Month: September 2015

Soma

Soma2

Blur the line between man and machine in a terrifying bottom-of-the-sea odyssey.

PC Release: September 22, 2015

By Ian Coppock

Those of you who have read my blog for a while know that my favorite kind of game is a horror game, and that my favorite of those is the esteemed Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Games. So I’m sure everyone here will forgive me for skipping out on Saturday’s review in favor of more time spent with Soma, Frictional’s next work of art and a title five years in the making. My brain is still reeling days after having finished the game, and if you’re in any sort of mood for decent design, scary stories, or both, pop a squat and listen. Because, like Amnesia, Soma is truly special.

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Soma is a first-person horror adventure dealing in a mix of atmosphere, philosophy and pure terror. You are Simon Jarrett, a young comic book store owner whose recent car crash has left him with some serious brain damage. Told he has only weeks to live, Simon eagerly agrees to be the guinea pig for a pair of mysterious neurosurgeons, who offer him a chance at survival in exchange for a simple eye test.

The problem is, when Simon exits the machine, he finds himself in a dilapidated underwater facility instead of the Toronto clinic he’d just walked into. And his new friends are nowhere to be found.

Hello? Hellooooo?

Hello? Hellooooo?

Understandably ill at ease, Simon ventures out of the storage room he’d been thrown into and into the wider world of PATHOS-2, a research complex sitting pretty at the very bottom of the ocean. Simon has no memory of what has transpired between his visiting the doctor’s office and waking up down here. Soma takes its time with building up the tension, preferring to let steep an evil tea that grows a little stronger with every bloodstain, every puddle of oil, every spooky noise. There are no people to be found down here, but Simon soon encounters a series of robots who think they are humans.

Some robots are friendlier than others, of course, but they all share the same mysterious condition: they scream, they cry, they feel. They have human voices, names, preferences. In a few deeply disturbing encounters, I’d come to theorize that most of the station’s human populace had become mechanized, but was certainly no closer to discovering why. The encounters with the more amicable robots are brought to life with decent voice acting, a rarity in the indie game world, and left me shivering most of the time. I unplugged a wall socket to activate a machine and the robot who’d been attached to it threw a fit because I’d taken away her “happiness”. Sorry, I meant “its” happiness.

The robot wants a medkit. And his name is Carl.

The robot wants a medkit. And his name is Carl.

Soma’s voice acting was alright, but the most disappointing performance was from Simon himself, who displays little to no emotion even in the tensest of situations. Even his fright, oh-nos and anger feel feigned. The rest of the cast, including a little robot that accompanies you throughout most of the game, fare much better.

Soma‘s mournful soundtrack contains bits of BioShock and Alien: Isolation, with low strings for tense parts, and jumpy violins for the screamy parts. Distant footsteps and the sounds of things falling over will keep the hairs on your neck rigid as needles, as will the constant crawlings of things through vents. Simon, though, has an annoying habit of waxing philosophical about it as if the game is insecure that you’re keeping up with the plot. Annoying, but not a deal-breaker.

As I’ve harped on many times before, good sound design is key to a good atmosphere. Soma‘s atmosphere is pure dread, and you’ll have to learn how to breathe that if you want any chance of progressing. The environments in this game are outstandingly detailed, with rooms that overflow with props and set design reminiscent of all of the great sci-fi horror flicks. Frictional, ever the fan of spooky mystery goo, has brought that concept back in gallons, and you’ll find other sights just as inexplicable all over the place. Some of the concepts, like the goo, I felt were too similar to things we’ve seen from Frictional already, and Soma risked evoking play-by-play memories of Amnesia with some of its level design.

Soma's environments pop with light, color, sound and texture, making them beautiful as well as chilling.

Soma’s environments pop with light, color, sound and texture, making them beautiful as well as chilling.

Gameplay in Soma is not for the faint-of-heart. Despite being trapped in a state-of-the-art complex full of futuristic technologies, Simon can’t be asked to find a weapon or any means of self-defense other than sprinting and hiding. For good measure I tried throwing random things at the monsters I encountered and was rewarded only with staggers backward. I found it funny that you encounter box after box of power tools, crowbars, and other things that robots hate, yet you can’t use them. Your health does not regenerate, adding a vital level of survivalism to the game, as you can’t count on just running past monsters and praying your health will regenerate quickly enough. Soma forces you to be much more careful.

In Amnesia, the gameplay was the same idea, where you get through some sections riddled with monsters and others that dealt with puzzles, and never shall the two meet. In Soma both types of challenge are streamlined together into a cohesive experience. You’ll often be expected to solve simple physics or computer puzzles while multiple abominations are wandering around outside, and there’s something about impending death that makes intuition so much easier to grasp! Some puzzles were a bit frustrating, like one puzzle that required you to find the magic number of gigabytes to hit in a storage system, but the rest were the same rub-object-on-object-to-advance puzzles you see in all sorts of adventure games. Serviceable, but not exactly innovative.

Since the robots apparently can't fix shit, it's all up to you to every so often scratch your head at a puzzle.

Since the robots apparently can’t fix shit, it’s all up to you to every so often scratch your head at a puzzle.

Soma contains a lot of different environments to keep things fresh. The PATHOS-2 station is divvied up into individual research modules, and each one has its own palette of colors and materials. The more industrial modules are foreboding hunks of metal, while the starch-white laboratories are wolves in sheep’s lab coats. Simon has to navigate each module on his way to a larger goal, and that means also walking around on the ocean floor from time to time. The game is well-paced in this regard.

In stark contrast to Amnesia’s different-but-disjointed environment and single crew of three all-purpose ghouls, Soma packs almost a dozen enemies that each require their own strategy. The first time you see these enemies is also the first time you’re setting foot on new turf, so there’s no way to defeat them with experience. You have no reference for the environment you’re in and no reference for how to go up against what you’ve found. Frictional Games robs Soma of predictability to keep it interesting, and dissuades you from looking at the monsters through various means. Some monsters are attracted by sight, others by sound. Some are waiting around the next corridor and require use of hiding, others are lurking in the inky black water and require the use of hauling your asscheeks. It’s wonderfully tense and left me jumping out of my seat more times than I can remember. Soma‘s enemies comprise the most variety I’ve ever seen in a horror game, and it allows the game to get scarier and scarier as we go.

If robots who think they're people are all we had to worry about, that'd be one thing.

If robots who think they’re people are all we had to worry about, that’d be one thing.

Soma’s plot is the centerpiece of the entire production, blending survival horror with some philosophy so that your heart and your brain are hurting in equal measure. Soma opens with a quote about reality and spends its entire production touching on the theme of what it means to be human. Does it mean inhabiting a body of flesh and blood, or does it mean carrying a set of ideals and emotions no matter what your form? Soma challenged me and any assertions I might’ve had about this going into the game, but that didn’t save some of its scenes from sticking out like sore thumbs. On your way to the final confrontation, you get sidetracked into what feels like a very random five minutes of exposition, which ends with the press of a button and then suddenly returning to the game’s main track. Such jarring moments are more common in Soma than I would’ve liked, but a lot of the game’s dread comes from the game’s philosophical underpinnings, rather than its unremarkable dialogue.

These philosophical elements are a great foundation for the game’s story, but they don’t make it muddled or over-complicated. Much as I loved BioShock Infinite, I started to get tired of Booker and Elizabeth hopping through multiple universes and the story threatened to get sucked into itself. Soma handles similar concepts but they’re introduced in an emotionally heavy fashion, not a technically demanding one. We don’t spend the game musing about these concepts in an abstract way, we get to see their impact first-hand on Simon and his cast of supporting characters. There’s no giant plot twist in Soma. You’re given the main goal fairly early in the game and the horror of the story comes from the growing reality of your situation.

Soma applies its themes to very basic situations, leaving it with a simple but powerful story and no pretentious bullshit.

Soma applies its complex themes to very basic situations, not sacrificing its narrative to make a point in an argument.

I can’t say much more about Soma’s plot without spoiling the game and thus doing you a grievous disservice, but know that is worth your time. I wouldn’t say that it’s the scariest game I’ve ever played, simply because we’ve already seen a lot of these horror concepts in Penumbra and Amnesia, but adrenaline junkies will still find a solid thrill ride. Thankfully, Soma also doesn’t lose its own narrative in a jungle of pretentious bullshit (I’m looking at you, Machine for Pigs).

And Soma is one of the first games I’ve played in a long, long time whose themes and resolution have left me hurting for comfort days after having finished it. The shittiness of Simon’s situation is not unequaled, nor has Soma‘s setting not ever been done before, but this is the first video game since probably the first BioShock that has left me so satisfied with a narrative. If you never buy another video game that I tell you about this year, buy Soma. A lot of what it contains we’ve seen done before in other games, but it recontextualizes enough of those concepts as to be a novel experience.

GET IT AND HAIL THE WAU

GET SOMA AND HAIL THE WAU

Steam. Right now. Everyone has something special to experience with Soma. I realize that not everyone is a fan of horror games and that the idea of being chased down pitch-dark hallways doesn’t suit all tastes, but this is the first time in a while that I’ve found a horror game whose story is strong enough to, I believe, warrant at least giving the game a shot even if you’re not an adrenaline junkie. This is a recommendation being made by an adrenaline junkie, yes, but trust me on this one if nothing else. Have any of my recommendations or angry rants let you wrong before?

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You can buy Soma 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 ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Black

Terrorize the high seas and battle yet another crop of those damn Templars.

PC Release: October 29, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Ah, Assassin’s Creed. The Call of Duty of open-world video games. A series that washes the exact same premise through various historical settings, and rushes it out like clockwork year after year. When I first heard about Assassin’s Creed IV two years ago, I was worried that a series I enjoyed would eventually fall on its own sword. I was worried that Black Flag would be bereft of fresh ideas and functioning mechanics. My prediction came true last year with the release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, a game whose horrendous bugs and glitches have made it a laughingstock, and a glowing example of everything wrong with the games industry these days.

But what about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag? Well, as it turns out, Black Flag might be the boldest, and consequently best, Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Were it that its predecessor or successor had such balls.

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Black Flag is the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played in two years. Assassin’s Creed III turned me off of the series for a time, what with its awful game mechanics, strict free-roam controls and a story ending that made Mass Effect 3‘s conclusion look good. Eventually I was compelled to return to Ubisoft’s flagship series with a more refined lens, and am glad to say that I am happier for having done so.

On with the plot: Black Flag continues the series’s long-running war between the Assassin and Templar factions, though the modern-day story drops Desmond Miles (thank God). Abstergo Industries now has the ability to examine genetic memories without a human host, so the modern-day portion of the game follows a silent research analyst who is assigned to the story of Edward Kenway, our leading man. Kenway’s story takes place long before the events of Assassin’s Creed III, in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

Edward Kenway is not an Assassin. He’s completely unlike Altair, Ezio or his future grandson Connor. To put it bluntly, he is an asshole.

Edward starts out as one of thousands of young European men seeking to make their fortune in the New World, which in the early 1700s was a euphemism for pirating the shit out of the Caribbean islands. Our hero is no less inclined toward violently relieving merchants of their cargo, until the day the ship he’s on makes the brilliant decision to attack an Assassin vessel. Through a little bit of guile and a ton of sheer dumb luck, Edward falls into the middle of the Assassin-Templar war and their race to find an artifact hidden somewhere in the West Indies. To the Assassins and Templars, it’s the ultimate weapon. To Edward, it’s the ultimate score.

No stoic training under wizened old men for Edward; this time we start out cannons blazing.

No stoic training under wizened old men for Edward; this time we start out cannons blazing.

Through additional mishaps that had me laughing and shaking my head (something that the Assassin’s Creed series had forgotten how to provoke), Edward “borrows” a Spanish brig that he converts into a kickass pirate ship, and acquires a bloodthirsty crew to ply the waves with. Though formidable, and happy to wear hoods that aren’t his, Edward is no Assassin, and is happy to let the two factions play against each other until he finds a shakeout that earns him a ton of money.

If you’re reading a sigh of relief in these words, that’s not a mistake. By Assassin’s Creed III, the premise of a young man thirsty for justice being trained to mastery by a grumpy old Jedi fascimile had gotten reaaaaally old. Assassin’s Creed IV kicks that formula in the mouth with Edward’s story. Sure, he might end up joining the Assassins at some point in the story, but his path into the brotherhood is refreshingly unorthodox. Plus, he’s funny, like really funny, and even though he’s being a dickhole to everyone around him whenever he’s not busy sizing them up for pocket change, he remains relatable.

Ubisoft finally grew a pair and let one of its characters cut loose.

Ubisoft finally let one of its characters cut loose.

The supporting cast in this engrossing adventure are mostly legendary pirate figures. During my 50 hours or so cruising up and down the Caribbean, I saw Edward befriend the likes of Blackbeard, Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane and Ann Bonny. A few original characters, including the supposed bastard son of William Kidd, round out the sizeable group of whacked-out islanders.

While the Assassin side of our story has changed significantly for the better, the Templars in our tale are the same power-hungry old men we’ve seen in the past five games. A combination of fictional and historical characters plot to take over the Caribbean, just like they plotted to take over the Holy Land… and Italy… and the Ottoman Empire… and the United States… nothing I write about the Templar characters will be anything Assassin’s Creed fans haven’t seen before. If you’re not an Assassin’s Creed fan, I’m not sure why you’re starting things out by reading the review of the series’s sixth game, but… welcome!

Templars sure love rectangular tables.

Templars sure love giant tables.

And speaking of the Caribbean, holy crap, yes, let’s speak of the Caribbean. Assassin’s Creed IV has by far the largest map of any AC game to date. Everything between the southern tip of Florida and the northern coast of South America is yours to ply and plunder. From the brightly colored rooftops of Havana to some truly spectacular Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, and all the dozens of islands in between, there’s no shortage of things to gawk at in this game.

And gawk at I say quite literally. I was impressed with the visual quality of Assassin’s Creed IV. The game is beautiful and colorful, and all of its various weather and visual effects are stunning. I was particularly impressed by the realistic looking rainfall onto surfaces, and the pleasant contrasts between the white sand, turquoise oceans and other gorgeous visuals. This game has every color in the rainbow and then some gracing its palette, and it’s the first Triple-A game I’ve played in a while whose graphical and visual fidelity have so stunned me.

Just gorgeous.

Just gorgeous.

The other thing that’s awesome about Black Flag‘s open world is how easy it is to navigate. Naval missions were introduced in Assassin’s Creed III as a breakout means of fun, but they always took place in carefully cordoned-off, linear missions (just like everything else in that damn game). Black Flag seamlessly integrates on-foot navigation with seafaring. You can sail to an island, drop anchor, dive off of your ship into the crystal-clear water, and swim onto the land to have whatever mayhem you will. Then, you can jump right back on your ship and sail to the next destination. The cities require an area transition, but everything else is present in a single, glorious over-map. I happily sank dozens of hours into exploring this vast paradise.

To ensure maximum fun in exploring the Caribbean, Ubisoft tore out all of Assassin’s Creed‘s game mechanics and put back just the basic necessities. The keys on the PC version have been remapped more intuitively, for a start. Combat is the same, ridiculous counter-kill and kill-streak bullshit we’ve come to expect from Assassin’s Creed, but the mechanics are simple to learn. Fighting enemy guards is formulaic, as there are only three types of enemies each with a certain, easily exploitable weakness. But it’s still fun… somehow. What did you do to my brain, Ubisoft…

Combat in Assassin's Creed is as fun and laughably easy as it's ever been.

Combat in Assassin’s Creed is as laughably easy as it’s ever been.

Because this is a Ubisoft game, Assassin’s Creed IV has no shortage of side activities, though this time they actually felt fun instead of just being there to fill the space. I remember rolling my eyes at Assassin’s Creed III when it challenged me to kill five bears with a hidden blade. That’s not side questing, that’s just busywork.

In Black Flag, by contrast, there’s a ton to do. In addition to hopping off your boat to explore islands, you can accept assassination and naval contracts that are thankfully about killing people again, instead of throwing two smoke bombs at one guard under three minutes or some random shit like that. You can free pirates to join your crew, and find sea shanties for the drunken bastards to sing as you lazily sail around the islands. Black Flag also rips off of Far Cry 3‘s animal crafting system, in which you use pelts from slain beasties to make new holsters, pouches and other equipment.

At sea, you can dive deep underwater to salvage shipwrecks and elude sharks. You can hunt for whales. You can claim Spanish forts for the pirate republic in the Bahamas. You can upgrade your ship to deflect mortar shells and shit liquid fire. The piece de resistance, since you’re a pirate, is firing at and then boarding enemy ships to take custody of their cargo. Resources can be spent upgrading your ship, your sexy pirate cove (yes, you get a pirate cove) your weapons, or getting drunk off of your ass.

This game is simply a lot of fun. There's just no other way to put it.

This game is simply a lot of fun. There’s just no other way to put it.

While Black Flag’s box of toys is engrossing, to say the least, the game had some ridiculous flaws that I couldn’t not shake my head at. The entire production is riddled with basic bugs and glitches. I found that my audio levels adjusted themselves to fluctuate wildly. I’d be sailing along on the ship no problem, only to have my ears bleed when Edward walked ashore and the sound of his boots jumped up by about 8,000 percent. I also got stuck inside more than a few rocks and walls, which is just… come on. That’s basic shit, Ubisoft, that’s little league bugs no company of your size should be allowing onto the market.

Assassin’s Creed‘s mission design also continues to suffer from some confusing flaws. More than a few times I would complete a bonus goal to the letter, only to somehow miss it. The biggest problem was the story missions’ complete lack of imagination. Two out of three missions in this damn game consists of following somebody. Hey, follow that guy, hey, we need to tail that ship, hey, follow the buddy of that guy you followed last time. It’s not a deal-breaker but I had to laugh at how absurd it was; a huge studio with dozens of engineers and programmers and this was seriously the element that merited the most attention?

Jesus Shitting Christ, is there anyone in Jamaica I HAVEN'T followed?!

Jesus Shitting Christ, is there anyone in Jamaica I HAVEN’T followed?!

The other thing that I found kinda funny was how the game hides the cruelty and bloodshed of piracy from the player. Every single ship that you board and set to the torch is crewed by same-faced Spanish soldiers. The game finds other ways of forcing Edward to own up to his lifestyle choices, but robbing the ships of any civilian crews left the game missing some emotional weight. It left the piracy feeling more like an adolescent fantasy than a down-to-earth fact of history. But then again, Assassin’s Creed hasn’t really ever been about facts of history, has it?

Still, for all its bugs and repetitive gameplay, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a badly needed breath of fresh air for a series that had gone stale. It broke with tradition by introducing a non-traditional protagonist, and stripping down the cumbersome monster of side-activities back to some fun things to do. Additionally, the game introduces a few strong female characters that are far more than attractive set pieces. Such characters are rarer than gold dust in the games world today, and I’m glad someone at Ubisoft recognized the need for one. Black Flag even sees Edward getting apprenticed to one, which is one of those things that just doesn’t happen in video games. I almost couldn’t believe what I saw.

How often do we see a strong female character in a game at all, let alone as a MENTOR to the male protagonist?

How often do we see a strong female character in a game at all, let alone as a MENTOR to the male protagonist?

Do you know why else I think it would be worth your time to drop whatever you’re doing and buy this game right now? It’s not just because of the open world, or its fun activities, and its certainly not for the modern-day story whose presence bears little more mention than the sentence I gave it up top. It’s because it’s an Assassin’s Creed game that finally delivers some emotional payoff. Until now, the series has really only given epic payoff, which is akin to a huge explosion at the end of an action movie, or that one scene in Michael Clayton when George Clooney gets Tilda Swinton arrested.

Black Flag is a great Assassin’s Creed game because it strips away the immortality of the Assassins with Edward. We have a very flawed but therefore relatable character who, for all his jokes, has some very somber moments. There’s a poignant death scene in the game that had me brought to tears, and it’s the catalyst for Edward’s redemption and ascension into a higher calling in life. Because of that, the Assassins, the Templars, and all of their fights are a lot more powerful. We want to fight the Templars because of human reasons, not just ethereal lore spouted by objective markers.

Edward Kenway's transition from asshole to hero is the most believable this series has yet produced.

Edward Kenway’s transition from asshole to hero is the most believable this series has yet produced.

Black Flag evokes empathy, not just awe, and that’s why it’s the greatest Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Go buy it. Put up with the occasional bug and the annoying tailing missions. You’ll thank me for it later.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag 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 ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Five Nights at Freddy’s 4

Fnaf

I hate myself.

PC Release: July 23, 2015

By Ian Coppock

Originally, I had meant to include this game in the Short Horror Week IV lineup, but I didn’t want the event to come off as being devoted exclusively to Five Nights at Freddy’s. Three Fnaf games in seven days is a lot. At first I thought hey, let’s maybe move the lineup to eight games, but a week is a week, and even my adrenaline glands can stand only so much.

This review can be thought of as a Short Horror Week IV epilogue, a last bite of scary before we move back into some less spooky material next week. It’s also the apparent conclusion to the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, and will hopefully end this novel collection of horror games on a high note.

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Fnaf and Fnaf 2 take place within a few years of each other, and Fnaf 3 30 years after that, but it’s unclear where Fnaf 4 falls in the timeline of these games. Indeed, next to nothing is clear about this game’s story or timeline, and it’s not like its predecessors were super-forthcoming either.

Regardless of when it occurs, Fnaf 4 has players take the wheel not of a pimply night guard, but a frightened little boy, whose house suffers nightly invasions of ghoulish animatronics. Your enemies are the four original characters from the first game: Bonnie, Chica, Foxy, and the dreadful Freddy Fazbear himself.

Fnaf 4 takes place in a child's bedroom instead of the titular restaurant.

Fnaf 4 takes place in a child’s bedroom instead of the titular restaurant.

Five Nights at Freddy’s 4‘s gameplay encompasses several radical departures from the Fnaf formula. Typically, you’re given a suite of security camera feeds through which to watch the animatronics, a flashlight, and some means of self-defense. About the only thing that returns in this game is the flashlight. Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 does away entirely with the security cameras. You have know way of knowing where the monsters are until they’re waiting right outside your room.

The already-unsettling animatronics have also received a demonic makeover. The previous iterations of the core four animatronics were at first only creepy, but now they’re outright terrifying, with glowing eyes and teeth filed to points. At first I was afraid that the animatronics had followed our protagonist home, but now I wonder if I was playing through his nightmares.

B

Fnaf’s animatronics return scarier than ever, with a makeover straight out of hell.

The plot of Fnaf 4 is told through the same 8-bit interactive cutscenes we’ve seen in the past two games. Our unfortunate protagonist is a timid little boy relentlessly bullied throughout his daily life. It is heavily implied that he’s visited Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, and that the animatronics frighten him greatly. All the while, the five nights of the game count down to a “party” set to happen at the restaurant.

These little sequences do everything possible to keep the story vague, and they succeed. The little boy’s only friend appears to be a golden Freddy Fazbear doll, which for some reason has me wondering if that’s much of a friend at all.

Aww...

Aww…

So how does this game play out without security cameras? Well, it forces players to rely on audio cues, not visual. In a tense gameplay mechanic whose stress value is matched only by refusing to look at the Slender Man, you have to lean out of your room to listen for ragged breathing sounds. Your bedroom has two doors, neither of which apparently came with locks, so you have to grit your teeth and lean into the hallway on the lookout for danger.

If you hear nothing, it’s probably safe to click on the flashlight and take a peek outside. If you hear breathing, though, turning that flashlight on will spell your noisy, horrific demise.

AHGAHBALAGAAAAAAA!!!

AHGAHBALAGAAAAAAA!!!

The reason why this gameplay change is significant is because, until now, being good at Five Nights at Freddy‘s means being good at multitasking. It means being good at working very quickly under pressure. The audio cue mechanic forces players to stop what they’ve been hard-wired to do to survive, and take those crucial seconds to listen carefully for danger. There is nothing more terrifying than forcing yourself to stay still when you can hear hot, ragged breathing an inch from your face.

Suffice to say, this also builds up the tension for a great jumpscare. If you hear breathing, closing the door will convince the animatronic to leave your threshold, but shining the light will produce such a cacophony of sound and adrenaline as to scatter cats, break computer chairs, and give you (yet another) cramp in your leg.

B2

Manged to snap this off about .0002 seconds before dying horribly.

Additionally, I like that we’re back to the four core animatronics. A dozen enemies (Fnaf 2) was too many, and one enemy (Fnaf 3) was too few. Four enemies is about the right number, and each one comes at you from a different direction, Check doors, check closet, check under the bed, repeat, take time to listen for breathing, repeat. Each animatronic has its own spin on the jumpscare strategy, all of them are terrifying as hell.

The game is also the best in the series when it comes to atmosphere. Game designer Scott Cawthon has perfected his balance of ambient sound effects and dark, clear-cut visuals. Graphics and animations of the characters are zeniths more sophisticated than where we started in the first game (only a year ago). The mix of distant dog barks, midnight clocks, and wind blowing reinforces the sense of isolation as well. It’s a grim atmosphere, perfect for the stuff of childhood nightmares, which is what Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 does a great job of evoking.

Never before has checking the closet for monsters born so much merit.

Never before has checking the closet for monsters had so much merit.

Fnaf 4 also brings the most variety to the series that we’ve yet seen. Most of the games feature the same set of animatronics who only increase in murderous-ness as the five nights go by. In Fnaf 4, you’ll face different configurations of enemies on different nights. Sometimes all four will attack at once, sometimes you’ll face only one or two the entire night. It still increases in difficulty as we go, but it prevents the game from being rinse-and-repeat, as previous Fnafs have a tendency to do.

Fnaf 4 features another minigame in-between nights, starring a small, furry version of the nightmare bunny we fought in Five Nights at Freddy’s 3. In “Fun with Plushtrap” you’ll have a chance to use that same audio cue mechanic to score some points and move the next night in the series down a few hours, giving you a shorter window in which to endure the monsters. Or you’ll just get another chance of being murdered. I experienced plenty of both.

B1

You have to catch this little bastard with your flashlight while he’s hopping around in the dark. Landing him on the X will earn you a few hours off the next night.

If you’re sensing that I’m building up to a sterling recommendation for this game, you are absolutely correct. To be frank, I was shocked at how mixed the mainstream reviews for this game were, when in reality, I think it’s the best in the series. It strips down the mechanics to make the game simple but not simplistic, introduces a tense horror mechanic that forces you to throw a wrench into your own survival instincts, and provides a creepy story prodding at one of the most pivotal events in the Fnaf lore. Plus, it’s goddamn scary. I haven’t jumped as hard as I did playing this game since Outlast or Amnesia.

A lot of the negative press came from bugs, or so I understand, but if they were in my experience with the game, they went unnoticed. No, Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 is an outstanding horror game and a thrilling conclusion to the franchise. Who’s to say if this is actually the last Fnaf game, but it’s certainly the greatest one. Eight bucks on the Steam store; worth every penny.

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You can buy Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 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 ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Music Machine

MM3

Having arrived to a forgotten island, hunt down the cult that calls it home and find peace for a ghostly companion.

PC Release: May 6, 2015

By Ian Coppock

Short Horror Week Finales are outstanding achievements in horror gaming. Those achievements have always relied on being terrifying in a novel way. Slender, Vanish, and Five Nights at Freddy’s all fit these criteria. Tonight, I wish to present a game that, while not as in-your-face shocking as Fnaf or Vanish, has a scare value that goes far beyond little jumpscares and will haunt your dreams for weeks. The Music Machine, a surreal little tale from the same gentleman who brought us The Moon Sliver, horrifies through implication as well as visualization. However, it’s the implications that will leave you the most terrified.

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The Music Machine tells the story of Haley and Quintin, the former being a 13-year-old girl with an appetite for rebellion, and the latter the ghost of a 34-year-old man who has possessed Haley’s body. Quintin is dead because of a misunderstanding between him, Haley, and Haley’s father, and now seeks to murder the teenager in the most gruesome way possible.

But first, they chart a boat for a distant island. Their target is a serial killer who’s left piles of impaled corpses in his wake. Quintin’s pursuit of this foe is unexplained, but Haley is helplessly dragged into the hunt all the same.

MM2

What the… wow…

Right off the bat, look at that screenshot. Surreal, yet absolutely gorgeous. The entirety of The Music Machine is presented in this format, with a single strong color contrasting against black outlines and shadows. It’s a visual formula that you can stare into for hours, but it will also raise goosebumps on your neck, especially when paired with the game’s perturbing soundtrack. Different environments utilize different colors, so you needn’t worry if walking around in a macaroni and cheese-colored nightmare all day is not your cup of tea.

The Music Machine‘s many worlds are open, and you can wander around in whatever order you wish. Haley can examine the objects you find, and the pair will offer commentary hinting at their relationship and what’s going on around you. Having been possessed by Quintin for months, Haley has become numb to the shock and horror of her impending death, and has become extremely chipper, much to the dour Quintin’s displeasure. Unlike the bits of story that just popped up in The Moon Sliver, getting the prose in The Music Machine requires careful examination of the features around you.

Exploration precedes the narrative of The Music Machine.

Exploration precedes the narrative of The Music Machine.

Before long, Haley and Quintin stumble onto signs of recent habitation, the least subtle of which is a new church that wasn’t there a few days ago. Within, the pair become entangled in a much larger journey across many surreal worlds, tied together by a group of creatures best described as the cosmos’ failed disciples. The worlds you travel to are the results of their harsh experiments, which is fascinating in and of itself, but it also provides a novel catalyst for Haley and Quintin’s relationship.

That relationship is the focal point of The Music Machine. As the pair travel to these hellish little pockets of time and space, Haley begins to see an opportunity to escape her fate, and the dangers faced along the way force Quintin to reveal how much humanity he may or may not have left. Vicious arguments will play out silently on the bottom of your screen, adding context and gravity to the already morose landscapes scattered around you.

The Thorn Forest is one of several mini-worlds you'll visit, and its pain-inducing rain an obstacle for Haley and Quintin to unite against.

The Thorn Forest is one of several mini-worlds you’ll visit, and its pain-inducing rain an obstacle for Haley and Quintin to unite against.

So yes, unlike most of the games we’ve talked about for the past week, The Music Machine‘s narrative is good. Perhaps even great. It’s also the primary driving force behind your travels, just like The Moon Sliver. My only concern is that your hunt for the aforementioned serial killer is abandoned almost immediately in favor of the new threat, which I wouldn’t mind so much if the former premise hadn’t been dropped pretty much as soon as the game begins. Never again is the former goal for arrival mentioned.

Lucky for the developer, he somehow heard me through time and space and did more editing on the prose this time! Well-done, because there’s nothing more breaking in a story than bad grammar. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop some of the writing from being pretty silly, like when Haley starts asking questions about sex to Quintin just out of the blue. Despite these dialogue dips, the events that unfold around you propel more of the past out of our two protagonists. It’s a truly gripping story and one that anyone, horror fan or not, will enjoy. Definitely not a light, happy tale though.

Cozy...

Cozy…

Any game can have a great narrative, so what is it about The Music Machine that makes it so goddamn scary?

Well, in addition to its unsettling narrative, The Music Machine is a masterpiece when it comes to atmosphere. Everything from the outdoor environments to the cramped interiors has been fitted with the monochromatic pattern, but you’ll also hear macabre music and a few sound effects. All of these elements are balanced quite well. Stepping into an abandoned house will actually feel like stepping into an abandoned house. The muffle against the wind, the sound of floorboards creaking, and the occasional piano patter all combine to haunt me to this day. Haley and Quintin will throw in additional descriptors in the dialogue boxes. Organ music will play in the darker areas, to reflect the greater sense of scale… and fear.

This game will make you feel like you're in a little old comic book illustrated by ghosts.

This game will make you feel like you’re in a little old comic book illustrated by ghosts.

Of course, there are also telltale signs that you’re not alone in these worlds, culminating in a series of jump-scary encounters that had me leaping out of my seat with fright. I won’t spoil, but it doesn’t take long for your quarries to try to turn the tables on you, the pursuer. You’ll catch glimpses of solitary figures on the horizon… and much, much closer than that.

Honestly, the thing about The Music Machine that will stick with horror gamers the most is how very sad it is. Sad that these two people have ended up in this situation, and sad that they are pressed into this mad quest against unthinkable forces. The Music Machine‘s atmosphere is thick and intoxicating, soaking a strong sense of dread deep into your bones and leaving you anxious for what’s around the next corner. Traveling through lime-green tunnels, spotting figures in the trees’ black shadows, wandering aimlessly across a blood-red field under a black sun… all of these make for memorable journeys. The Music Machine‘s audio-visual experience infuses you with more wonder, more dread, than any comparable atmospheric phenomena I’ve seen in any other horror game.

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Hollow skyscrapers, air that smells like rotten meat, a stretch of red road leading nowhere… (shivers)

If I haven’t made it apparent by now, The Music Machine is an outstanding achievement of narrative and atmosphere. It’s not as in-your-face ridiculous as Slender or Fnaf. Its dread, no less potent, is more subtle, infecting your mind with its vivid dreamscapes and horrific, enthralling story. Hardcore survivalists will still get their monster encounters, but the greater picture here is that this is the type of dread you encounter only in the most surreal nightmares.

I cannot recommend this game highly enough. Go to Steam, spend the few bucks and two hours required to experience this masterpiece, and bathe in what it has to offer. The Music Machine does not make for light subject matter, but it’s one of the most substantive games I’ve played this year. And with that, Short Horror Week IV has concluded.

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You can buy The Music Machine 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 ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Five Nights at Freddy’s 3

Fnaf7

Why did I come back here???

PC Release: March 2, 2015

By Ian Coppock

If it hasn’t become obvious to you by now, I’ve been a bit desensitized by horror games. I’m desensitized enough that I’ve been playing them consistently for almost half a decade. I’m desensitized enough to play Five Nights at Freddy’s and enjoy it. Finally, I’m desensitized enough to play Five Nights at Freddy’s 3, right after Fnaf 2 scared me so badly that I got a cramp in my lower leg. I was reluctant to review two installments of a series so close together, but this will prove an opportunity to see if the flaws I found in Fnaf 2 were remedied. It’s also a chance to live life at the height of adrenaline junkie-ness, so let’s play Five Nights at Freddy’s 3.

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Fnaf, as Five Nights at Freddy’s is known in shorthand, is a point-and-click horror game where you get attacked by evil animatronics. They put on quite the musical show for the kids during the day, but at night, they wander the halls of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza looking to disembowel any humans they see. Unable to leave the confines of the security office, players have to manage cameras, doors, and the dryness of their trousers in an effort to keep these garish things from popping up in front of you.

The game was acclaimed for its novel approach to horror, and this was only strengthened in the sequel, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2.Despite an overall more impressive showing than the first game, Fnaf 2’s primary issues were a steep rise in difficulty and the presence of so many animatronics that they would work against each other as well as you. I’m flattered that nearly a dozen robots duked it out for the right to murder me, but the game swapping out one animatronic that was 10 feet away for another that was 30 feet away was not an impressive feat of design. Five Nights at Freddy’s 3, released just six months after the second game, seeks once again to switch things up and keep the formula from exhausting itself too quickly.

These offices just get more and more decrepit as we go.

These offices just get more and more decrepit as we go.

Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 takes place thirty years after the events of the first game. Just like before, you play a newly hired security guard who’s brought on to keep an eye on things during the night shift. Your place of employment, Fazbear’s Fright, is a gaudy theme park and haunted house-style remake of the original restaurant. A more callous and depressing memorial there is not, but there is a profit to be made.

Anyhoo, I settled into my role at this newest hellhole and was delighted to see that my old enemies, including Freddy Fazbear himself, had been scrapped into tiny pieces and scattered all over the park. Surely, thought I, peace can be had if these creatures are reduced to nuts and bolts? So it seemed. Until my character’s employers brought in a new animatronic. One they’d found in a boarded-up room. A room, and an animatronic, that no one was supposed to know about.

F

…Is that flesh poking out from his chest?

In Fnaf 3, you’re given back a few tools from earlier in the series as well as some new toys. Security cameras, more of a novelty in the first two games, are essential as hell in the third installment. Though you only have to combat one animatronic, you have absolutely no way to defend yourself if he reaches your office. No doors, no masks, nothing. So keeping an eye on your adversary is more than just a way to startle yourself.

In addition to the cameras, the park is fitted with a few other systems that you have to maintain. Audio devices normally used to filter creepy sounds through to park guests are repurposed to lure the animatronic to other rooms. Like I said, you have no doors or masks to help you if this guy makes it your way, so playing little noises in other rooms is basically your only solution for survival. The ability can only be used once every ten seconds or so, so it demands some strategy. Again, these games are the bastard offspring of chess and a slasher movie, with maybe Chuck E. Cheese thrown in for the world’s most cringe-worthy manage trois.

You can play audio clips in different rooms to keep the animatronic away.

You can play audio clips in different rooms to keep the animatronic away.

In Fnaf 3 you have no battery limits of any kind on your equipment, but you have to keep it in running shape throughout the five nights ahead of you. Be it bad engineering or sabotage from the animatronic, your suite of instruments has a tendency to go offline, requiring a reboot. Otherwise you’re looking at dead cameras and no audio clips. A death sentence, in other words.

There’s something far worse to fear than broken equipment, though. Hallucinogenic gas is filtered throughout the theme park to put its visitors on edge, and if too much of the stuff clouds your vision, you’ll start seeing phantom animatronics running around the park and messing with you. They’ll even jumpscare you, given the chance, and though their attacks are nonlethal, they can damage your equipment and give the real animatronic an opening to enter your office and finish you off. And, of course, you’ll have shat a hole through the bottom of your computer chair.

F1

OHGODWHADDAFUGGG!!!! Inhaling too much gas will cause apparitions to attack you and take your equipment offline.

Just like the last game, each of the five nights is pierced with interludes cast in an 8-bit, Atari-style minigame. Players assume the roles of the animatronics themselves, and bear witness to some creepy shit that I don’t want to spoil or repeat. There’s a very good reason this particular animatronic was boarded up and forgotten. There’s a reason it seems much older than the ones we’ve dealt with until now. And, there’s the ever-so-slight possibility that it is directly responsible for much of the horror we’ve witnessed thus far in the series. Who can say? I won’t. I’m not giving you that info for free. NOT AFTER WHAT I WENT THROUGH.

So yeah, just like before, series creator Scott Cawthon keeps the lore very vague but provides enough crumbs to allow for a glimpse of what happened. All of this is presented in the rather narrative-free actual game, as something to play in the back of your head as you try to stay alive. Such a storytelling method seems to be Cawthon’s weapon of choice for damaging our brains and our adrenaline glands. Hooray.

F2

Back up, jack!

So, did Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 prove a breakthrough for the series, and does it remedy the problems I encountered last time? I wouldn’t call it a breakthrough, and it remedies the problems I had too hard. Let me explain.

Fnaf 3 draws an enormous contrast with Fnaf 2 in terms of enemy numbers. You’re now dealing with one animatronic instead of nearly a dozen. I appreciated the radical change in approach, but though that one animatronic is a beast, dealing with a single enemy is inevitably easier than dealing with several. The phantoms are less true enemies and more distractions, anyway. It becomes more dangerous as the nights go on, sure. But it’s still just one monster. And one monster is simpler to manage than 12.

Perhaps this factored into my next problem with the game, and that’s how surprisingly easy it was. I only died on the third night; all of the other nights, including the infamous fifth night, only took me one try. You can play audio clips very rapidly to keep the animatronic away, which also gives you time to repair any downed systems and return for additional vigilance. Maybe I’m just a badass, but I was able to keep the animatronic on the opposite side of the park from me on even the most difficult night. Or maybe my reflexes were still sharp from Fnaf 2. Either way, the game is a piece of cake.

F3

Oh, trying to be sneaky, are we? Yeah, I can close the vents from my computer. Threat neutralized.

The most that Fnaf 3 will get from me, unfortunately, is a halfhearted recommendation. Its hints at lore and new setting will satisfy hardcore fans, but horror everymen looking for something fresh and exciting will not find what they’re looking for. Between Fnaf 3‘s lack of difficulty and its innovative though unchallenging phantom animatronics, I came away from the game sixty minutes after purchasing it with a “meh” sort of feeling in my tummy. It’s dressed up with a few new features, but it doesn’t move the series’s design forward like Fnaf 2 did.

Hopefully, Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 managed to end the series on a high note, but we’ll have to leave that judgment for a time beyond Short Horror Week IV.

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You can buy Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 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 ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Lost in a Forest

LF1

Explore a dark forest in a hilarious parody of the Slender Man.

PC Release: January 21, 2015

By Ian Coppock

It’s become apparent to me that the Slender Man motif has begun to take itself too seriously. The concept has been made manifest in dozens of projects in the few years since it appeared on the Creepypasta forums, always circulating around the same goddamn idea: a tall, pale guy with no face and a nice suit stalks you at a distance and kills you if you steal the coloring book scrawls he’s tacked onto trees.

The single unifying novelty of this idea is also its downfall, as there’s only so much that can be done before the concept feels stale. This is why the deluge of Slender Man games and projects has abruptly halted in the last 12 months or so. However, the Internet always provides a new use for worn-out motifs, and that use is Lost in a Forest.

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Lost in a Forest is, to be a frank, a very stupid game. It’s one of those so-bad-it’s-good games that, like an Adam Sandler movie, gives you a few chuckles at the expense of way too many brain cells. Like its source material, Lost in a Forest is a first-person indie horror game in which you, a nameless protagonist, ends up in a pitch-black forest looking for some notebook pages. The premise is identical to that of the original Slender game I reviewed 30 months ago. You’re in the woods with nothing but a flashlight, and must collect some notebook pages before a supernatural entity murders you.

As you might have suspected by now, though, Lost in a Forest shakes things up. It spoofs the seriousness of Slender Man, and it does so by providing a horror comedy. Even the game’s title made me laugh, because it’s so true. Why are you always lost in a forest, and why are you always looking for notebook pages?

AAAAH! Wait... what is... haha... hahahaha....

AAAAH! Wait… what is… haha… hahahaha….

Players of the original Slender and the countless derivatives it spawned will remember that as you collect each page in the woods, the Slender Man becomes more aggressive about hunting you down. Finding one page will net you the occasional glance of him in the woods, while five or more will have the damn thing breathing down your neck the whole time. What made Slender so agonizing was trying to resist the urge to look behind you as you walked through the woods. You had to balance knowing the danger’s location with suffering that knowledge’s very lethal consequences. It’s a creepy premise, and admittedly a brilliant formula for a horror game.

Lost in a Forest takes that same premise and throws a few wrenches into it. While walking through these very different woods, you’ll find yourself assailed by what I can only assume are the Slender Man’s inbred cousins. Gaunt vampires with weird smiley faces, anthropomorphic camels in suits, and bat-eared maniacs are only a few of the crazies that stalk you through the forest. But, for the first, time, you can fight back. Random objects scattered throughout the woods can be collected and thrown at the Slender Men to kill them. Yep. You read that right. If you’ve ever had fantasies of taking the Slender Man and beating his invincible ass up with a giant dildo, Lost in a Forest is the game for you.

Cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, fire hydrants, tires, bricks, bags of potatoes, all of it is at your disposal to fight the Slender menace.

Cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, fire hydrants, tires, bricks, bags of potatoes, everything at your disposal to fight the Slender menace.

You still have to explore the forest. You still have to get those damn pages. But you can chuck rotten pumpkins and old bricks at the Slender Man and hear him tumble to the ground with funny sound effects. Each Slendy-buddy drops money when they’re killed, allowing you to buy upgrades and health packs at scattered vending machines. More Slenders will pop up with every page you collect, but I had a hilarious time felling these lucid bastards with stray cats and whatever else could be lobbed at them.

Lost in a Forest is also peppered with random sound effects to further the ridiculousness. You’re clearly in a temperate forest at night, but you’ll hear jungle noises, distant laughter, cat meows, and other effects that aren’t quite so disarming as those found in the Slender game. Lost in a Forest carries itself with the weight of a proper parody. It’s not off-the-charts ridiculous like Jazzpunk, but it strikes a nice balance between absurdity and subtlety. The game still provides a few scares, like when the Slendies pop up right in front of you, but it’s nothing a well-aimed potato can’t bring to heel. The distinction of subtle humor is important, because it would be too obvious to feature a Slender Man game where he just turns into confetti when you look at him, or have to fight him during the day. No. Lost in a Forest takes what we wish we could do against Slender Man and funnies it up a bit.

Fire hydrant didoes are Slender Man's secret weakness. Who knew.

Fire hydrants and dildos are Slender Man’s secret weaknesses. Who knew.

I appreciate that some developer found a way to satirize an otherwise terrifying concept, but the execution of that idea leaves a lot to be desired. Just like yesterday’s game, Shady Casket, Lost in a Forest is a bit too dark. It’s not holy-shit-where-am-I dark, otherwise known as Shady Casket-dark, but it’s still pretty goddamn dark. Turning up the gamma only did so much, as you can see from these screenshots.

Additionally, the map is too big. You’ll spend upwards of a half-hour wandering around the woods looking for those pages. There are no paths to follow and the signs, perhaps in an attempt at humor, do not lead to the landmarks you need to visit. I didn’t care; if the game wasn’t going to take itself seriously, neither was I, but someone looking to actually finish this might get frustrated. Then again, I don’t think actually trying to finish Lost in a Forest is the actual point of Lost in a Forest.

Can't... see... shit...

Can’t… see… shit…

Lost in a Forest has a difficulty ramp all its own. You have a health meter, unusual for a Slender game, and it will get taken down the longer one of the lanky bastards glares at you. You must immediately throw your hard-won items at them, or risk having to start all over again. Typically, this process is not difficult, but when multiple Slendies are staring at you with their damage stacking on your life bar? Yeah.. not a great design element.

In short, Lost in a Forest has a lot of cheap laughs and cheap thrills, available on Steam for two bucks. I got it for fifty cents and still had some fun toying around with it. It’s not a must-own for horror fans out there, but it’s the only successful attempt I’ve ever seen to make the Slender Man funny. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a true novelty.

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You can buy Lost in a Forest 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 ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Shady Casket

S

Explore a creepy tomb loaded with difficult puzzles.

PC Release: October 2, 2013

By Ian Coppock

I realize that not everyone who reads my blog is interested in getting the shit scared out of them every five minutes, so I’ve made a token effort to include the more timid among you. Holy shit that was condescending.

Let me try that again: I’ve added a creepy puzzle game to the Short Horror Week lineup, where the focus is using your wits in a creepy atmosphere instead of just getting chased the hell around by some monstrosity. From what little I can discern off of the incredibly dark cover, Shady Casket looks to be an old-fashioned adventure game cloaked in shadows. Maybe something akin to an Indiana Jones film directed by Wes Craven. But having played it, I now realize that condescension is going to be inevitable in this review.

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While exploring the ruins of a burial site called Caskar, our silent protagonist gets trapped in a chamber from which there is no escape. Our unfortunate archaeologist, with naught but some flickering torches and a spooky soundtrack for company, must gather their wits and search their way through almost a dozen chambers.

Shady Casket‘s level design is akin to Portal, except that you’re teleported from chamber to chamber instead of taking an elevator. In each chamber, you have to solve a series of puzzles in order to unlock the door and make it to the next level. Gameplay is doled out from a first-person perspective, and your character has some limited sprinting and jumping mechanics.

SC

Each burial chamber contains a teleportation matrix leading to the next level. Solve the puzzle to crack it open.

Beyond that, your initial goals for coming here are unknown. Your character is a silent protagonist and no additional exposition is given on the Caskar ruins themselves. I was hoping for some sort of a narrative in this game but there was none to be found.

At this point you might be thinking to yourself, “such hypocrisy! You said that Unloved had very little story and yet you gave it some stirring accolades? Why not Shady Casket?” Because Unloved has lots of fun gameplay elements. Shady Casket… not so much.

I CAN'T SEE SHIT

I CAN’T SEE SHIT

Alright, so right off the bat, Shady Casket is just too dark. Look at the screenshots I’ve posted so far and you’ll see what I mean. The game is so dark that I can barely tell the screenshots apart as I upload them to my WordPress media library. Despite the presence of the occasional torch, Shady Casket is too dark for players to see much of anything. I spent a lot of time feeling my way along walls and bumping into unseen corners purely because of such a trivial design oversight. Even brightening the gamma on your monitor can only do so much.

This design flaw also makes it difficult to talk about the Shady Casket‘s visuals. I’d love to go into more detail about the game’s graphics and texture qualities, but with everything being so shrouded, it’s difficult to make an informed decision on how visually impressive, or not, Shady Casket might be. Perhaps the game doesn’t look too great, and the developer was feeling lazy. I have no clue.

Seriously?

Seriously?

Despite its ridiculous lack of light, Shady Casket does have a spooky atmosphere backed up by a few ambient sound effects and a soundtrack that sounds like something you might play outside your house on Halloween. Crickets chirp in the game’s outdoor areas while long drafts howl through its underground corridors. The soundtrack has an annoying tendency to recycle every two minutes or so, but to be fair, a lot of indie games have that problem.

Now for the question that has surely come up by now: does this game have monsters? I would say that it has adversaries, yes, but they’re giant glowing ghost bowls rather than salivating zombies. A little creepy, but nothing terrifying, these orbs will stalk you throughout some of the chambers and insta-kill you should you make physical contact. Their simple artificial intelligence means that getting away from them isn’t too difficult, but they make no noise, so keeping your wits about you is crucial to survival. The little bastards like to try to sneak up on you.

Spook-balls will silently follow you through some levels. Keep them at a distance.

Spook-balls will silently follow you through some levels. Keep them at a distance.

The final nail in the casket for this game is that its puzzles are powered by nonsense instead of logic. Instead using physics or keys, you’ll be expected to find random objects and rub them against every goddamn thing in the room in order to proceed to the next one. Putting a rock on a table is not, in my mind, the logical step one would take to open a door. Inserting a diamond into an anthill is not, in my mind, the logical step one would take to activate a teleportation device.

Beating your face against a computer monitor is not, in my mind, a response that is difficult to avoid when designing your video game. I somehow made it to the end of Shady Casket, but the price I paid in frustration was way, way too high.

Are we playing a blind person?

Are we playing a blind person?

Shady Casket‘s redeeming qualities are few. It has a pretty okay atmosphere and the threat of monster-death keeps you on your toes, but that’s really about it. Between the nonsensical lack of light and the even more nonsensical puzzles demanding the non-logic of an acid addict, I cannot recommend this game. There are better horror games, better puzzle games, and better horror-puzzle games out there than this. Save the couple bucks and hour or so of your time for something better, because though this is an indie project and a one-man show, its aimless design and frustrating triviality of problems leave a lot to be desired.

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You can buy Shady Casket 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 ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.