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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.