Have you ever wanted to quit your terrible job and do something impulsive? Like move to the countryside and take the first job you can find? Even if it’s in a clearly haunted bathhouse? That’s what we decide to do in The Bathhouse, the latest release from indie (and cult sensation) developers Chilla’s Art. 

We’re thrown into a town and a new job, which mingles moments of increasing unease with the humdrum tedium of the workplace. A thick gray malaise covers everything, and missing person posters paper the buildings in glaring red sheaths. Someone even stole the cat.

The Bathhouse Game Review. Town
Bleak, wet, and ominous. Just the way I like it.

As the days pass, the eeriness that pervades our new life accelerates. The second day literally begins with hair spilling through a hole in your wall and the decision on whether to rip it out. And that’s one of the cornerstones of The Bathhouse: exploring every nook and cranny and making a choice. Both are extremely important because they’ll dictate what ending you’ll get. And I think it’s safe to say that most people will get the bad ending on their first play through. Myself included. In fact, you should probably consider your very first play through a trial run if you want a good ending. 

The horror of the game draws most from its environment and the slow unraveling of the mystery you find yourself in the center of. There’s also the occasional jump scare, which doesn’t really meet the definition. But many of the spooky moments you’ll have to hunt down or pay close attention to catch, and they lean heavily into the subtle. But seeing a soft silhouette in the steam of the baths will linger with you long after the adrenaline spike from the jump scare fades. 

a woman watches you in the baths
She’s just watching you bathe.

Graphically, it’s pretty on par with what you might expect from the Chilla’s Art brothers. The environments are fine, but the animations of the people you interact with are robotic and unnatural. It scarcely helps that bugs riddle the game, so they occasionally glitch, with their models teleporting slightly or jerking in a disjointed way. But these spasms weave some unease into the atmosphere. 

The town you find yourself in feels empty and lifeless if you look too closely at it. And you’ll spend a lot of time looking closely at it. The NPCs appear only where they serve the game, which hurts the immersion and they’re a straightforward indicator of how to progress. 

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And that’s helpful, because there’s no handholding in The Bathhouse. You’re meant to explore the town and your job, throwing yourself into your new life. But some things are just confusing. You fish, you get a sack. What are you meant to do with it? The answer still leaves me confused. Gathering items and finding out what to do with them (a process that sometimes is neither intuitive nor logical) is what The Bathhouse is built around. It’s one of the weaker aspects, but this dominates so much of you’ll do.

But the story, and the mystery, will set its claws into you. The buildup is gradual but well-paced. The Chilla’s Art brothers know how to trickle in just enough information to keep you guessing right up to the game’s climax. That being said, if you really want to understand the story, you need to get the good ending. There simply isn’t enough information to glean from the bad. 

So, is it worth the $8 bucks it costs on steam? If you enjoy indie games, slow burns, and games that skew heavier to mystery than horror, yes. It’s one of Chilla Art’s better games, right on up there with The Convenience Store and The Caregiver. The more games they produce, the more the Chilla brothers seem to learn their niche and I’m excited to see what else they’ll send down the chute in 2003.