There are many types of horror, and the inherent interactivity of games is a great way of exploring the numerous ways in which it's possible to freak people out.
Sepulchre, a new game from Owl Cave, creators of Richard & Alice and the upcoming Location Services, is a "horror short" that attempts to mess with your head in more ways than one. To say anything more about it carries significant risk of spoilers, so I'll simply tell you up front that it's free, that it only takes about an hour or so to play, and that you can acquire it here. You can also pick up a "Special Edition" for $2.99 that comes with two wallpapers, Jack de Quidt's atmospheric soundtrack, and an electronic copy of writer Ashton Raze's highly enjoyable (and marvellously creepy) book Bright Lights and Glass Houses.
Sepulchre casts you in the role of Dr Harold Lang, a museum curator on his way to Augur Peak Island to evaluate some new finds. The story begins with Lang awakening on a train, and it quickly becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. Where is the train going? Where are all the other passengers? What's with all the huge bags that seem to be everywhere?
The game takes the form of a simple point and click adventure in which you direct Lang to explore his train cabin and the surrounding areas, and determine the truth of what is going on. Along the way, you'll meet a few curious characters, all of whom seem to have something to hide.
The particularly interesting thing about Sepulchre is that it's not overly explicit about anything -- by the time you reach the end, you'll be left with just enough questions to keep you thinking long after the credits have rolled, but at the same time, you'll have figured out a few things for youself. There's a strangely dream-like quality to the narrative and dialog, and some wonderfully subtle but deliberately excruciating use of sound. Although individually all its presentational elements are very simple -- and a little inconsistent in places, particularly with regard to the voice acting's sound quality, it must be said -- they're combined together masterfully to create an experience that is genuinely unnerving. And it's all the more unnerving because it's difficult to pin down exactly why it elicits such feelings of discomfort with seemingly minimal effort.
In a recent trailer for the game, Raze noted that the game was a specific attempt to make an experience that was "really creepy; proper horror... none of that jump scare stuff."
I'd say they succeeded, but you can judge for yourself.
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