Wot I Think: Sepulchre

By John Walker on September 2nd, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Creators of the splendid Richard & Alice, Owl Cave, have taken a brief diversion from their next game – Location Services – to create a short, free adventure vignette. Sepulchre is a brief horror tale about a man on a train.

It’s bad enough having to find ways to write about adventure games without describing anything that happens (there’s only so far a review can talk about the technical aspects of moving a mouse cursor and clicking), but when they’re 15 minutes long you’re really stuffed. So let’s prevaricate.

Owl Cave proved their adventure chops blasting out of the gate with Richard & Alice. So you’ve already got a reason to be interested. And the art is by pixel maestro Ben Chandler, ensuring that its bare simplicity is immediately evocative. And games are fun, and you enjoy playing them. So that’s good too.

Okay, so it’s pretty impossible to into any details here without destroying the thing. There’s a train, you’re on it, and you want to get some food. That really is all that seems reasonable to share. That’s partly because the game is its few twists and surprises, and partly because there are very few twists and surprises, the game being so very brief. Immediately things seem off – your own character, Dr Harold Lang, seems a little unsure of his own name. And it does seem awfully strange that you can’t open the window blinds.

As a vignette, it gets things right. The story is slight, but despite this, impressively under-told. Rather than a tiresome pull-back-and-reveal, the game instead gentle tugs at the covering and then wanders off to stare enigmatically. And I liked it for that. I’m not convinced it’s really “horror”, since I certainly didn’t have my spine tingled or fright glands activated. But it’s pleasantly creepy.

If there’s a significant weakness here, it’s what seems a pretty dreadful lapse in the voice recording quality. While I always find British accents in videogames (and cartoons) jarring (I can’t quite explain why – they just always seem to lack a necessary pizazz), there’s nothing wrong with the performances here. And really, it’s pretty rare for an adventure short to have voices at all, so kudos for that. But unfortunately one of the game’s four speaking characters seems to have had his dialogue recorded on a dented tin can attached to a PC by frayed string. It makes things immediately feel amateur, and that’s a shame. However, the pixel artwork, the timing, and the superb music feel immensely professional.

There are those who will see the game’s final dawning realisation coming from the very opening moments, via an act of slight hubris on the part of Owl Cave. I shan’t say any more, as it will ensure everyone has the game spoiled. But those bothered by it will be rightly bothered by it. For everyone else, Sepulchre offers an interesting little tale at a price you can’t really argue with.

There are two ways to get the game. There’s a free, complete version, which you can get via an email registration. Or you can pay $3 for the game with its soundtrack, a couple of wallpapers, and a digital version of a book of short stories, Bright Lights & Glass Houses, by the game’s author, Ashton Raze.

Here’s the game’s trailer – which I note after writing all this has the same issue I did: not being able to actually show you any of the game.

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30 Comments »

  1. Renegade says:

    Anybody else mis-read the title and think RPS had started reviewing metal bands?

  2. thekelvingreen says:

    It’s fifteen minutes long and I seem to be stuck already. How embarrassing.

  3. cdx00 says:

    Came here to express interest in this game but, instead, write to implore you all to do something about all of the spambots that plague this site. Seriously.

  4. The Random One says:

    So the game is free, but you can buy a $3 pack of stuff… Free 2 Play?

    • Jack Mack says:

      Bizarre business model. Pay if you want.

      If you do pay (which is really mostly a donation, I think you’d do it to support the devs rather than because you want the extra goodies. Although, you might want to get the book for a dollar off the kindle price.) you’re still only paying 3 bucks. If I love Owl Cave enough to pay for a free game, why not let me make a donation of however much I want? Stick a minimum on there if you’re worried, but it’s really strange that my options are:

      1. The casual interest. Play the entire game for free.
      2. The connoisseur, a gamer of refined taste with a deep appreciation for Owl Cave, who’s willing to shell out for a premium product in order to support their particular style of Adventure Game. Pay $3.

      • Lewis Denby says:

        Hi Jack,

        The original plan was to make it donationware. However, we know enough developers who have fallen foul of PayPal’s ‘donations are for non-profits only’ policy that we decided against it. We also explored the idea of releasing only one version (just the game and the soundtrack) for a pay-what-you-want price, but struggled to make it work (a range of reasons – revenue shares with contributors, not wanting to put a minimum payment on a half-hour-long game, etc). In the end, we thought this was a happy compromise – throwing in a copy of Raze’s book (which, to buy on its own, is a dollar more than this package) for good measure.

        Hope that sheds some light on it! :-)

      • mouton says:

        With piracy as it is, most non-strictly-multiplayer games are “pay if you want” anyway.

  5. Wedge says:

    And their site has been bombarded by internet attention exposure rays =/

  6. Tiax says:

    Okay, I just finished the game and I don’t understand what the hell happened.

    I think I might be missing some kind of perspective, unless I’m simply a numbskull. Can some good soul enlighten me ?

    • John Walker says:

      SPOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOILER!

      look up the name of the game.

      • Tiax says:

        That part was actually the only thing I understood.

        But besides that, what’s up with :

        SPOILERS

        - People turning into black bags
        - The conversation with the bartender
        - The madmen you’re supposed to give the origami to
        - The Victorian Dead Pictures
        - Who the hell is the woman that is sometimes mentionned (the last time time at the very end of the game when the protagonist apologizes)

        I understand that most of those things are supposed to be symbolic, but I’m at loss as to what they’re supposed to represent.

        • widowfactory says:

          Don’t you think you answered your own question in the last sentence? What’s the theme running through all the things you mentioned? Death.

          • Tiax says:

            I was hopping for something a bit more fleshed-out, if they’re only random things picked-out to represent “death”, then I’d be disappointed.

          • ScorpionWasp says:

            But it is fleshed out enough, isn’t it? Protagonist acts as though he knows these people and they know him. There are about as many as would fit in a car. Bartender calls protag by his name; he wasn’t supposed to know him. He then gives protag some shit about drunk driving and it really gets to his nerves. Protag calls the bartender a bitch. Immediately afterwards he acts like nothing happened. Like they’re old friends or something, that are close enough for something like that to transpire without further incident. People start turning into bodybags. He finally apologizes to the woman in his dying breath. Isn’t it obvious enough what transpired?

  7. qptain Nemo says:

    There are those who will see the game’s final dawning realisation coming from the very opening moments, via an act of slight hubris on the part of Owl Cave.
    Funnily enough, now I’m more curious about what John meant by that than about what the game’s story exactly is about. Which I do have a fairly vague idea of, unlike the quote, which I have absolutely no clue about.

  8. Nimdok says:

    Problem is, the game didn’t actually have a story, it had the concept of a story. Nothing actually happened aside from vague references to events which don’t transpire within the game itself and generic “nothing is what it seems” writing. The bad part is that the unpolished, slip-shod nature of the game is probably because it’s free. “Hey, we’re not charging you for it, cut us some slack”.

    And the ending was kinda-sorta given away right from get-go when you can’t open the shutters.

    Also, “I’m disoriented and am supposed to come across as absent-minded, so I’m going to talk to myself and provide some exposition for no discernible reason” has only been acceptable a few dozen times in history, most of them used up by Shakespeare.

  9. Stevostin says:

    Can’t install it, the free download link gets stuck here.

  10. Stevostin says:

    k apparently the URL miss an http://
    add it and it works

  11. gunny1993 says:

    The train is actually his grave/Limbo

  12. brizzy says:

    I’m stuck pretty much at the beginning, I don’t know how to use the key the guy gave me on the door, when i click on it it just goes through the ‘locked’ routine. Any help would be appreciated!

    • MrStones says:

      Move the mouse over the top of the screen to look in your inventory, left click the key then left click the door. Simples

      • brizzy says:

        Ohhhhhhhh, thanks, I feel pretty stupid now.

        • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

          Don’t. That’s idiocy on the part of the designer (no offence to Ashton Raze particularly, it’s a common failing of adventure game design). Designers ought to be thinking about their verbs from the point of view of a player.

          I try to open the door, but it’s locked.

          I get the key to the door.

          I try to open the door again—the correct answer is for the game to allow me to open the door; the key is essential to the action I’m performing, but at the same time, completely unimportant to what I want to achieve. If I have the key, take it as read that I use it to open the door. (But of course, still let me use the key on the door if I try it, because that action still makes sense on its own).

          I have the same complaint about paying the bartender for the drink. I look in my inventory, see I have a wallet, so click on it to use it with him—that should quite unmistakably mean “pay the bartender”. But the game didn’t let me do that, and I walked away confused. Only later did I accidentally click on the wallet in my inventory and discover that that produced a £5 note out of it, which I could then use to pay.

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