I love indie horror games for their unique concepts. I also love that Steam has made it possible for new game developers to share them. Steam’s indie horror scene is how I discovered The Exorcist, an early-access horror game by Z Games that was released last month.
In The Exorcist, you are a young, recently graduated priest named Alonso who has been given the responsibility of exorcising everybody within a small yet heavily possessed village. You must research the symptoms of a possessed person in your library before performing house calls to determine whether someone is experiencing possession or just expressing individual emotions. Be careful, because if you get this wrong — if you determine that someone is not possessed when really demons fill their soul — then the game will end and your priest character will be sent to prison.
I hope the finished game includes a life system or some demerit, like losing experience, rather than having complete failure after misjudging a case. You can continue the game from your last save, but having the game abruptly end at the first failure is frustrating.
For each case there are several clues you look for to determine if a suspect really is possessed by a demon. These are the smell of sulphur or the speaking of Latin, and there are word tricks you ask, like: “What have I got in my pocket?” If you successfully complete an exorcism you gain experience, and if you fail, as I have mentioned before, the game will end. But the answers don’t always mean that there is a demon at hand. They could mean the suspect is working on their chemistry homework, is studying Latin, or is Gollum.
The game has many bugs that I hope the developers will work out before the full release. I remember getting caught in a loop shortly after the visit to the police station. I ended up in a library after finding a book in the suspect's apartment. Being unsure of what course to take here I left the library and then encountered the policeman again and had to repeat the whole experience! I was caught in this loop at least five times before I finally made Alonso stand next to the obscure piece of bookcase necessary to progress in the game. From reading the comments on Steam I see I’m not the only person to experience this.
Another problem with this horror game is that it’s not scary. The description of the game makes the very bold claim: “In The Exorcist you will be scared, so much scared [sic].” I wasn’t scared, and more than that I can’t imagine how anyone could be. Granted, while I live in constant fear of almost every aspect of the real world, it takes a lot from a game to actually scare me. Five Nights at Freddy’s didn’t scare me — I was too aggravated by how frustrating the game was to be frightened. I don’t see how anyone could find The Exorcist genuinely scary.
For one, it looks adorable! The game is designed in the style of an old arcade game, and so this world of demonic possession appears cute and amusing. It was visually pleasing - I love the style, especially in indie games, as it’s cheap to design and easy to control. But it doesn't look scary.
What made old, similarly stylized horror games like Splatter House so controversial wasn’t the arcade style, but because at the time there hadn’t been a game that violent before. Since then there have been lots and lots of violent games that make Splatter House look like something you would stick the kids in front of to distract them while you slip out. I don’t see how a cute little animated character, hopping around a cute little town, visiting the cute little prison, the cute little police station and the cute little graveyard is supposed to scare me.
The use of text rather than voice contributes to the lack of horror. It’s easier to scare someone with a character growling Latin into their ear than with a character speaking Latin only in text on the screen. Even with slightly eerie music and the occasional scream when something goes wrong, the lack of voice over stands out.
According to Steam's description of the game, the stories within are based on real exorcisms. This might have made it scarier for some, but I highly doubt that each exorcism story in the real world occurred in the same small town surrounding the same church, and the player must believe in spirits and exorcisms in the first place for this claim to be credible.
The game will release early next year on Steam for the same price as the early access game. While there is some fun, the developers need to work the bugs out of the game and rethink their intentions; do they want their game to be scary, or not? As is, it's one of the cutest horror game out there.