Investigate the disappearance of your cult’s most sacred artifact.
PC Release: October 28, 2014
By Ian Coppock
Short Horror Week IV has begun! I appreciate your patience during my two weeks away. I’ve spent most of it writing the reviews to follow for the next week; hopefully this long absence will bear some fruit. As always, the Short Horror week series comprises seven short PC games that you can complete in a half-hour or so. I mentioned on Facebook that there would be eight games reviewed, but I reduced that back to seven for reasons that I’ll explain later (laziness was, surprisingly, not the top reason this time).
To commence our newest horror adventure, I give you The Moon Sliver, an atmospheric survival experience whose raw flavor and take on narrative will suit our purposes grandly.
The Moon Sliver is a story-driven horror game set on a windswept island far from civilization. Our silent protagonist wakes up in a tiny hovel only a few feet away from the ice-cold water, and quickly discovers that he (or she) is the only person who seems to be out and about right now. Frosty gales are your only companions. A few other buildings dot the shoreline and brittle, dead grass waves about in the wind, but no one else is wandering the settlement.
Our character also makes a far darker discovery after visiting a dirty-windowed, bare-bones church. The Moon Sliver, a sacred knife central to the community’s cult, has vanished. Legends say that when the Moon Sliver is removed from its pedestal, a great evil will awaken in the depths of the island and messily devour its pious inhabitants. It’s up to you to find out what happened to the rest of your people and retrieve the Moon Sliver before it’s too late.
The Moon Sliver is, like all decent horror games, played from a first-person perspective. You have no weapons or means of self-defense except running, hiding, and possibly weeping, if that makes you feel any better. Gameplay is driven by a combination of narrative and simple puzzles, though you’ll also have to do plenty of detective work. This isn’t a mystery game that requires you to dig out a pencil and notepad, but you at least need to read the dialogue that pops up on your screen.
The Moon Sliver delivers its hints and suggestions via bits of typed-up story that pop up when you look at certain objects. This is where some of the game’s novelty comes in; the story you read follows the two couples who comprise the island’s sole inhabitants. In addition to finding out what happened to these four people, you also have to figure out which person your character is. The narrative hints at actions and events that, based on your circumstances, you might have caused, but it’s awful hard to tell with no one else around to talk to. There also doesn’t seem to be any indication that you couldn’t be a fifth person.
From these paragraphs, players are to extrapolate what areas of the island to visit next. You’re basically following the footsteps of the story presented before you, though I have to wonder how exactly our hero is receiving these tidbits. Does he/she suffer from a rare condition in which you hallucinate written words, or are you a telepathic badass? Regardless, following the story will enable you to follow the game. Some areas require more puzzling out, others not so much.
All areas and all paragraphs present a story that’s worrying at best. It’s not clear what compelled these two couples to move so far away, nor how they contrived the cult demanding their worshiping of an old knife. Things only get messier from there; we get hints of infidelity, insanity, and that there’s more wrong with the island than its barren terrain and icy darkness already implies. A lot of the written material was in need of editing, though. I’ll give The Moon Sliver a break because its studio is a one-man show, but indie developers would save themselves a lot of headaches if they hired an editor to go through their writing line-by-line.
Speaking of one-man shows, let’s talk about the work done with the game’s environments. Not dreadful, by any means, but definitely bare-bones. This is some of the rawest indie visual art I’ve ever seen. The designer did a beautiful job with lighting and effects, but the textures are dull more often than not. All of the houses are the same boxy shape covered in the same boxy pattern, and I caught more than a few awkward patches of blank terrain outside. I was also annoyed to find that certain doors required pixel-hunting to find the proper button.
The game does a lot better with interiors, as you can see in the screenshot up top. Items and lighting bubbles are arranged to portray a tasteful yet unsettling image, and the usage of color is much more varied. Some of the aforementioned items include poems and diary entries that present just enough backstory to intrigue us, but not enough to sate our thirst for comfort.
The danger that our hero faces becomes more literal once you penetrate the island’s gloomy interior. It becomes apparent that the absence of your island-mates is tied up in whatever dark fates the legends speak of. This is when the game smoothly transitions into classic survival horror, with dark, claustrophobic environments and even more unsettling sound effects than before. To torture you further, the game continues to flash increasingly disturbing bits of story in front of your face even as you’re trying to survive.
I risk spoiling by going any further, but I think it suffices to say that The Moon Sliver‘s primary novelty is its ability to strike a balance between hardcore survivalism and more literary tones. It presents an intriguing narrative brought about by playing the game, and uses both combined elements to drive you into having more and more goosebumps. Remote islands and strange cults are hardly reassuring fare, but I’ve never seen a game present any narrative in this fashion. I suppose Dear Esther is similar, though that story was spoken aloud.
Having the text slowly, solemnly show up in your face is a bit… spookier. And that’s what we’re all about here at Short Horror Week.
The Moon Sliver is available on Steam for three bucks. You can beat it in about 30-40 minutes and give yourself a free coronary while doing so. I believe it’s available on Game Jolt, but I’m not sure, and as I write this I have to go stop my cat from scratching my walls so I can’t find out right now STOP IT MIDNIGHT.
You can buy The Moon Sliver 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.