Yes, this is another of those cliched tropes where the main character starts out with a bad case of “WTF just happened to me?” At least this time around it’s not the product of a blow to the head. It’s self-inflicted, via… well, magic potion, basically.
But for a good reason.
No, seriously. There was a good reason for your character to drink a vial of “fuggedabowdit” and leave a note saying “If I can still read English after that, I need me to kill the guy that owns this creepy-ass castle. He’s in the Inner Sanctum. Best of luck. Trust me, I’m you.”
Now, being the clever fellow that I am, I stared at that for a while and realized my character’s prior self was a bit of an idiot. No map whatsoever to navigate through this crumbling castle. No confidence on his part that there’d even be much of a mind left to follow instructions…
And it hit me. Whether or not my mission is a success or not is immaterial to my past self. He wasn’t trying to win. He was trying to commit suicide by killing who he had become!
And on that, you embark on a horror game, a quest of discovery and redemption… taunted by semi-hallucinatory revelations and memories… and an encroaching unreality as the world itself grows grotesque crimson tumors that hurt to touch.
This isn’t your typical survival horror game as brought to you by… Capcom. How Resident Evil ever became the brand name for the genre escapes me. This game has atmosphere. It has style. The voice acting is good. The writing is good. (Not great, but good.) RE games give you “horror” by giving you barely enough ammo for an action game. I call BS. This game gives you NO ammo. No weapons. You aren’t a fighter. You aren’t capable of going up against even one shambling horror from beyond. You are just barely up to hiding in a dark closet and praying the bad thing leaves on its own.
The key question to me, with this type of story, is whether or not the payoff lives up to the buildup. And it has actually a very good buildup. Unfortunately, what’s difficult to detect is that the actual payoff/climax is in the final scrap of diary that explains why you took the amnesia tonic. The three endings available to you in the final confrontation are simply a choice and three sets of consequences… and this being a horror game, it’s fair that even the best ending is not necessarily good.
Unfortunately, this sort of game is not for everyone. The… I hesitate to say “combat” with reference to the frantic scramble that follows an encounter with a monster; from the perspective of the monster, it is combat, so we’ll go with that. When you see a monster, your vision blurs due to insanity effects (the mind does not wish to see!) and your only hope is to shut a door between yourself and it, then hide for a bit.
So the most action the game has to offer, really, is you staring at the wall of your hiding space, hoping you don’t give your position away, and hoping the foe leaves before you go insane or it kills you.
Needless to say, while this is quite effective at producing tension, after you figure out good hiding spaces in the level, it’s boring as fuck.
Of course, when you find out your hiding space is inadequate… then you get shaken out of your boredom quite effectively. The atmosphere, noncombat mechanics, and sheer deadliness of everything that isn’t you combine well to induce adrenaline in those moments. And since this trick only works when you’re not used to it, the paucity of foes keeps it pretty fresh.
The puzzles are generally along the lines of finding things in one area and using them to reassemble something in another area so that you can reach the next area. With a few twists here and there. The game has a physics engine, but seems to leave it for immersion instead of puzzles. It was refreshing to see a barrier in the form of a raised bridge… and to simply throw a rock at the chain holding it to release it.
Those puzzles that are tricky to solve typically have nice “hints” in the various papers lying about. Either they refer to the plot or puzzle solutions. So if it’s not disturbing, it must be useful!
That covers the important bits. The game’s big “I’m different!” draw is the use of the mouse as a sort of physics gesture tool. You want to open a drawer? Click on it and drag it out. Same for doors, levers… everything, really. Need to break loose a pipe? Bend it back and forth a bit. Need to crowbar open a stiff door? Set the crowbar and PULL.
The not-so different, your character is afraid of the dark. Understandable for a number of reasons. You have 4 options. Stay in well-lit areas. Pull out your lamp with limited oil. Use a tinderbox (a WHOLE tinderbox) to light one unlit item in the area. Or run through and accept the “temporary” loss of sanity. Insanity mostly just makes the screen shift a bit, and late in the game, you get effects like bugs crawling in the monitor.
Is it worth getting? Well… that depends on your character. If you need violence in your videogames, avoid. If you like horror and being made uncomfortable through good storytelling, come on down!