Each week our resident Indie Gamer Nicholas takes a look at a different Indie Game that you may or may not have heard about. Join him on his adventures as he sifts through the rubbish to find The Indie Game of the Week.
I'll save a few of you a bit of time and effort by making a few things clear about Huntsman: The Orphanage before I even bother launching into the review proper.
- Narrative is prioritized over gameplay. It's kind of like a horror version of Gone Home.
- It's not a traditional horror game. There's no violence, and very little action.
- The story is told through long, voiced monologues.
By now, a fair chunk of you have already decided this isn't the game for you. That's good. I've saved you the time and effort of reading through my review. As for the rest of you, well...let's talk about The Huntsman, and why I'm going to do my best to avoid clock-makers and analogue watches for the foreseeable future.
Right. So here's the story. About a century ago (June 17, 1898 if you want to be a bit more specific), tragedy visited Grimhaven Orphanage, in the form of a terrible creature known only as The Huntsman. The being - which looks something like the unholy lovechild of Slenderman, a plague doctor, and giant spider - stole into the orphanage, trapping the twelve orphans who dwelt there in a nightmarish alternate dimension. For good measure, it likely as not consumed most of the staff - eventually, after letting them suffer for a while. This entity is entirely silent, save for the ticking of a myriad set of time-pieces that adorn its coat.
Now, for some reason you - a paranormal buff - have decided to steal into the long-abandoned orphanage, with the goal of finding out whether or not the mythical Huntsman actually exists. Spoiler alert, he does. Second spoiler, you're his newest quarry. Your goal is simple: rescue all twelve of the orphans by bringing each one's favorite item to their respective grave.
Fail, and your soul will be joining theirs. Succeed, and...I guess the Huntsman's defeated for now? It's not really clear that it can even be defeated.
Anyway, as I've said, Huntsman: The Orphanage is by no means a traditional horror title. Much like Gone Home, the focus is entirely on exploration; on seeking out the story behind each orphan (and staff member) and eventually rescuing all the lost children. For most of the game, you're going to hear the ticking of several clocks in the background. Don't worry - that's normal; it just means that The Huntsman is lingering nearby.
Thing is, it very rarely even deigns to show itself. It's heavily implied that it's amused by what you're doing - it's toying with you, like a cat toying with a mouse. On the rare occasions that it does show itself, the game actually crosses the line from mildly creepy to rather terrifying, even as it becomes clear that it isn't really interested in a prolonged chase. The result is a sort of marvelous, anxiety-laden frustration: you know you're being hunted, you know you're being followed, but you never actually know when the hunter's going to strike. You just know that if it does, you're effectively helpless.
The story of Huntsman is told almost entirely through voiced segments, with a few live-action clips tossed in on your character's cell phone for good measure. Focusing on a particular portrait or item has a very good chance of triggering either a video or a monologue; it's usually pretty clear which photos are supposed to set the voices chattering, though occasionally the game's a bit finicky when deciding whether or not you're focusing on one.
I've only two gripes with the game. The first of these is the voice acting: it's very much hit-and-miss. Some of the characters are an utter treat to listen to, while others...not so much. Hattie's, in particular, stood out for me as one of the most grating monologues there. Still, given the quality of the writing, it's rather forgivable: it's clear that the development team put considerable effort into panning out the story and personality of each of the orphans.
Oh, one more spoiler: pretty much none of the stories are happy ones. Basically, don't play the game while you're depressed, or you'll probably stay that way.
My second gripe is with the control scheme. Curiously enough, the developers decided to design the game so that your character automatically - and awkwardly - tries to climb over most passable obstacles (and ladders) that cross their path. This led to some unintentionally scary moments when I thought I'd lost control of my character, but was otherwise something of a nuisance to put up with.
Neither of these really detracts from the core experience, which is all about understanding the stories of the orphans and trying to save them from a fate far, far worse than death - a fate which awaits you yourself if unsuccessful. Grab it on Steam for $14.99.
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