Review: The Mortuary Assistant – I See Dead People

Despite my hefty experience and love for horror games, nothing could really prepare me for The Mortuary Assistant. Developed by DarkStone Digital, The Mortuary Assistant has been best described as Five Nights at Freddy’s meets P.T. You play as Rebecca who has just completed a degree in mortuary sciences and is starting an apprenticeship at River Fields Mortuary, which her grandma warns has some frightening stories surrounding it. Rebecca is unconcerned about this and just brushes it off as superstitiousness. Unsurprisingly, it turns out Rebecca couldn’t be more wrong.

We cut to Rebecca going for a test shift at River Fields Mortuary where she meets her new boss, Raymond. It’s here that the player learns The Mortuary Assistant’s gameplay mechanics, which consist of processing dead bodies, opening the player up to some pretty disturbing imagery of the embalming process, wiring the deceased’s mouth shut and placing eye caps over their milky, dead eyeballs. Each step is noted down on a clipboard which you can look back on at any point to check where you’re at and what you need to do next. Eventually, the whole process will become a routine.

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Everything you need to complete your shift will be on the clipboard, in Raymond’s voice tapes or on the Night Shift Database.

During this test shift, some unusual events occur. Bottles of chemicals burst in the cabinets, the window slams shut, and Rebecca starts to hear voices and experience hallucinations. Once you are done with the first body, Raymond abruptly sends Rebecca home, despite his assurances that she has performed well. Later that evening, Rebecca gets a call from Raymond explaining that he was feeling under the weather earlier and wants to offer her the job. Unfortunately, he’s had to leave before processing three bodies, and asks that Rebecca go back for a night shift to finish the job, which Rebecca happily agrees to, thrilled at the job offer.

Upon re-entering the mortuary, the door suddenly slams shut and locks. Raymond then calls, explaining that a demon is present and has targeted Rebecca, which Raymond recognised signs of earlier. Rebecca must use Raymond’s Night Shift database on demon entities to identify the name of the demon and its sigils, insert its sigils onto the ritual tablet, and then identify the possessed corpse, confining the demon to said corpse by placing the tablet on top of it, and then cremating the corpse and vanquishing the demon in the process. But there’s a catch: the demon is slowly possessing Rebecca and she’ll gradually become more afflicted as the shift progresses, which means you’re on a timer. You can track how long you have left by drawing on your notepad at the start of each shift and keeping an eye on how it changes as the possession grows.

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While processing each body, you must also look out for signs of demonic possession.

This adds the exorcism to your usual routine, which you must undergo with the three bodies while observing them for signs of possession in the process. New scratches appearing on their skin, movements, and a few other signals are all signs of demonic possession, though the demon can also interact with the other two bodies to throw you off. You must note down how many occurrences happen with each individual and decide which has the most demonic signs. You must also locate the sigils which will be burned onto the walls and floors around the mortuary over time, these can be identified by walking around with a Letting Strip lit in a game of ‘hot and cold’; as the paper smokes and catches fire, you know you’re getting close and when it bursts into flames, you have arrived at the sigil’s location. There are four to find in total, though you can usually identify the demon’s name with three.

The reason why The Mortuary Assistant has been compared to Five Nights at Freddy’s is because you will complete shift after shift, getting a new ending depending on how you played the game and whether you were successful in your exorcism attempt. The scares in each shift are randomised, so each try will be a different experience. One common denominator between the shifts is that Rebecca will experience a hallucination, taunting her of her troubled past and each turn has a different hallucination which gives away more information on both Rebecca’s and the mortuary’s history.

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The Mortuary Assistant is clever in the way it builds tension. It does include jump scares, but they aren’t executed in a way that feels cheap or gimmicky. The Mortuary Assistant often lulls you into a false sense of security; presenting a figure approaching you from the hallway, only for it to disappear and then jump at you just as you were thinking it was gone for good and had begun to relax. You’ll also face scares that won’t occur until you’re directly looking at them; you may see something out of the corner of your eye, and it won’t move until you turn to look at it.

I found that having a consistent routine when preparing the bodies kept you on edge more than traversing around a spooky location where you can anticipate something being around every corner; in The Mortuary Assistant, you can never know what’s going to happen next. There’ll sometimes even be creepy events that aren’t obvious, but will freak you out and build tension if you do spot them, such as lights turning off, doors which you swear you left open which are now closed, dead bodies moving but only ever so slightly, and even figures standing at the windows. Some of these are so subtle that you’ll maybe think it didn’t happen and was just in your head, causing you to lose trust in your own perception as well as facing paranoia at the slightest sound or movement.

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You must ignite Letting Paper strips to reveal the sigils marked around the room which reveal the demon’s name.

The sound design is great, which is essential in a horror game. There’s no music, only the silence surrounding you and the rain beating against the windows. Though the building you’re in feels alive, like a secondary presence within the room with you; things will quietly (or loudly) knock on the windows, or you’ll hear muffled whimpers coming from the cadaver storage lockers.

To match, the visuals are fair and I wasn’t really expecting much from an indie horror game. The only thing to note is that the character models and animation look a little weird, especially in the introduction cutscene with Rebecca and her grandma. I think this could have been easily left out and replaced as a phone conversation in Rebecca’s apartment, similar to when Rebecca calls her friend after her test shift. From what I’ve seen of the different ‘demon’ designs (not sure if these are actually the demons as you’ll get more than one type in one shift), they’re effective and creepy. One is the classic disheveled woman in a nightgown look which has been used in multiple horror games before, tapping into those P.T. vibes, and another is a silhouetted figure with glowing red eyes. The one that I found truly disturbing was the ‘white figure’, a being with cracked, porcelain-like skin, wide, staring eyes and a gaping mouth. Even just looking at still images of this thing is enough to creep me out, it’s truly horrifying.

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How does Raymond explain this one during inspections?

The Mortuary Assistant has multiple ending outcomes to each shift depending on your success as well as a few hidden endings. In my playthrough, I completed three shifts with three different endings; I was unsuccessful in two, and then had a third time lucky attempt. Each shift takes around an hour and a half to two hours to complete if you run through them properly and take the time to make sure you have identified the correct demon’s name and possessed body. By the end of the third shift, my enjoyment of The Mortuary Assistant had begun to dim as it is the same process each time. I do think the game would have benefited from a system where you can unlock new locations to do shifts in with different demonic entities, maybe Rebecca could take her exorcising services elsewhere? Though, this could always be a possibility in the future, similar to Surgeon Simulator. Despite this, The Mortuary Assistant could definitely be a game that I will come back to several times in the future when I fancy having the life scared out of me again.

The Mortuary Assistant is a well-crafted horror game which uses randomised events to give you a unique experience in each shift. It’s genuinely frightening and goes well up there with some of the scariest games that I have played. The only piece of negative feedback that I have for this horror game (aside from the minor graphical hiccups), is that there isn’t more of it to play and I will jump on board if any extra content is added in the future.

Jess reviewed The Mortuary Assistant on PC with a review code.

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