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The Tartarus Key looks like a fabulous PS1 version of Saw

Does not appear to feature Cary Elwes though

Waking up in a room you don't recognise with a camera trained on you: the result of a heavy Saturday night, or the opening salvo in an inexplicable kidnapping? In The Tartarus Key, a PS1-style thriller/puzzle/horror game, it's definitely the latter. The free demo is out now, and throws you into the first couple of puzzles for the game as Alex, whose last memory is of being at home in her apartment. Now she finds herself locked in a weird study in a poorly lit mansion, with only a stranger on the end of a walkie-talkie for company. It was enough to staple this game right into the middle of my disorganised Charlie Day conspiracy board of games I'm interested in, I'll tell you that much.

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The order of the day is escape, which means solving puzzles to find the key. In the first room, the aforementioned study, it means hunting around to find postcards and decoding the messages on them. In the bedroom next door, you've to find different coloured bottles and put them on a shelf in the right order. Your remote companion, a private detective named Torres, theorises this is all a kind of sick, Saw-esque game (although she doesn't use Saw as a reference) to entertain a rich weirdo.

There's a lot to suggest some puzzles will be less about puzzling and more about freaking your nut and creating atmosphere. This is a concept that, for a retro-style horror game, I can more than get behind. Lighting in particular is put to good use in The Tartarus Key, creating a sort of artificially low draw distance in some areas that, even if there isn't going to be a monster chasing you, constantly makes you think there might be. The trailers released so far show glimpses of more complicated puzzles and different locations, too.

Alex, protagonist of The Tartarus Key, talks to Torres, who is sitting by the fire. She's saying 'We should also attempt to find out who's behind this.'
A bathroom in The Tartarus Key showing a bathtub and white tiled floor covered in splashes of dark blood

Once you escape your room, you make your way down to a kind of home base area on the lower floor, which is next to a fireplace and some suspiciously dust sheet-covered statues. Your companion is also suspicously now unable to travel with you - which is a good way to ensure you, as the intrepid player, are on your own for the rest of the game. The idea that you're isolated, while having a tether to the world via your walkie-talkie, is an excellent device for building tension, as we have seen tried and tested in sad trees hike 'em up Firewatch.

You might not be entirely on your own, though, as the Steam page hints at other captives, plural, and if you don't save them from the grim traps they're in then they'll die. The mansion looks like it's a pretty big place, too, and my guess is that all the captives will be there for some secret reason that you'll uncover in the game. And I'll tell you what, I don't bloody trust that Torres. Sending me off to do all the dirty work myself. We all know what happened in Saw. The Tartarus Key is coming, ominously, "soon".

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