Brought into existence by Matt Cohen, this house of horrors brings a terrifying experience that is never the same twice. Inspired by the Paranormal Activity films, Paranormal is a completely randomised experience through a camera’s perspective as you search the house recording hauntings. Following the game’s success, there is even an expansion pack on the way – “Paranormal: The Town” – which currently has a Kickstarter Project in the works to see it to completion. With that being said, just how scary is this game, really?
The game starts simply enough – a quick introduction by your character, Mattel Clarke, who explains that he is recording the events that have been happening in his house as of late -haunted activity such as objects randomly moving, voices, odd noises – in an attempt to prove he’s not crazy. When you finally take control of Mattel, exploration begins and information that gradually reveals what is truly going on comes to light. Through a conversation on the phone with Dr Powell, you learn that it is in his belief that a poltergeist is plaguing the building, though the advice is given to not bother leaving the house as the being sounds very determined and will most likely follow you wherever you venture. This is a nice touch as, in many horror games, I find myself wondering “Why doesn’t my character just leave?”, it’s great actually having a reason to stay and explore and also adds a sense of helplessness – you know there is no real escape; you have to stay and face whatever this poltergeist wants from you and try your best to survive what’s to come.There are things to be found around the house that delves deeper into the story behind the haunting, from journal entries from over twenty years ago, to emails received via a laptop that explain in cold hard facts the history of the building. The back story is well thought out, engaging and interesting, however, one thing that would have really helped increase the impact of the events would be if there was a personal connection, such as being related to or knowing one of the characters from the back story, creating a real sense of meaning and depth, rather than the simple reason why Mattel is tormented is because he happened to move into the wrong building.
Armed only with a video camera from a first person perspective, you wander through the house being startled by strange noises – sudden bangs, footsteps or even the odd growling – witnessing objects moving around of their own accord – boxes sliding across the floors, heavy rocks being thrown in the garden – to the more surreal and definitely paranormal activities like mannequins moving around and suddenly appearing behind you, or blood streaming from the faucets. There is little to actually interact with, no items to collect and use, no puzzles to solve; you merely wander the house to experience new hauntings. A gauge at the top right of the screen indicates the battery life of the camera that needs to be recharged regularly, which can be done by sleeping. Sleeping will also activate a new day and new hauntings to witness. I did feel a little rushed with the battery life as it diminished fairly quickly, I will admit it creates it’s own sense of unease as I was constantly aware that I needed to hurry and get back to the some-what-safety of my bed, but largely I was left a little disappointed as I wanted to explore the entire house in one go, which is practically impossible to do.
The environments are that of a typical artist’s studio, being generally clean and spacious, with a section of the main area dedicated to his sculptures, which are freaky enough to look at, but when you add in these sculptures randomly shifting their heavy metal parts in sudden jolts; they become utterly terrifying. Nowhere in this house is safe, every single room gets a beating of haunted activity – the attic, okay, that’s usually a pretty scary place in everyday life, but I ended up screaming like a little girl on my visit there. Even the rooms which you might consider to be safe, like the bedroom, for example, are up for grabs – there’s a Ouija board sitting at the foot of the bed that can be played with – or rather, it plays with you; spelling out the word “DIE”, which completely messed with my head!
With the vast majority of the house being shrouded in darkness, shadows stretching that could have something lurking inside of them for great distances, the ambience fits perfectly. The colour scheme is mainly that of blues and greys, down towards the colder end of the spectrum, however, this really works as when blood or fire make an appearance, you instantly notice it; it makes an impact, drawing your attention immediately.
There is a constant state of unease that follows everywhere you go; I was continuously apprehensive about looking behind me. The odd noise of a door creaking slowly open but being unable to determine exactly which door opened, creates a state of panic, increases the urge to go and investigate the source yet at the same time had me hiding my face behind my hands and peeking through my fingers.
The vast majority of the scares are jump scares – screams and other loud noises accompanying a shocking event – this is quite fun but could have become very old very quickly, if it was not for the general creepy factor of always feeling like you’re being watched or followed and the fact that you cannot leave.
The title is currently available via Desura, however, this game is currently on Steam’s Greenlight Project, which allows gamers to vote for what games they wish to be included on Steam in the future to be able to purchase and play. It’s clear to see why an expansion, Paranormal: The Town is currently being worked on. Though it’s an expansion, The Town promises to be an entirely new game said to be influenced by Silent Hill, with new characters and, you guessed it, an entire town to explore and shit your pants in. I hope this new game will be a bit more story driven than it’s predecessor, with maybe an objective based gameplay aspect and the option of side-quests to complete.
Though this game has it’s flaws, there is so much RIGHT with it that any horror lover would an utter fool to let this slip by un-played, this game is fun, exciting, full of jump scares and is a great experience all round. Paranormal’s real home run is that no two experiences are ever alike, the hauntings are randomly generated and so the player is misguided by expecting a certain jump scare here, only for it not to happen then be caught completely off guard seconds later but something even more horrifying. Overall, this game has real merit and is an outstanding achievement for such a small group of people without the same resources and cash disposal as that of a major game development team.
Written by Guest Reviewer: Sillyrabbit