Horror games personally aren’t any good any more. We have either action horrors or jump scare horrors. They are not scary. After passing through October I did my annual re-reading of H.P. Lovecraft and apart from the not very subtle racism and ingrained fears of a deeply paranoid man the novels really show off a horror unlike any other.
Play with Me is a jump scare kind of horror, which makes it not very horrifying. With escape room style games horror does not work well, especially with 2D backdrops. The attempt is a valiant one, but one with several failings in design which make this game far from horrifying and closer to simple spooky.
Spooky is not scary.
Robert Hawk is your protagonist, a journalist who has written several pieces about the Illusion Killer. By luck which nobody in the world is shocked by he and his wife are kidnapped by a man who is probably the Illusion Killer. This leads to Robert engaged in a series of elaborate room escapes as he tries to uncover who the hell this kidnapper is and where his wife is.
At base the game has a nice cycle. Each room presents a series of puzzles which must be completed to progress to the next. Each puzzle does lead towards a code which will unlock the door, however getting each code and what can be done in a room is different. Codes change during each playthrough so you cannot simply run headlong through the game once you have completed it once. This allows some level of replay value as there are some small optional tasks you can take on. You aren’t going to get more than a few hours out of the game, but the lower price tag does reflect this and makes the game a sensible deal.
But the problem comes from the game selling itself with horror, as the horror is just subpar. The graphics do present a dark atmosphere, light illuminating only enough to work on and leaving edges too dark to see. But alongside that is cheap tropes: Objects which appear quickly and disappear, spooky noises and weird voices. The game has a stylish system with audio, where headphones are required and use your microphone to place noises in your periphery and attempt to build an atmosphere in the enclosed space. But this is useless if the visual system doesn’t help with that and to be honest for me it really doesn’t.
Other little annoyances ruin the atmosphere. The voice acting sticks out quite early. The voices are not American despite the American setting; and while this is not a problem within itself the emotions that are attempting to be conveyed do not work or the actors seem to have simply been given the wrong direction. It sums the experience down to a solid puzzle game but a bad horror game.
If you take this as a puzzle game with horror aspects then this game gets a thumbs up from me. But as a horror experience it is simply a skin over a game. The audio system would be phenomenally effective in a more visual horror experience akin to Resident Evil VII but in a puzzle game it really doesn’t strike out as strongly as it could. The ideas are good, just the collaboration is not effective. Treat this as a puzzle game, and you’ll have some good fun.
Play with me is Developed by Airem and published by IQ Publishing