Indie horror games are a thing, it seems. A big thing. I can’t figure out why they’re so popular and why I love the horror genre so much, even though I’m mostly too much of a coward to play the games. Maybe they’re relatively easy to make. But making a good horror game is difficult, a great one that it is timeless even more so and Kraven Manor proves this. All the elements are there, it’s just lacking that special ingredient that makes a horror piece really stand out.
It’s a first person pointy-clicky deal; you don’t get any weapons besides a flashlight and your razor sharp wits; it’s set in an abandoned manor house during a storm in the middle of the night; there’s a disturbing twisted story that gradually unravels during the course of the hour long game revealing evil deeds having been done in the house. But you already knew all that; it’s standard horror fare.
What’s different about this is the antagonist that hunts you while you uncover the secret fiendish doings of William Kraven, the long missing owner of the manor. It’s a bronze statue that only comes to life when you’re not looking at it. As long as you’re shining your flashlight in its big bronze face, it won’t budge an inch. But as soon as you turn away it pounces. It’s like a twisted version of a children’s game or like the Boo’s in the Mario series, a cute but clever concept turned evil (and bronze; bronze plays a big part in this game). There’s a few good jump scares to be had with your bronze buddy and it shows promise on the part of the developers, student group Demon Wagon Studios.
Another thing that shows promise is the puzzling aspect of the game. Mostly you wander around the house, trying to figure out the story from the notes and books scattered around (amidst ominous trails of blood which you then follow into dark cellars like some demented bimbo from a teen slasher movie); the story it has to be said never really comes to much which is a shame because it has potential. It just seems like a bit of an afterthought.
And the puzzles are also fairly straightforward, not being particularly taxing. However the house itself is a puzzle. In the entrance way there is a small scale model of the manor and as you explore the first room, the library, you find a small scale model of another room. Attaching this to the model in the hall changes the layout of the house; you now have access to a different room. You can rearrange the rooms of the manor however you like and as you progress through each new room you discover more models. It’s a great idea but unfortunately doesn’t actually have any impact on the story or how you explore as you can only go into one room at a time anyway. The only time when it does have significance is at the end when you need to create a pathway to the final showdown, so to speak.
What the developers have done right is create a creepy atmosphere. The storm rages on outside, changing the lighting in the rooms and just generally being scary. You won’t want to go into the dark corners with their foreboding shadows, and the music is inspired by classic horror films; it reaches an exciting, ever so slightly over the top, crescendo at climactic moments, fitting perfectly with the overall theme.
It’s a game that clearly takes its inspirations from the likes of Amnesia: The Dark Descent in terms of atmosphere and it mostly delivers, right up until the end when things get a bit silly for my liking. It seems the story writers couldn’t agree on what kind of ending would be best and so tried to fit everything in, unfortunately ignoring pretty much everything they had been working on and building up to until then. So where Amnesia managed to stay genuinely terrifying all the way through, Kraven Manor loses momentum quite quickly and so also loses the fantastic atmosphere that has been created.
There also isn’t much in the way of an introduction. There’s nothing wrong with dropping the player straight in and expecting them to get on with it; it can actually be a great way of introducing a game. But your own identity as a protagonist is never revealed and your character doesn’t seem to possess any backstory, apparently just morphing into existence in the hallway of the large house. Unless you’re some kind of supernatural being (which may well be the case as nothing is explained) then it’s a bit annoying. Are you some chump who just wandered in out of the storm and decided to explore? Or are you actually a member of the Kraven family, or a student of some kind doing some research? It can be argued of course that your background isn’t as important as that of the house and its inhabitants but some explanation as to why you’re there and doing what you’re doing would be good. I like to inhabit the role of the character I’m playing (annoying for people at work if it’s Batman) and I find I get more into the game if I know something about the character.
There isn’t much in the way of replayability either. The two difficulty settings are Regular and Nightmare. All Nightmare does is ramp up the amount of damage enemies do and gives your flashlight the ability to run of power, allowing the bronze statue more of a chance to pounce on you. Perhaps instead of mashing up the ending the devs could have made alternate endings. It would have been more rewarding to assemble the manor rooms in different ways and so experience different ways of playing.
All that having been said, Kraven Manor isn’t bad by any means. It’s a good game, a solid horror experience with great atmosphere and interesting mechanics that, although they don’t quite live up to everything they promise, show how the developers are thinking. I recommend it for a quick play through; you’ll get a few jumps and the chance to experience a genuinely creepy house with a couple of unusual ideas. It probably won’t wow you but you’ll be impressed by Demon Wagon’s ambition and it’s certainly one of the better indie horror games out there.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: PC Release Date: 26/09/2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Kraven Manor by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 1 week on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.