I don’t do well with horror games. At all.
These days, I’m a total wimp; too often, a jump scare or vivid piece of imagery can stay in my mind for long after I leave the game – sustained, repeated moments like that can really magnify the effect it has on me and end up with me losing sleep. It’s that serious!
It wasn’t always the case – I definitely think it’s become worse as I’ve aged, as I played the first three Resident Evil games without any issue, along with a number of other horror games (Acclaim’s excellent comic book adaptation Shadowman immediately springs to mind, for example). I try to stay away from scary games as much as I can now though, with the effect they’ve started to have on me.
However, there are exceptions. If I’m given a horror game to review, I’ll do my best with it. Or if the subject matter is something I’m deeply invested in – Alien Isolation is a fantastic example of this, given my deep love for the source material. Likewise with Focus Interactive’s recent Call of Cthulhu, developed by French studio Cyanide. Of course, both of these fit the mould of potentially traumatic imagery and jump scares – and both have played on my mind long after I’ve turned the game off in any given session.
Family Dinner is different though, being text based. It relies on the power of the written word – along with the soundtrack – to create an oppressive and creepy atmosphere. A throwback to classic 80s text adventures, Family Dinner sees your character – whose vocation can be chosen at the outset, though not all displayed options are available yet (fittingly, the Journalist is going to be accessible as of October 31st!) – invited to a dinner at a spooky mansion. Upon arriving, it’s clear that things aren’t what they seem…
Without wishing to spoil the narrative, I’ll say no more about it. Suffice to say that the talented (and small!) development team have certainly succeeded in creating a suitably tense atmosphere. The writing is superb and the music accompanying the game is fantastic; it’s been a long time since I last played a text adventure, but I don’t recall ever encountering any text adventure game that’s as effectively atmospheric as Family Dinner.
Though it’s sometimes a little tough to work out where to go and what to do next, there’s some great in-game assistance (just type ‘Help’ as a command!) and the developers themselves are very receptive to cries for support – from players who may be a little rusty with their text adventure skills (naming no names of course *cough* Jason *cough*).
Family Dinner is well priced and offers a great experience that we don’t see enough of any more. It’s also a game that’s well suited for this time of year – with the autumnal nights drawing in and Halloween just around the corner.
Though it may not share the same attributes as a more visually-based scary game, the excellent writing goes a long way to ensuring that it can get under your skin just as effectively as a more ‘traditional’ horror title. The fact that it’s text based means that it’ll run on pretty much any PC without any issues too, which is definitely a selling point for those of us still lagging behind the times in terms of our PC setups.
Great stuff – and highly recommended for players looking for more cerebral scares than they may be used to.
Many thanks to Boto Alien for providing the game for review.
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