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My expectations for indie horror games are usually fairly low. Especially ones based off of movies that, to be honest, didn’t leave me impressed.

You follow six students involved in a club that’s desperate to beat a rival university in a popularity contest. And their gambit to do this is to livestream a ritual that reputedly summons the ghost of a vengeful woman. An event that supposedly happened at the location the game takes place in — the prestigious Tunghai University.

I’m a huge sucker for games and movies based on real stories.

If you played the demo, you might think this is your standard ghost hunts, you hide game. And while there is definitely some of that, The Bridge Curse: Road to Salvation is much more a horror mystery game. Its plot and characters are the driving force. So, if you load up the game and in the first thirty minutes find the characters annoying I would recommend you get your refund because you’re going to be talking to these people a lot.

The Bridge Curse: Road to Salvation. One of the main characters is about to begin the ritual to see if a ghost is summoned.
True friendship is sacrificing your buddy to a murder ghost.

 It’s subtitled, with all voice acting in Taiwanese, but I think it’s better this way. The actors are expressive and you’ll always know who’s speaking. Of course, the translations aren’t always perfect. But these mishaps are few and far between and pretty expected for an indie developer.

The school is well-designed. The assets are great, the details are there, and you’ll explore the university from top to bottom. The environment is easily one of the very best things about this game and significantly better than Dreadout 2 (another Asian horror game that ALSO starts in a school and ALSO has a ghost girl).

In terms of spooks and ooks, this game has it in spades. And for those who enjoy Asian horror elements you’ll want for nothing. You’ve got the ghastly white-faced women, soaked in filthy water. The rooms, papered in talismans. Ample rituals (which, of course, all go wrong). Sentient black hair that’s determined to choke you. And then your random sprinkling of vaguely creepy paraphernalia that make a little less sense. Like, why are there so many mannequins? Why are they all smeared in red paint and staring at me?

graffiti in the university corridor, includes a terrifying doddled woman and some text that unfortunately  was not translated
You couldn’t pay me to go down there.

And then, of course, there are the jump scares. There are a lot of jump scares. Some of which are silly (intentionally so), others very explicitly not. But by the midway point, these scares are too frequent and lose some of their charm.

But seeing the characters realize that the hauntings happening around them are real builds a fantastic tension into the story that gives the horror more gravitas. And things get so much worse for them as secrets and hidden resentments spill over, threatening to destroy their friendships.   

Gameplay-wise, it’s a slow burn for the first hour or so. But around the two hour mark things start to accelerate. A significant portion of the game is a bit of a walking simulator, with sprinklings of find item x or speak to whomever. But there are also puzzles and stealth elements that really reminded me of Home Sweet Home, a great Thai horror game.

Overall, it’s not a perfect game and, if you’ve seen the movie, you might know how it ends to a degree, there’s definitely a lot more explored in this game.

But if you haven’t seen the movie? It’s a hell of a four hour ride with a plot that blows most indie horror games out of the water. Even if you have watched the movie, it’s still a game worth picking up if you enjoy some of the more common tropes in Asian horror games. And yes, there’s definitely elements that weren’t present in the movie that are fantastic and will absolutely surprise you.

But if ghost girls and rituals aren’t really your bag, maybe give The Bridge Curse: Road to Salvation (and it’s $20 USD price tag) a miss.

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The Sinking City Review: Sunken Lovecraftian Lore

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The Sinking City is an open world third-person shooter developed by Ukranian developer, Frogwares, and published by Nacon. In this game, you play as a private investigator who has come to the city of Oakmont. In this half-submerged city you hope to find the cause of your maddening dreams and the mass disappearances plaguing the city.

Inspired by several H.P. Lovecraft stories, The Sinking City is a love letter to Lovecraftian lore. However, it takes the time to condone problematic themes in Lovecraft’s writings which is always appreciated. It has a massive open world that lets you explore the haunting world of a city driven partially mad. The neighborhoods are painstakingly designed and the found objects tell an enrapturing story. Riding a motor boat through flooded streets was mesmerizing. I also am fond of the novel detective mechanics. Even if they are a little basic, they are still interesting and tell a good story. 

A screenshot of gameplay from The Sinking City, showcasing a great character model.

I cannot stress enough that I wanted to love The Sinking City. The premise and the atmosphere were everything I wanted from a Lovecraftian horror game. But, the game just fell flat. Frustratingly enough, most of the issues with the game are simple quality of life improvements. I had consistent bugs, performance issues, and visual hiccups that prevented the game from coming into its own. The enthralling environments were tarnished by enemies appearing and disappearing and character animations not functioning properly. While the character models were exquisite, the dialogue was comically tacky, once again ruining the mood. I also wasn’t a fan of the combat, which felt undercooked in its difficulty and stealth mechanics. The Sinking City feels like the alpha release of what could be an amazing game. But in its current state I found it to be semi-unplayable.

That being said, the game has an amazing mod community on Steam. They have created community content to fix a lot of the issues I have with the base game, so I recommend checking that out if you already own the game. I have also heard that the game has better performance on consoles instead of on PC, where I played it. So that may be another avenue for enjoying The Sinking City.

Another unfortunate reason I can’t recommend the game at the moment, is current legal battles against Nacon the publisher. Nacon has been accused by several of its developers, including Frogwares, of pirating their game and uploading it illegally to Steam. The legal battles have yet to be resolved, however, it is unfortunate that these accusations have happened twice now by two independent developers.

Maybe one day we’ll have a good Lovecraftian horror game. But, it is not yet that day. 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

However, in honor of Frogwares please consider donating to a Ukrainian Relief Fund as they actively fight on the front lines to keep their country safe. Additionally, consider supporting their new game Sherlock Holmes: the Awakened.

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Röki Review: Family & Scandinavian Folklore

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Röki is an adventure puzzle game developed by Polygon Treehouse and published by United Label and CI Games. In the game, you play as Tove, a young girl on a hunt to save her kidnapped brother. She must engage with creatures from Scandinavian folklore as well as her own guilt surrounding the death of her mother in order to save her brother from a grim fate.

This is a game with an immense amount of heart. From the art to the story to the sound design, you can feel the soul and care that went into Röki. And for the most part, it pays off. I invested emotionally into all of the characters as I played. I was also enraptured by the depth of the story and character interactions as the game progressed. The gameplay is similar to that of a point-and-click adventure game, where you collect items and drag them onto environmental objects to solve puzzles. The items and environments were intricate and satisfying to engage with the majority of the time. Especially in the first third of the game, I delighted at uncovering little secrets and talking with the inhabitants of the forest. When the game was rewarding, it really felt rewarding.

A screenshot of gameplay from Röki.

Despite its enchanting nature, the middle third of the game was a definite low point. As a game that took me about 10 hours to play through, about 3 of those hours were exhausting. The puzzles were especially tedious, requiring a significant amount of backtracking and/or convoluted solutions. Instead of feeling rewarded for solving the puzzles, I just felt thankful I could move on. The biggest issue wasn’t the solutions or placement of items, it was the annoyance that I knew exactly what I needed to do but had to spend at least fifteen minutes stuck in unskippable animations to complete it.

Röki is a gorgeous adventure game that immerses you in Scandinavian folklore through a combination of story and puzzles. However, if you don’t have patience for unskippable dialogue or frustrating puzzles you may want to try a different game. Additionally, I find the price of $20 a little high for how frustrating a third of the game is. But I would consider it a must-get for puzzle fans during a sale! Find Röki on Steam here.

3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

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Ring of Pain Review: An Addictive Dungeon Crawler

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Ring of Pain is a rogue-like dungeon crawler developed by Simon Boxer and Twice Different. In the game, you travel through layers of a dungeon collecting loot and killing monsters. Each layer holds a series of cards containing enemies, curses, boons, and exits. As a character, you gain equipment, spells, items, and stat increases that help you defeat your enemies (or just run away better). 

Ring of Pain is a fantastic game. I received it in a charity game bundle, but it had sat untouched in my Steam library for a year. On a whim, I decided to try it out, telling myself I would play an hour or two and then review it. I ended up playing for four hours, only stopping because I had prior engagements. Every time I sat down to write this review, I instead played another couple of hours in Ring of Pain. The point of this story is not my weak will, but instead the highly addictive nature of Ring of Pain.

A screenshot of gameplay from Ring of Pain.

The gameplay had a good mix of strategy and luck, making it rewarding to succeed. There are also many viable strategies to pursue, which means there are many ‘correct’ ways to play the game and still see success. As someone who can get frustrated with rogue-likes, I liked how each run was relatively short but rewarding. This meant that I didn’t feel like I was sinking hours into gameplay that led nowhere. Also worth a mention is the absolutely stunning artwork that masters being atmospheric, creepy, and comical. 

My biggest gripe is that I wish there was more diversity of items. I sometimes felt as if I was just getting the same boring equipment over and over again. That being said, the developers have been consistently adding new content to the game since it released. Therefore, my largest issue is being addressed. 

Ring of Pain is a great game, and I highly recommend it for those who enjoy quick rogue-likes with dungeon-crawling elements. However, try another game if you get frustrated by random generation that could be impossible to surmount. 

Available on Steam for $20, I would say the price point is a little steep for the diversity of content. However, it’s a must-get during a sale!

4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5)

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