When I dig through my inbox, one opening line that’s almost certainly going to grab my attention is a variation of: “I see you’re a fan of horror games…well, look at this.” The developer of Tenebra [official site], a free chiller created in Source, sent one such email. It plays a little like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture if Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture were set in a series of monochrome environments that are equal parts Inside and Silent Hill. I quite like it, even if I do keep getting lost in the shadows.
I haven’t quite finished Tenebra yet and it’s possible that the story will eventually make sense, but in the half hour I’ve spent with it (and I’m not sure it lasts a great deal longer than that), I wouldn’t even know there was a plot if the itch page hadn’t told me about it:
Your goal: search for clues and find out who’s behind a disturbing spree of murder and violence. Tenebra’s visual style is inspired by films from the silent movie era.
Mostly, I’m just walking around in the dark, following glowing orbs that lead me to photographs. I am not sure what those photographs are showing or telling me, because the images are quite vague, but it may well have something to do with the disturbing spree of murder and violence.
This is a violent game. There’s no combat, though there are occasional monstrosities that will kill you on contact, but there are some grisly corpses to discover. Mostly, though, it’s a mood piece, and I’m finding it very effective in that regard. The black and white visuals are often gorgeous, throwing up some disturbing silhouettes and shadows, but they do create some dark patches that see my vision drop to almost zero. That doesn’t seem wholly intentional, in the sense that it’s confusing rather than disconcerting, but it happens rarely, and mostly in the first outdoor area. Thankfully, Tenebra doesn’t drop you into the dark so that it can then throw a jumpscare at you.
Where it succeeds is in creating an unsettling atmosphere. I couldn’t give a hoot about the central mystery, which is so vague as to be invisible, but I want to see more because developer Ivan Simoncini is very good at using his reference points (silent films/Hills, animatronics) to create unsettling and interesting scenes. It feels more like exploring some magnificent sound stages dressed for a variety of weird films than it feels like exploring a string of murders, but Tenebra is definitely worth a look.
To play it, you’ll need to install Source SDK Base 2013 Singleplayer. Follow the instructions below:
1) Tenebra requires Valve’s Source SDK. If you haven’t installed it already: Launch Steam, go to Tools, find and install Source SDK Base 2013 Singleplayer
2) Download Tenebra
3) Unzip the game to your sourcemods folder. For example: …\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\sourcemods)
4) Restart Steam. You should find Tenebra in your games library.
Tenebra relies heavily on HDR. Please make sure to enable HDR (Full) under Options -> Video -> Advanced. And while you’re there please also disable Motion Blur.