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.