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The Great Below is an Inscryption-style horror game that could be a metaphor for nuclear waste disposal

"This place is not a place of honour."

A dimly lit hallway in The Great Below with some glimmering objects in the dark ahead that could be eyes, and strange hanging designs to either side.
Image credit: ByteSize

Some people sing the praises of "visceral" games. Others extol the virtues of "immersive" games. Me, I'm increasingly drawn to "perverse" games. No, not like that. Well, not entirely like that. I mean "perverse" more straightforwardly as in deliberately awkward and unreceptive in their core design, almost self-defeating in a way that has you saying "WTF?" and hankering to know more.

Take The Great Below, a new horror... thingmabob from Cantabria-based Dobra Studios. It's about exploring a strange house full of dreadful paintings in the dark. It's a 3D game with keyboard move-look controls, but the twist is that you can only move around while looking at a 2D map, with your position marked as a pair of footprints.

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Viewing the map doesn't take you out of the world, however. As you fumble around, hitting "E" button to rattle doorknobs and read painting descriptions, you'll glimpse passing furnishings and changes of wall texture at the corners of the screen. You'll also hear things, like running footsteps. You can strike a match to look up from the map and interact with things more elaborately - some of the paintings play a role in puzzles - but doing so roots you to the spot and fixes your gaze straight ahead.

Extinguish the match, and the game warps you back to the starting room, a reassuringly firelit chamber with letter grids scrawled on one wall. It's an archaic, broken-up process of discovery and deduction, more reminiscent of first-person dungeon-crawlers like Etrian Odyssey than, say, Fatal Frame. It makes me curious, which is of course both a great and a terrible thing to be, when you're playing a horror game.

A black-and-white house map from horror game The Great Below
A close-up perspective of a painting lit up with a single match in The Great Below. The painting shows a figure seated on a spherical object, possibly a miniature planet.
Image credit: ByteSize

Quite what you're searching the house for remains to be seen, but scattered documents make mention of an "Object", coveted by successive explorers. It's said that the darkness of the mansion is alive. It's not clear when or where the game is set, but one letter references the famous sample text for 'future-proof' warnings about nuclear waste sites, offered by the US Department of Energy in 1993.

"This place is not a place of honour," the letter reads. "Out here darkness awaits you, you will suffer it again and again. In here the light awaits you, you will desire it again and again." Ulp. The initial puzzles, meanwhile, key on gleaning hints from documents and pushing levers or buttons in the appropriate order.

The Great Below is out very soon - 5th December 2023 - and there's a demo on the Steam page. If you like this kind of thing, you might also enjoy Holstin, Submachine, Inscryption and above all, Anatomy.

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