I hate to see a good mechanic go to waste.
As the basis for a horror game, the whole “echolocation” idea, plausible or not, is fantastic. Playing a blind character in a hostile environment, you’re faced with a constant dilemma: do you reveal what’s around you at the cost of giving away your presence? The premise creates a natural sort of claustrophobic tension all on its own. It’s like a submarine movie, which is almost impossible to mess up completely.
Well, somehow they manage to do the impossible here. Through a series of baffling design decisions, we’re left with a game that could serve as a case study in unfulfilled potential.
I mean, after a setup like that this thing could practically write itself. One scene after another just leaps right out at you:
An introduction where they show the protagonist struggling to learn and master her navigation ability–well, we do get a little bit of that–and then put her in an environment where she could make optimal use of it, like maybe a cave or something. (That’s where they start to go wrong.) She applies her talents to gain a novel insight into the situation, accompanied by creative scares and threats that fit the sonic theme. There ought to be some kind of a twist. Like, say, your adversary learns to mimic something else in order to fool you, and so that rushing water you thought you heard was really the monster all along. And of course in the end you finally bait it into a trap, using the darkness to your advantage to turn the tables. It’s the perfect recipe for a focused, tense little experience; but we get nothing resembling that.
Sure, every author is going to put their own spin on things, but certain setups do lend themselves to certain kinds of follow-throughs. Call it a pile of cliches if you want, but you need to connect the dots somehow if you’re going to use your angle to build up tension and make an impact on the player in a natural way.
I think the source of the problem is that by their own admission they set out from the very beginning to tell an inspirational story, which is really putting the cart before the horse. If you’re doing it right, any such message ought to emerge organically from the character development and flow of events. You shouldn’t have to shoehorn it in like some kind of product placement.
Yet in the most ironic twist of all, they don’t even have enough confidence in their own inspirational hero to trust her with this awkward job; and so instead of focusing on helping her battle through adversity, face her fears and overcome her weaknesses through the plot and gameplay, they devote most of their attention to a series of flashbacks to other characters from the past.
It’s completely bizarre. They go through all the trouble of setting up this interesting protagonist with a special ability perfectly suited to this sort of game, and then she winds up playing second fiddle in her own performance.
Yeah, she does hold it together in the midst of a scary situation, I guess, but there’s very little sense of agency at work here. Whatever personality she has is lost in the shuffle and she’s mostly just used as a prop to tell the stories of people long dead, via disjointed visions of the past.
The underdevelopment of the main character might be a little less obvious if the game itself were stronger, but no such luck.
Like I said, the idea is really solid. You use your cane like an active sonar, each tap pinging back an impression of your surroundings. At first it’s kind of tense while you’re waiting for something to spring out at you after every little sound; but pretty soon you realize that it’s not that sensitive and you can run around and tap away pretty much at will.
Even if you’re detected, this ghost or whatever it’s supposed to be that’s chasing you around the house almost never poses any real threat. Aside from one cheap level where you have to run around dodging bullets from these annoying little dolls, I only died once, and that was a scripted event. I was playing on the hardest difficulty, too, only because it was called “scary” and I figured I ought to aim for maximum scariness.
In fact, beyond the novelty aspect of the look and concept, they never really do anything unique or interesting with the sonar mechanic that couldn’t have been done just as easily with eyesight. The whole thing plays more or less like a standard survival horror game with no combat and a flashlight that you have to turn on and off.
Too bad. Seemed like a surefire idea, but with the blind leading the blind it ends up going right off the cliff.