By EVAN MILLAR
If your gaming tastes are anything like mine, you enjoy a fair bit of head-scratching served up with your scares.
Although noteworthy horror series such as RESIDENT EVIL and SILENT HILL offer puzzles in addition to their grisly action, the point-and-click adventure games of the ’80s and ’90s are arguably the pioneering force when it comes to testing out a player’s logic skills. It’s a style of game that hasn’t had too many noteworthy horror additions over the past decade aside from the popular FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S series and a handful of other indies such as THE CAT LADY.
As the first release on Puppet Combo‘s newly launched Torture Star Video label, Chilean developer Ingnacio Maldonado‘s first title THE ENIGMA OF SALAZAR HOUSE is a triumphant exercise in style that’s as moving as it is hair-raising, recalling pioneering early adventure games such as the Apple II’s MYSTERY HOUSE and imbuing them with a modernized, back-to-basics sensibility.
As a spry reporter by the name of Elisa, players set out to investigate the disappearance of distinguished author Jaime Salazar and his family from their palatial and remote home. Upon arrival, you’ll quickly piece together that there may be supernatural forces at play, as early discoveries point to a more sinister series of events and an eerie presence clinging to the seemingly abandoned abode.
Utilizing a first-person perspective that’s reminiscent of classic dungeon crawlers like ULTIMA UNDERWORLD, you’ll travel from room to room piecing together your latest discoveries while a mysterious spectral force watches from the darkness lurking just beyond your field of vision. Every so often, this apparition will get the jump on you, forcing you to flee to nearest room or cupboard to seek refuge… unless of course you’d rather try to outrun them instead.
Featuring an elegant Virtual Boy-styled look and rotoscoped cutscenes, the game has a simplistic, tasteful aesthetic that helps make every moment of play feel splendidly retro. The UI in particular is masterfully done, displaying only a heartbeat monitor, gridded map to aid with navigation, and list of held items. The game’s wonderful soundtrack accompanies these visuals flawlessly with fuzzy, haunting melodies that keep tension high and will likely cement themselves in your mind for several days after the story’s completion.
As a shorter experience, it’s tough to really get into the finer details of THE ENIGMA OF SALAZAR’s story and not spoil the affecting moments within, but rest assured that it’s the type of poignant and personal tale that can only be conveyed by a singular developer. With multiple endings, exquisite design and a heartfelt narrative, it’s an endlessly impressive debut from Maldonado and a promising first entry in what is hopefully a renaissance of the genre.
THE ENIGMA OF SALAZAR HOUSE is out now for Windows and Linux on Torture Star Video’s itch.io page. Review code provided by the publisher.