The mark of a good horror film is in building tension, then releasing it at just the right moment, and for just the right amount of time. The Glass Staircase is a PS2-era inspired survival horror chiller from prolific low-fi horror dev Puppet Combo that demonstrates this well. While it’s a bit rough around the edges, there’s a very well paced, roughly film-length bit of spooking to be had. Released over the weekend, I played through it on a dark and (sadly not) stormy Sunday night, and gladly recommend it. Below, the trailer, which perhaps gives away a little too much.
While most horror games eschew the laws of film and dive straight into the action, the entire first half of The Glass Staircase is dedicated to setting the scene. Playing as a series of young women in some manner of early early 1900s mansion turned treatment facility, you’ll wander around, do chores assigned to you by a voice over the tannoy, and build up your awareness that something is very wrong. But like any good film, all you’re allowed to do is wallow in the tension, knowing that something horrible is going to happen, but you don’t know where or when.
While the rest of the game is a little more action-oriented, there are few mandatory fights, and you’re often best off just thinking on your feet. I won’t spoil it further, as half the fun is in seeing what’s lurking around the next corner. I will say that it does a lot with an obviously shoestring budget. While the environments are detailed, complex and have some well-picked camera angles (you can choose whether or not to use ‘tank’ controls), the character models are simple and have few animations. As with many old horror classics, it’s what’s in your own head that’s the scary part.
While Puppet Combo bills the game as PS2-style, I couldn’t help but feel that the game is more in the vein of original old DOS-era Alone In The Dark, or perhaps more on par with early PS1 games in its style. If you don’t like the grainy look and chunky pixels, there is some recourse – a recent update includes an ‘HD remaster’ mode, which clears up all the intentional post-processing grunge. There’s also a built-in cheat mode to skip parts if you want. See the update page here for details.