Escape a monster-packed, pitch-black labyrinth.
PC Release: June 30, 2013
By Ian Coppock
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! This week we’ve seen some great and not-so-great horror games, but I always like to end a Short Horror Week with a bang… or a seriously loud scream. You guys have earned all of that and more. Well, I have one hell of a finale for you; Vanish is like no other game I’ve ever played, and what I’m reviewing here is only the beginning. Read on, to see for yourself a game more terrifying than Slender… and possibly even Amnesia.
Vanish is a first-person, labyrinthine adventure. For reasons unknown, your character has been dropped into a complex of tunnels that are pitch-black save for the occasional, weak wall light.
Your goal is to find the power generator and then escape the labyrinth. Seems simple enough, right?
A few games this week featured music, but not Vanish. The entire game is enveloped in stark silence. Your footsteps, water droplets and distant echoes are your only companions in a journey that was built to feel claustrophobic.
Vanish‘s passageways are cramped, with low ceilings and constrictive walls. There’s not a ton of room to turn around or run if you see something unfriendly. To make matters even more atmospheric, some of the wall-mounted lights don’t work. Your only means of navigating this issue is glowsticks, which run down quickly.
To further build up the tension, you can find notes in the tunnels hinting at some sort of calamity. Anonymous workmen complain of disgusting smells, and sudden power outages.
Vanish is a master at building you up, and then tearing your heart asunder when this thing comes charging out of the shadows:
Yup. I got charged, and died when this monster seized hold of me and pecked out my heart. The death screen showed my corpse being dragged into the darkness.
Fine, thought I. Let’s restart. But upon venturing out of the starting point again, I saw that the environment had changed! Hallways and intersections led to new areas, and it wasn’t long before I got completely turned around. WHAT? This game’s layout changes constantly and without warning?
From a horror perspective, that is absolutely brilliant.
Vanish‘s game-changing feature keeps the horror fresh. This is the first game I’ve seen in a long time where the environment changes like this, and the first horror game at all. By changing up the environment, players are kept in the dark (no pun intended) without any metaphorical “anchor”. Robbed of my sense of familiarity with the terrain, I was kept consistently terrified throughout my time with Vanish.
Now, for the monsters. The main foe in this game is that weird demon chicken thing. It can’t see you, but it can hear any noise you make and will chase after you accordingly. Worse still, the creatures will randomly spawn in the shadows in front of or behind you. I screamed like a little girl when I came upon a dead end, only to turn around and find one of these things sniffing my face. This feature also discourages running headlong into the darkness.
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The combination of random environments and random creature spawn-ins made Vanish by far the scariest game of Short Horror Week II. The game has become one of my favorite horror titles because of its complete lack of predictability.
As one may guess, these double pillars of confusion and crying make Vanish difficult. I haven’t actually finished the game yet, but I’ve been attempting such a feat for a few hours now. Believe it or not, there may yet be another, worse monster in this game, as identified by its signature smile. I’ve seen this picture in a great deal of promotional material but not in any actual gameplay videos, so I’m not sure if it’s there or not. If it is, I’m going to start crying again. My experience with it in other games has taught me that it will murder you the second you look into its eyes. This thing might show up in later stages of the game, a point I have yet to reach.
Vanish also gets the finale because of its visuals. The graphics are far and away the most sophisticated of Short Horror Week II. Everything from the floors to the brick walls has been minutely detailed, with a level of attention not common in the indie horror scene. The lighting effects are solid and in all actuality quite beautiful. The monsters seem a little low-res though. As you can see in the screenshots, they lack the detail the environment retains. Oh well. Doesn’t make them much less terrifying.
In closing, Vanish is a survivalist’s dream. Nothing in this game is stable or constant. Slender is definitely scary, but at least the environment stayed the same. Not in Vanish. Creeping hopelessly through randomized corridors, never knowing if a monster will suddenly emerge from the darkness before you, is an experience worthy of a Stephen King-level horror production.
You also never know if a monster will spawn in behind you; I turned around at one point and found a creature who wasn’t there two minutes ago. I broke a sweat when I was trapped in a corner, hoping the blind beast three feet away wouldn’t hear me. The amount of situations in this game that bear potential for soiled pants and crying would be ridiculous if this game wasn’t SOOO good…
Horror junkies looking for their next fix won’t want to miss Vanish. It is a masterpiece of randomized survival and one of the best indie horror titles I’ve ever played. The more timid among you might want to train up with some other games before tackling this one, but hey, you know your limits better than I. Get them tested with Vanish.
You can buy Vanish here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.