Quite a predicament you’re in here.
They get right down to business, too. There’s a little introduction where the main character tells you how he ended up trapped in a construction site–almost sheepishly, like he’s telling the story to another guy at the bar a few months later–and then they pretty much dump you into a room and say, “good luck!”
Not a bad start. Much like the hapless protagonist you have no idea what you’re in for, and at first it creates a real sense of paranoia. Every window makes you feel like someone’s right on the other side watching you. That cable lying on the floor looks like a trap ready to spring at any moment. Should I flip that light on or shouldn’t I? I was hesitant even to go near the door–who knows what could happen! The whole time you’re looking over your shoulder.
“What the hell? Who is this guy? What does he want? Can he see me? When’s he going to be back?”
Pretty soon, though, you start to realize that it’s not that kind of game. Sad to say, they really underutilize the potential of that first critical room. I’m all for the low-key approach and letting the player’s imagination do some work, but they’re a little too hands-off. Eventually it punctures the tension and the whole experience kind of deflates.
There’s a risk to using familiar environments like the construction site. It’s one thing when they put you in a spooky castle somewhere. I’ve never been in a spooky castle, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there; but when you’re someplace you can relate to you come in with a lot more preconceptions. It makes suspension of disbelief more difficult.
Like, for example, when you walk outside and see a dumpster that’s supposed to be blocking your escape. Maybe if you had some reason to stay, like you were meeting your wife here and you need to find her first–that’s what they should have done, by the way–then it would make more sense. As it is, all you can think is how you’d be up and over that thing and running down the road in about ten seconds. That fence is not exactly the most intimidating of obstacles, either.
That’s one part of a larger problem, which is that ultimately the game doesn’t respect the player very much. Practically nothing you do has any bearing on the outcome. Yeah, some games lead you through an experience on rails, which can be ok if they’re upfront about what they’re doing. This one, though, lacks any internal consistency. They give you the illusion of choice and then take it away, mainly through thoughtless design.
It ends up feeling more like a prank than a game: either you go one way and get a pie in the face or turn around and step on a rake. Ha ha, gotcha! Even if you replay it and deliberately avoid certain booby-trapped actions, you arrive at exactly the same place.
Hey game, did you notice that I was armed with a big crowbar? Let’s just say I might have handled things differently there at the end.
They don’t know who they’re messing with. I played Half-Life. I stopped an alien invasion with that thing.