I’m sure that many people would say that the feeling of being watched creeps them out. But what if being watched was the only way that you could hope to survive?
Enter Captive Audience, a psychological thriller that places you in the shoes of Matt, a man who is forced to “perform” on a television show that recruits death row inmates. Matt found himself as a contestant on Captive Audience after trying to rescue his wife, Julia, who was convicted of a crime she didn’t commit. After surviving five seasons at the facility, Matt is offered a chance to escape, but the obstacles and secrets that he encounters along the way threaten to dismantle his very sense of reality.
Strong narrative – This game does an excellent job of building tension. When you play it, it’s almost like being trapped in an episode of Black Mirror. You are aware of what’s going on around you, but not entirely certain of all the details in regards to your situation. This uneasiness follows you as you progress throughout the game, doing seemingly harmless and simple tasks, and then progressively creepier ones. The night events — when you can run around the facility and try to find a means of escape –become even more heart throbbing, since you’re at risk of being caught by the guards, which are the eye-shaped glowing drones that patrol the hallways.
Sound and voice acting – I normally don’t pay attention to sound when playing games unless the score is particularly catchy. While there isn’t a score for Captive Audience (just a theme song, “Going Home,” which is thoroughly enjoyable), there is an impressive focus on sound effects. The guards wouldn’t be so formidable and creepy if not for the sounds that they make. Their buzzing, which differentiates in pitch, and beeping made me uneasy every time I poked my head around the corner. When the guards get agitated or get closer, the sound grows louder and angrier, which terrified me. There were a few times that I actually shrieked in fear. I mean, what more is there to say except well done? And the voice acting is impressive, too. Matt’s voice actor knows how to bring on the emotion at just the right times, but not overdo it.
Lighting – The developers for Captive Minds used Unity, and incorporated “volumetric systems to give the light a really weighty and realistic feel.” The lighting in this game helps to set the tone. For example, Matt’s actual bedroom uses a bluish-green cold light, which reflects the negative emotions he’s experiencing. When out in the hallways, the corridors are an inky, terrifying black, with only a few small, warm lights to guide your way. The lighting, in an interesting way, also provides a challenge. For example, the green and red lights that can be found in the hallways serve to disorient the player. Given that the guards emit red lights from their “eye,” one has to be extra careful to make sure that they’re not actually standing there.
Tedious tasks are a drag – During the day, when you have to perform on the show, you’re assigned tedious tasks. The first task is making a cake, and this is probably one of the most painful gaming experiences I have ever endured. Something that should be so simple became overly complicated as I was hunting for ingredients, adding them to the bowl, and then figuring out how to place the bowl in the oven. Since the game doesn’t allow you to crouch, I couldn’t figure out how to put the bowl of cake mix in the oven. Multiple times, it fell to the ground. Once I finally managed to put it in the oven, I was really confused as to why it wouldn’t bake, as I thought I had turned the oven on. I spent 15 minutes trying to bake that godforsaken monstrosity and nearly gave up.
Unclear direction – There were several points in the game when I was unsure of how to proceed or how to solve a certain puzzle. Normally I try to work my way through puzzles, but there were some that were so frustrating, I gave up on them and skipped. (The developers implemented a skip feature in case a scene becomes stuck or the player is somehow unable to progress.) Otherwise, I looked up YouTubers who had played it, and watched them get as frustrated as I did. I understand wanting to provide a challenge, but the unclear directions are one of the things that detracted from my experience.
Buggy animations – There is a moment in the conclusion that, from how the narrative sets it up, is supposed to be climatic, but because there is some sort of glitch or delay in the animation, it ends up falling completely flat. Most of the animations within the game are smooth, but some things — like objects lagging behind you if you pick them up and move forward — kind of took away from that immersive experience the developers had worked so hard to build.
Overall, I really enjoyed Captive Audience. With its thrilling narrative, awesome sound effects, and intricate lighting details, Captive Minds does a beautiful job of creating an immersive experience–and this is despite its flaws. As it stands, the game is a prototype and is supposed to be reflective of a concept for a potential full length game. The development team, Captive Minds, consists of five university students, and I’m interested to see what they’ll do with this prototype, if anything. On the itch.io page, they wrote that “minimal updates will occur from this point on” which makes me think that they likely won’t revisit this project anytime soon, except maybe for bug fixes.
But while it’s uncertain whether or not Captive Audience will be expanded, you can play the current game right now on itch.io for free.