Fans of horror and gothic horror may have already heard of THE CHARNEL HOUSE TRILOGY. Set in a format typical of 90’s point-and-click adventures, it has a relaxed feel that encourages you to casually explore your surroundings, unravel the story and learn about the protagonist you play as.
You start the game as Alex, a gothy 20-something girl living in New York who’s preparing to get out of the city for the weekend. Madeleine Roux (author of Asylum) makes her voice acting debut here, adding charmingly sarcastic witticisms as you click around the levels. Alex feels personable and authentic in spite of the sarcasm and angst you’d expect from a goth. She speaks her mind, whether you want to hear it or not. She’s someone you’d be happy to spend an afternoon snarking with over a bad horror movie.
Your second protagonist comes in the form of Dr. Harold Lang (Peter Willington), an academic historian on a business trip to check out some relics. Willington does a spectacular job bringing Lang to life. His warmth and thoughtful pauses reminded me of the voice acting for Bobbin in Loom, a childhood favorite.
Alex and Harold both happen to be taking the same train to Augur Peak, home to a famously reclusive pulp horror author. You explore the game as each protagonist, picking apart the mysteries of your destination from two different points of view. Gameplay is typical of a point-and-click adventure, using dialogue triggers to tell the story, and collecting and combining items to complete puzzles and fetch-quests. The “puzzles” are pretty minimal, and dialogue clues nearly outright tell you what you need to do to propel the story.
Arguably, the real puzzle in the game is cerebral, trying to understand the connecting thread between the characters, items and clues you come across as you play. However, many of the actual puzzles’ solutions come across as so obvious that it feels more like a complicated Rube Goldberg way to turn the page in a short story than an actual riddle to solve. The mystery itself is interesting, but it’s clear we’re only getting about half of the story. The story’s metaphor by itself feels stale and predictable, but with follow-up in the sequel it may prove to be more illuminating. It may be best to wait for the sequel to do a complete playthrough than to sit on this game by itself.
The acting and dialogue are sincere and believable, and the point-and-click pixelated world feels wonderfully nostalgic. But the story’s theme falls unfortunately flat by virtue of being too on-the-nose, and the puzzles are sorely lacking. The allegory the mystery delivers is predictable, making this game certainly not mandatory material for any horror lover. It might be best to wait for the sequel and try a full playthrough on for size.
THE CHARNEL HOUSE TRILOGY is a point-and-click gothic horror game released in April of 2015 by Owl Cave Games. You can expect a quick evening playthrough with about 2 to 3 hours of gameplay. It’s currently available on Steam, which is the version of the game we reviewed. The end of the game promises more to come in 2016, but no word from Owl Cave on exact dates just yet.