Huntsman: The Orphanage- Creepy with More to Come
Horror games have been known for their atmosphere of terror. In recent years, most of the terror has subsided in lieu of more violence, more blood, more guts, and more over the top dismemberment. With the exception of a few truly terrifying games, like Amnesia: The Dark Decent, and Slender: The Eight Pages, most titles have gone the route of action hero, and less creepy atmosphere. Huntsman: The Orphanage is a newly developed horror game that hopes to recapture the fear.
Huntsman: The Orphanage was developed by Shadowshifters, and was released for Steam on September 13th, 2013. Shadowshifters is a new, indie developer, that was founded in 2012.
Indie devs Shadowshifters are betting the farm that there is a market for more than action-movie-inspired AAA games. We're producing titles that have strong story-lines and characters at their heart; cinematic plots and pacing that take a little time to unravel. We call it our "Sit Forward and Enjoy" philosophy.- Shadowshifters.com
Huntsman is their first game, and their first foray into the horror genre. The available version is an early release, beta.
The story revolves around a masked creature, known as the Huntsman, that has spirited away twelve orphans. As an investigator, it is up to you to explore Grimhaven Orphanage, and find the trinkets of the lost twelve. You must return the items to each child's grave in order to free them. The story is told through live actors and voice acting. Ghosts of the deceased, or stolen, children appear to you in various ways, giving you subtle hints and clues to the whereabouts of their precious items. From ribbons, to dolls, and drawings, there are objects scattered through out the house.
Gameplay is simple, and very reminiscent of Slender. You move about in first person, and control movement with the WASD keys, or the left analog stick, if you decide a controller is more your style. There's a button to interact and run. I think there is a feature for jumping, but as of this review, jumping has not been utilized. Perhaps in a future update?
Your character walks slowly, and even the run is little more than a brisk walk. There are no weapons. You don't have an inventory screen, a heads up display, a health bar, or magic. You are armed with a cell phone, in one hand, with the other hand used to pick up and interact with objects. Only one object can be held at any given time.
The cellphone serves as your way of communicating with the dead. As you explore, spirits show up in the screen of your phone, and give you haunting comments that are very creepy, and at times, helpful.
Textures aren't very high resolution, and models have a moderate amount of detail. Environments are dark, and you only see most of the world through the light of your cellphone, so that isn't really an issue. For now, the available areas are just a bit of the surrounding forest, and the orphanage to explore, but hopefully when the game launches in October, there will be more variety to the Huntsman.
While most games attempt at more realistic 3D models, Shadowshifters opted to use actors. The NPCs are either actual photos, of real people, or live actors portraying the lost children.
This game reminds me of Dear Esther or Unfinished Swan, in that the narrative is told through exploration. There's no tutorial, no guide, just you, the house, and ghosts that show up as you explore. It makes the journey more mysterious, so everything you find is always an interesting surprise.
The voice acting is very well done, and I appreciate the decision to use real actors. The children are mysterious, scary, and do a good job of portraying their individual characters. Each orphan has their own attitude, and you'll definitely be able to tell them apart by their requests, and mannerisms. Shadowshifters held open auditions May 18th-31st, on Youtube, and gave 88 contestants the opportunity to work on a video game! That's awesome. There were seven winners. How cool would that be?
The Huntsman is creepy and the game does a good job of setting up the atmosphere. The voice actor for the main character, Codey Dingfield, wrote on the Steam forums and said that Huntsman: The Orphanage was meant to be a Slenderman game, but because of copyrights, they decided to create a new creature. I like this idea, because it makes the game stand on it's own, while introducing a new baddie into the pantheon of monsters. The Huntsman, as a creature, is a steam punk esque villain with spider legs, goggles, and a beaked mask. Personally, he's freakier than the Slenderman.
During gameplay, I had moments where I was genuinely afraid, and even a few of the children freaked me out. Serious, screw that freaky kid singing insy wincy spider. And there's no way I'm finding a ribbon for that child in the forest. I don't trust her!
I think it'll be interesting to see if some of the children end up not worth saving. Like, once you do, bad things happen. Or if the Huntsman is actually saving the world from the children and the kids are the ones who seek to wreak havoc! I mean, some of them don't seem like they're on the up and up, if you know what I mean? Just fan speculation.
It's hard to get the entire feel for the game until we receive the final product. As I said, this is an early, beta release, and there is still a lot that the developers plan to add. As it stands, there are a few niggling things that distract from the overall experience. Objects fall and clip through the environment, while it's easy to get stuck in the side of rooms, or on chairs, or other objects. There's no save function added yet, but is coming soon, so as of this review, the only way to continue is to start all over. From the beginning.
The cellphone light also doesn't cover a very large amount of distance. It made my eyes hurt, cause I felt like there was only a small square that I was straining to see through. Once you get too close to objects, the light vanishes all together, and sometimes it's hard to get your barrings. An interesting feature would be adding the capability to turn the light up, just a bit. Or, if the cellphone gives off more light when it's charged, and dims as it slowly runs out of power.
Also, the main goal of the game is to avoid the Huntsman, find the twelve objects, and place them on the graves, to set the children free. Only thing is that the Huntsman will not be a part of the game, although he makes a very creepy cameo, until October. Also, the graveyard is closed until All Hallows Eve, so finding the objects has no purpose, for now. So there's no goal, no enemy, and no drive to continue.
Oh, and the first, main portrait of the grounds keeper was a bit distracting, simply because in order to hear his story, you needed to focus on the picture frame. If you moved or left the frame, he'd stop narrating. He had a lot to say. It's very exposition heavy. The voice actor was decent, but it takes you out of the experience, to have to stay there in order to hear everything he has to say. Later, there's a voice that followed where ever I went. He talked for a really long time, so when I found more children, their dialogue was drowned out by his voice.
I think it would have been nice to find journals, or entries that you could look at, later. That way, you'd have the information, but wouldn't be forced to sit and listen. The writing is great, and they have a lot of interesting back story to impart to you, it just doesn't work too well if you need to stay in one place to hear it, or if it interferes with the rest of the children.
Despite the flaws, the game is still in beta, for now, and Shadowshifters responds to comments in a timely manner. They are constantly on Steam and Twitter, and always respond to fan praise/criticism. It's great to see a developer speaking and interacting with their audience, and Shadowshifters is always willing to answer questions and concerns. I'm really excited to see the full release, in all its finished glory! I agree with Shadowshifter's mission statement:
“...Shadowshifters also feel that the entertainment industry needs to self-examine the media produced at the extreme violence end of the spectrum, and ask 'Is ultra-violence in our media output a good thing? Or, maybe, not?'
“Huntsman:The Orphanage and our other 'thrill' titles in development explore and experiment with the notion that gaming excitement and adrenalin can be enjoyed without resorting to blood and gore, gratuitous violence and no-compunction killing as components.”-shadowshifters.com
There are too many games that rely on over the top carnage, and it's over saturating the market. There is a place for those games, I mean a bit of mayhem is good every now and then, but it would be nice to see games move beyond that. Games that can tell a story without ripping someone's head off. Games like Dear Esther, Unfinished Swan, Journey, and now Huntsman: The Orphanage. It's good to hear a developer that is actually striving for that. Kudos to them!
I can't wait to see where this company goes. So, definitely support them by checking out the game! It's available, in it's early stages, on Steam for $14.99, with a discount for $11.24! Those who purchase the Black Friday Beta of Huntsman will also get the Halloween Edition, for free, so be sure to check out the full release, when it hits Steam on October, 31st, 2013.