Connor Sherlock’s games often remind me of slow, dready horror movies from the ’70s, the sort of oddball thing you might catch at 3am on a Friday night then spend years trying to remember the name of. From ghost stories in the woods to eerie deep space encounters with deserted alien ships, he’s happy to let things unfold slowly and build unease. It’s part pacing, part tone, and part his splendid synth soundtracks.
His latest freebie is Sanctuary [official site], a walking simulator which reminds me of the ominous dreams of lost lands and dark obelisks that’ll surely turn out to be all too real for our protagonist.
Sanctuary plops you onto a dark stone in a forest filled with colour and birdsong, and a musical spring in our step as we start wandering. Sure, the hovering obelisk was a bit weird, but it is a lovely day… or is it night? And look! There’s a chapel! As you wonder, you’ll find structures, paths, and monoliths, the world becoming more unreal and nightmarish.
Sherlock’s quite clever to guide people with that spooky synth, songs building the closer you get to Items of Interest so you’re not blindly wandering. Unlike many of his games, this has no dialogue – all you hear is music and the world, and you should wear earphones. The bridge is especially doomy. Like those horror films I adore stumbling across, it uses sounds and a few simple, cheap visual tricks. Harsh unreal light fills the world, a bit like colour filters in film, and the world’s soundscape is a barrage of stock sounds. Work with what you’ve got.
As his walking simulators tend to, Sanctuary does have an objective and an end. You may not find it, though, and be perfectly happy wandering.
Sanctuary is out now for Windows, Mac, and Linux, available from Itch as a pay-what-you-want download with no minimum. Pay at least a buck and you will get that soundtrack, though.