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.
It’s time once more, the stars align, strange eons come to
pass and death may even die. It began with the flood, and will end with The
By Lovecraft, For Lovecraft: The Sinking City is not just an open world investigative action/adventure/horror title, it’s also a love letter to the Lovecraftian mythos. There are elements of Lovecraftian fiction in every aspect of the city, its cases, its characters and of course, the plot itself. Streets named after important locales, avenues sharing names with important mythos characters and even advertisements for a certain medical doctor all Lovecraft fans will recognise.
Weird Tales: The cases and the main plot in The Sinking City are wonderfully weird, twisting and twisted. There are characters that seem closer to primates than humans, other closer to fishes (that gorgeous Innsmouth Look), sacrifices, rituals, good ideas that backfire, bad ideas that go horrendously wrong and weirdness galore. Best of all is the main character becomes rather savvy in the madness taking place around him, even if and especially because he’s also descending into insanity. By the end, when faced with the weirdness he will casually state “you’re rather normal, at least by this crazy city’s standards,” when meeting an NPC. I love this. Also, in case it needs saying, the story is gripping and fun.
It’s a Mad World: The Sinking City is a bad place, it’s despair-ridden, maddening and incredibly cold towards outsiders. People in the city are at their wits end, and even the help you provide in solving their cases doesn’t make their lives any easier. In fact, on learning the things you discover, their lives are more likely to take dark turns. I love this, it’s pure Lovecraftian goodness, as are the grotesque apparitions, both the spectral and the physical monstrosities you encounter.
Fear is the Mind Killer: As with every Mythos game, there is a sanity meter and fun things happen as it lowers. The most common are audio-visual hallucinations, visions of creatures and your own grim future—seeing yourself hang from a noose—but as it gets worse, you’ll eventually have to contend with the figments of your deranged imagination in physical ways. This was a genius decision in my opinion, having your insanity sometimes spawn new enemies that aren’t really there but can still hurt you. Best thing is that if you take the sanity medkit aka anti-psychotics, they vanish instantly.
Fortune favours the Bold: There are infested areas in the Sinking City, where the Wylebeasts, the monstrous creatures that came into the city with the flood, have taken over and created nests for themselves. These areas are full of loot and crafting materials but are deadly to explore. But if you’re clever, lucky, brave or all of the above, you can make a killing without getting, well, killed.
Sherlock meet Lovecraft: Frogware is, of course, the wonderful people behind the Sherlock Holmes series, one of my absolute favourite video game series in the world and The Sinking City inherits many elements from that series, from deduction boards to scene reconstructions. This is a game where exploring every corner in a crime scene is recommended as it may just yield the right clue. Best of all, you can set the difficulty of the detective side to expert, where there are no hints on how to proceed, truly challenging your detective instincts.
Find your own way: Clues, important locales, crime scenes, houses and nests are all over the city, but it’s up to you to find them. You have the map of the city and often vague addresses, meaning you gotta open the map, find the right streets and place a marker for where you think the objective might be. But after that, it’s all exploration, on foot, on boat, whichever way you can.
Underwater Slog: I think the intent was for the underwater segments to be tense, dangerous and uncomfortable but they’re really just boring. There’s very little to do but walk or fall or climb your way to the glowing exit and occasionally shoot some horrific fish thing in the face to stun it and leave it behind. There’s very little tension.
Survival Horror Syndrome: Your first encounter with the Wylebeasts will be horrible, especially when you first encounter the really big onces with multiple limbs and teleportation abilities. But as with every other survival horror game, once you’re a walking armoury, there’s very little to fear. Hell, the moment I unlocked grenades, I didn’t fear a single thing. Also, Lovecraft is more about fear of the unknown, and with so few enemy types, the unknown doesn’t last too long.
Elementary Watson: I find cases are too simple in The Sinking City, at least compared to previous Frogwares games. Cases are more or less a series of trips to visit locales, pick things up, maybe uncover something with your third eye and then piece together the clues in the deduction board—which more often than not is click on everything with everything. There aren’t any juicy puzzles to create new clues, like the stuff in Crimes and Punishments and The Devil’s Daughter. It’s a shame.
It’s not Inns-Mouth, it’s Inns-Muth: Ok this is just nit-picking and a personal gripe but the correct way of pronouncing Innsmouth is INNSMUTH, like Plymouth, Dartmouth, Portsmouth. Inn’s-Mouth is just wrong and caused me to lose more sanity than the horrors in the game.
Icenaire is in peril, wraiths and the living dead torment
what few survivors are left and doomsday cultists threaten to unleash dark
forces upon the world. Only you stand in their way, armed with your trusty
Frozen Doom: I find it refreshing every time someone goes for a wasteland setting that is not a barren brown landscape. The frozen wasteland in Vambrace: Cold Soul is incredibly oppressive and the signs of life lost and frozen in time is just amazing for the atmosphere of the game.
Our Elves are Different: One thing I really enjoyed about the writing in Vambrace is how nuanced the fantasy races are. At firs they seem to readily fall into known tropes and clichés but the more you interact with them, take on sidequests and learn about the delicate political balance in town, the depictions gain a lot more depth and even the darkest of Drow has a noble soul and something to share.
Bland Class Design: Aside from the protagonist, you can recruit other team members to go up to the surface with you to loot or pursue mission objectives but the classes themselves aren’t all that interesting, with only two abilities to them, a main attack and a charged Flourish. Overall, the classes feel samey, and not even the variable attributes on characters makes them stand out or feel like the right choice for any given situation. Worse still, you never feel like there’s synergy between members of the group.
Poor Progression: As you complete chapters in the game, you’ll unlock Perk Points for your vambrace, which raise your statuses, but that’s about it when it comes to progression. Classes don’t have upgrades, there are no additional paths or abilities, so there’s very little incentive in trying to keep a party alive, other than losing any of them meaning you most likely have to cancel your current expedition, return to base, recruit a new team and then start over from scratch. Hell, it’s more than likely you’ll get rid of your early companions as soon as others with higher combat stats pop up.
Unnecessarily Punitive: If you return from an expedition you lose all progress, and I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine is with the gated crafting tables, the fact that companion death means their equipment goes with them, the incredibly high cost of healing supplies, and just how many negative effects enemies and traps can stack on you. The weight limits are also ridiculously low, to the point you’re often considering if you should get rid of healing items or loot. It’s game design that feels like it’s just there to inflate difficulty, not because it adds anything to the experience.
Single Save: There’s only the autosave, no manual save option. In a game where the loss of one companion can be completely fatal as you lose precious equipment (and crafting is a gigantic pain in the rear), not being able to set a separate save file before the expedition is a major glaring flaw for me.
One of the biggest surprises for me on Netflix in the past couple of years has been Riverdale. I never expected an Archie adaptation to be as good and entertaining—and dark—and this series has been for the past few seasons. When the people behind Riverdale announced the plans for adapting The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had read the comic and found it incredible, a wonderful way of reintroducing a classic character in a horror setting. Continue reading Review: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 1
Couple of weeks ago I spoke of the TV reimagining of Wes Craven’s horror film series, Scream. Since then, I’ve binged on another similar show on Netflix, a Canadian production simply known as Slasher. But between the Executioner and Ghostface, who’s butchery reigns supreme? Continue reading Slasher Showdown – Scream TV vs Slasher
Last week while browsing through Netflix, I was in a slasher film kind of mood, specifically wanted to watch the Scream films once more. In their place, I found something even better, the Scream TV series, which I loved the first time on MTV and thoroughly enjoyed on a rewatch, finding new and interesting bits hidden in plain sight! Continue reading Netflix Recommendations – Scream TV
When you think of horror games, there are series and titles that quickly come to mind, be it survival horror—gaming’s go-to horror subgenre—or any of the other variations, titles like Resident Evil or Fatal Frame are ever-present in our shared gaming consciousness. But there are series that fall off the wagon somewhere along the way, underrated and often completely forgotten by new and old players alike. Today, I’m talking about one of those and one of my all-time favourites: The Suffering. Continue reading Underrated Gaming – The Suffering
I love horror games, but I’m also a scaredy cat when I play them. If a game is truly scary, I can only tolerate to play it minutes at a time. It happened with the game I mentioned in the Bejeezus files and every other title I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. So when I hear there’s a horror game on Kickstarter, or any crowdfunding platform for that matter, my ears perk up and if there’s a demo I will be going through it, minutes at a time. This led me to The Beast Inside. Continue reading Currently Crowdfunding – The Beast Inside
I’ve often mentioned how eclectic my video game tastes are, how I’ll pretty much play anything as long as the characters and storyline are interesting and manage to grab me. But I have to admit that of all games I play, it’s horror games that I struggle with the most.
You see, there are horror games that depend on cheap tactics to frighten you, and then there are those where you’re gazing behind you, not in the game but swivelling your chair, because the atmosphere gripped you so thoroughly you’re suddenly afraid the bad things will come get you at home. These are the titles or even sections that I can’t play for more than a few minutes at a time and saving as often as humanly possible.
It’s strange to me because despite the fear and the tension, I keep going, hungry to find the big reveal, the core of the story and its characters, or to at least find a payoff for the dread and the chill in my spine.
Looking back on the many games I’ve played, I wondered which video game scared me the most? Which game fell right under that category of “scaring the living crap out of me?” There are many games I’ve played in that Courage the Cowardly Dog way, and surprisingly some of the scariest moments in gaming for me have been in otherwise non-horror games, just having sequences that scared the living daylights out of me. Continue reading The Bejeezus Files – Games and Moments that Scared me Silly!