for the story, it did get more than a little strange, and there are some curious moments throughout that were more confusing than revelatory. Regardless, the metroidvania bug had well and truly hooked me, and I genuinely wanted to see what happened next, as well as unlocking that area I couldn’t get to yet. Even though not all the story beats land, there’s an attempt here to say something more than your typical video game good versus evil style affair, and I admire that.

Despite these gripes though, I came away pleased with the time I’d spent in Limbo. There’s a lot of heart to the game, and a true passion oozing out of every tentacle from the team that put it together.

If you can handle some curious design quirks, a few bugs, and don’t mind poking around in the dark looking for clues, The Last Case of Benedict Fox might just be a breath of fresh air.

7 Likes

i played it until the first boss and quit frustrated because the combat is trash. maybe i will try again with some patches and the 1-hit-option.

Yeah the first boss is an issue, the entire fight is about running back an forth baiting the attacks between attacking.

I’m enjoying the game overall, I really dig the setting and the mood; however the Jump feels entirely off to me and I think it needs some tuning. Otherwise, great game and worth playing.

3 Likes

THe controls shouldn’t be this sluggish. Wish the game was faster paced and more snappy.

I agree with this, however within 15 mins, I got used to it. I do agree, this would be excellent faster.

Im about 35 mins in, beat the first boss (I think) and im enjoying it. Like any “Metroidvania/Castlevania” style games, im always scared I’m going the wrong way, felt like that a few times in this game.

i played a bit further and freed the tattoo artist. other interesting and weird stuff happended which i can’t really comprehend at this point in the story i think. but im taking notes. the game is definitely intriuging.

combat still sucks but with the 1-hit-help i can manage.