Explore a hidden section of the Internet devoted to terrifying content.
PC Release: June 15, 2016
By Ian Coppock
The Internet has done a lot of remarkable things for mankind, propagating an exchange of ideas and commerce that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible. It also allows for some exchanges that are not so good, like the proliferation of pornography and other controversial media. Love it or hate it, the Internet has had a profound impact on societies worldwide, but there aren’t many video games out there that are about the Internet. One game in particular, Welcome to the Game, experiments with some fresh concepts and discusses the part of the Internet few people know, and fewer dare to tread.
Welcome to the Game is a game about the deep web, the part of the Internet that can’t be found by using a search engine. Websites on the deep web are not indexed by Google, Yahoo or other services, meaning that they can only be accessed by people already aware of their presence. The only way to reach these websites is by typing their URL into a browser directly, since a search engine won’t pick them up or link to them. Some deep web pages even require typing this URL into an illicit browser program; these even deeper sites are sometimes called the dark web or darknet.
With this much security going into hiding the deep web, it comes as no surprise that this part of the Internet is used mostly for illegal activity. Some users frequent the deep web to exchange emails or torrent movies, but it’s also used for much worse activities, like illicit drugs, child pornography, and human trafficking. It is against this backdrop of skeeziness and terror that one man decides to brave the deep web, in search of a special type of website called a Red Room.
According to legend, a Red Room is a special website where visitors can participate in interactive torture and murder, making it safe to assume that this protagonist is a psycho. He’s aided in this endeavor by his buddy, who reluctantly imparts a special browser to help him access the deep web. In order to reach the Red Room, players have to scour various pages on the deep web and find fragments of the room’s URL on each page. The game is over once the fragments have been gathered and entered correctly.
Finding the fragments is not as simple as scrolling down a list of illegal websites. There are far more sites than fragments, and players must search each page carefully for clues as to its location. Once the fragment has been located, it’s usually locked behind a puzzle that must be solved. All the while, players can use Notepad to chronicle their journey into the deep web. Some pages are only active during certain times of the night, requiring players to check back often if a link doesn’t open the page.
The puzzles on each website are far from the player’s only concern. The deep web is rife with hackers, who will attempt to take over the computer and steal notes if they’re allowed to. Players have to fend off these cyber-demons by playing a quick puzzle that flashes on the screen. Some require the player to type in a complicated series of numbers, and others require directing a computer virus away from the system. If the player reroutes the attack, no problem. Failing to do so can cause the player to lose notes and even gathered key fragments. Fast typing skills are a huge help in this regard.
It’s at this point that Welcome to the Game introduces unintended hilarity. The aforementioned deep web buddy warns that spending too long on the deep web will incur the wrath of local kidnappers. These Russian-speaking raiders will literally break into the player’s house and carry them away, which sounds terrifying, but in this context makes absolutely no sense. The mechanic is supposed to serve as an incentive to keep players on their toes, but seriously? Kidnappers? The terror of such a prospect is ruined by the absurdity of their implementation into this game, made funnier by the fact that players can drive them away by turning the lights off. Why are Russian agents in this small American town to begin with, and why do they get mad if you’re looking at naughty websites? Who knew Siberia had Puritans?
Anyway, barring the occasional puzzle and a nighttime visit from the KGB, Welcome to the Game‘s spookiness comes out in the websites the player character visits, created to mimic actual pages on the actual deep web. From chat forums about BDSM to a storefront for heroin, the seediness of the deep web is represented well in Welcome to the Game. The game doesn’t feature nudity, images of torture, or anything like that, but whatever is not directly presented is strongly implied. This makes touring the deep web in Welcome to the Game a fearful, nauseating tourney of horror gameplay. The full weight of the game’s psychological horror is reinforced by the novelty of its presentation.
Compounding the slow tour of seedy websites is Welcome to the Game‘s startling lack of music. The room the player is in is completely silent, save for the occasional mouse click and the soft whir of the processor. This stark, minimalist sound design gives Welcome to the Game a tense atmosphere, as the player will never know when something scary will suddenly screech on the screen. It keeps the neck hairs rigid and the eyeballs wide.
The problem with Welcome to the Game is that although it’s a spooky environment to sit in, it’s not a very fun game to play. Indeed, it is one of the most tedious horror games to have been released in recent months. Though the game possesses unmistakable novelty in its presentation of the deep web, that’s also where it starts to tear at the seams.
The first element of Welcome to the Game‘s tedium is also its most essential: websites. As was mentioned a few paragraphs ago, each website is only open for a short time during the night, leaving players with a slim window to get in, look for a key fragment, and get out. The game will run for as many nights as needed to find all the keys, but there are dozens of websites for the player to visit and scour. Even with the help of Notepad, keeping track of when all of these websites are open is a challenging task, and failing even a single hack attack can cause that information to be erased.
The puzzles in Welcome to the Game can also be frustratingly difficult. The hacker attacks are swift and constant, requiring players to abandon the hunt for keys in order to fend them off. Even if the puzzle is successfully solved, the website might close while the player was busy fending off the hacker, necessitating waiting another night to grab the key fragment. The puzzles to get the key fragments themselves can be obtuse, like clicking a chat window a random number of times and suddenly being presented with a key. Puzzles that neither make sense nor explain the rules are not very good puzzles. Welcome to the Game is also much more difficult for players who can’t type quickly, although to be fair, this warning is stated clearly on the game’s Steam page.
Welcome to the Game‘s in-game information about the deep web is interesting, but its presentation is very dry. The game’s dialogue is stuffed with a lot of computer science jargon, which makes sense for a game about the internet but also makes it sound like a recited computer manual. It doesn’t help that the game’s narrator, the player’s aforementioned buddy, speaks in a soft monotone and sounds so bored that he can barely stay awake. His underwhelming warning about the threat of kidnappers is absolutely hilarious, i.e. “Like… kidnappers might come by… or whatever… I guess…”
To revisit the kidnapper mechanic one more time, it makes perfect sense why something like that would be put in there. The developer wanted the game’s fear to come out in more ways than a website. The issue is that the mechanic is set up in the exact same way as that of Five Nights at Freddy’s, making Welcome to the Game feel derivative of that game. It’s also difficult to feel sympathy for the protagonist; if someone looking for a way to torture and kill people over the internet is carted off into the night… good. Great. No one wants that kind of person as a neighbor, and it feels weird to have that sort of person as a video game protagonist.
All of this is not to say that Welcome to the Game had some sterling potential. There are no video games out there showcasing the horrors of the deep web, and this game’s atmosphere and presentation of deep web facsimiles is commendable. However, the terror of the deep web pages in this game is sufficient to make that its central horror element. The developer should’ve eliminated the kidnapper mechanic altogether and let the creepiness of Welcome to the Game‘s web pages speak for itself. Barring that type of revamp, or streamlining the puzzles a little bit, Welcome to the Game joins a long list of games with great ideas and wobbly execution. It showcases the deep web for the wretched hive of scum and villainy that it is, but it’s bereft of a deft touch that would’ve made it worthy of recommendation.
You can buy Welcome to the Game 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.