The Manor stands before you, in your waking moments and in your dreams. It calls to you, it beckons you. You follow only to discover you’re now trapped within, the shadows whispering things and horrors lurking in every corner. Your only choice is to find the sigils and escape…but will you be able to, or will the darkness claim you? This is Westmark Manor.
- Tense Atmosphere: From the moment Wesmark Manor opens you find yourself in an unknown place, with little information, a few scraps of text and an immediate awareness that darkness is the enemy and that you’re in a hostile place where your wits and a trusty lantern and matches are your only weapons. This sets a tone for the entire game where you’re constantly tense and despite there not being any enemies or jump-scares, you are at the edge of your seat at all times, after all, you don’t know what’s across that hallway, in the dark, or through that threshold. Is there a safe haven somewhere, or just another fiendish room where your sanity and resources will begin to dwindle? Westmark Manor’s writing, visual and sound design come together to create an impressively oppressive atmosphere.
- Intriguing Plot: Westmark Manor’s plot is presented via letters and journals, speaking of the characters’ pasts and their connection to the events happening in the Manor. It’s a classic Cthulhu Mythos story, of traps and ploys but it works, especially because it’s up to you to find the links in the chain and the way out. The few cutscenes you see, which present villains and snippets of stories and the minuscule cast of characters keep the story tight and focused, delivering on the mystery that just enhances the atmosphere.
- Fun Puzzles: To escape Westmark Manor, you must collect Sigils by solving puzzles, which range from inventory puzzles to logical ones and they’re all a joy and really force you to pay attention to your surroundings and the documents you’ve collected. Add in the environmental puzzles to overcome traps and challenges, the careful tight-rope walks across beams and the many ways you can lose or gain sanity, and you get a compelling experience that kept me coming back ever after I had quit saying “enough for now.”
- Useless Items: One of the recurring mechanics in Westmark Manor is finding items that need to be identified. To do this you must find and use identification kits. These kits being consumables and hard to find is bad enough, but the sheer number of items you find that after identifying turn out to be completely useless, just trinkets without mechanical worth, is staggering. This is already a game where your inventory and resources are limited so adding these kinds of worthless items just feels malicious and unfair from the developers and really hampers the entertainment value of the product, as it just leads to frustration.
- Inventory Woes: I despise inventory management, especially when it’s used to artificially inflate difficulty and Westmark Manor is guilty of this in so many ways. Not only is inventory limited but so is the storage. Items can only be stacked up to a certain number, which in my experience tended to vary between item types, before the next pickup takes up another inventory slot. Some items take up multiple ones in the horizontal or vertical, there is no way to rotate them and everything requires crafting. And worst of all, keys are single-use only. I get it for chest keys and reliquary keys, but door keys? Are you serious?
- Crafting Nonsense: Again, everything requires crafting and recipes are hidden in books that need to be identified. Your crafting kit begins with a wet blanket equivalent of recipes, basically nothing you can actually make. Worse still is that once you actually have recipes, there are items you need to craft over and over when it doesn’t make much sense: You make the base for a skeleton key, a simple rod on which you slide on the parts of the blade in different configurations. Can you just remove the bits and add new ones? Nope, you need to make a whole new key base (the keys are single-use only, remember) and you can add the bits in the wrong order effectively wasting a key. It feels unnecessarily punishing. And let’s not get into the fact that crafting involves a little grid minigame that serves no purpose but to make you waste your time or that Westmark Manor doesn’t recognise that you’re using up items to craft, so if your inventory is full, you can’t craft, not even if consuming the items during the crafting would open up inventory spaces. Again, punishing for no reason.
- Eldritch Buggery: By all the ancients and Old Ones, this game is buggy. I lost count of the number of times I fell down a hole and didn’t die, my character walking in the abyss, effectively making me lose all progress. The Garden puzzle is broken, a piece of furniture standing in your way and preventing passage, which is key to solving the puzzle. Hell, while playing for this review, the developers put out an update and it killed my previous save and I had a fair number of crashes where the game wouldn’t properly launch again for hours on end.