2020


Visage!

Like a face, but scarier-sounding!

That’s the story with this whole game, I guess, which turns out to be much like a normal horror walking simulator, except even more bewildering and tiresome.

To be fair they do warn you about it–with a hint of defensiveness–before the game even starts, as if that gets them off the hook for what follows.

First thing I do in every game like this is run straight for the front door

If there’s one thing I did gain from this experience, though, it was a new appreciation for the importance of pacing in horror. Play enough of these things and you realize there are a lot of routes you can take. You’ve got your explosive terror, your simmering tension, your slow burns; and sometimes you’ve just got damp firewood.

Like most games of this type, it starts off looking like we’re in slow burn territory. You wander around a quiet-too-quiet house waiting for stuff to happen. Every so often lights flicker; doors slam; radios turn on; and meanwhile this doll is sitting there trying to look innocent and not succeeding. Spooky!

OoooOOOooooOOOo!

But then you wander some more, and some more; and then some more, and nothing else happens. And even though the place is nice enough as haunted houses go, it’s starting to dawn on you that you don’t even know why you’re here or what you’re supposed to be accomplishing. Seems like you need to find some item, but you have no idea where to look; and so you go around and around, poking through every room, hoping to run across something useful through sheer persistence. Or else you just get tired of it and go look at a guide. (Ahem.) Either way it’s about as fun as searching for your lost keys.

This part does have a nice low-key creepiness

When you do find what you’re looking for, then pretty soon all hell breaks loose. Ghosts start chasing you, twitching and screaming, you’re teleported to all sorts of bizarre locations, and basically everything goes completely insane. If you’re masochistic enough to keep going, eventually it’s right back to poking around the house again.

This pattern repeats in each of the game’s four chapters, but with no real sense of progress or buildup. Sooner or later it becomes pretty obvious that they’re just screwing with you and ultimately none of it fits together into a coherent picture.

Abandon all subtlety, ye who enter here

I think one of the main problems here is that somewhere along the line, somebody got it into their head that the best way to make a scary story is to be as confusing as possible.

The surreal imagery and jarring transitions are clearly intended to be shocking and disorienting, but with nothing to anchor it all to reality it just short-circuits the suspense. I mean, if anything can happen at any time with no rhyme or reason, then why even worry about it? The game’s gonna do what it’s gonna do, I guess. At a certain point I just threw up my hands and mentally checked out, which is the complete opposite of the sort of immersion that’s necessary to create genuine terror.

Eww

I don’t know, maybe there’s a story out there where this kind of thing could work, but this one isn’t it. It probably makes perfect sense to whoever thought it up, but it’s presented in such a vague and disjointed fashion that for the rest of us non-mind-readers it’s an incomprehensible mess. Any sort of real human connection with the character or the events that you’re experiencing is lost in the chaotic whirlwind of over-the-top tragedies and misery, translated into the most overwrought visual metaphors imaginable.

No horror game is complete without random religious icons

Now compare this with something like The Ring, for example. Yeah, I know, it’s kind of a meme by now, yet it’s a ghost story that for all its weirdness managed to create a real sense of dread, in part because they took the time to tell you little things like what the hell was going on.

You knew who these people were, who the ghost was and where she came from. They set some ground rules about the nature of the threat. You understood what the characters were trying to do and why. You could empathize with a desperate mother trying to save her son from this paranormal horror bearing down on them. It’s not complicated, but this is the kind of stuff that establishes a connection with the audience. It builds tension and helps you to invest in the story, because what’s happening actually means something.

If the movie were anything like this game, it would just be a 2 hour extended director’s cut of the haunted video tape.

I think we get the message…

You wait a long time expecting this thing to catch fire, but in the end you wind up with nothing but a lot of smoke in your visage.


Developer: SadSquare Studio

Publisher: SadSquare Studio

Purchased on: Steam

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