Halloween Scream is a stormy day dream


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It was a dark and stormy night…

Well, okay. It was day time… and it wasn’t stormy. It was just raining-whatever.

Wrapped in a blanket on a cold and blustery day I sat down on my couch to play Halloween Scream by Bandana Games. This is really the only way to play a game like this. Halloween Scream is a text only adventure game so it takes some effort on the player’s part to get into the mood. Effort I was happy to exert.

You control a nameless protagonist as they venture into Highmoor Manor to investigate the secret life of their deceased aunt. If I were to sum up the game in one word it would be “spooky”. This is my favorite kind of horror, it’s all about atmosphere and the anticipation of what lies in wait around the corner. No blood and guts, no cheap jump scares, and just enough humor to make the whole experience of being scared actually fun. This is a balance that many AAA games don’t grasp.

The game is minimalist and all about exploration, so if you need HD graphics and fighting to enjoy a game, this isn’t the game for you. But it was certainly the game for me. I was able to beat it one evening and I had a blast doing it. This is the type of game you’ll like if you’ve ever said the phrase, “I had to draw my own map, it was awesome.

But the game is not without flaws. The first thing to rub me the wrong way was up until one point, I was imagining myself in the part of the investigator. All of the text prompts refer to me as, “You” therefore I injected myself -gleefully- into the role of the player. It was reading like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Then at some point half way through the game they dropped in, “Besides, you’re more of a lager man anyway…”

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But…but…but I’M the protagonist. Meeeeee!

I admittedly whined like a baby, but it’s not that big a deal. I do wish they had kept it up to the player though. If you’re playing a set character it’s best to say, “You’re Ben Bonaparte. This ladies nephew. Go do the thing.” but if your text says “YOU” let it be me and don’t assume the player is male.  Next time, guys. Next time.

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There were also a couple times where the background was too light in places and it made it hard to read the text. But it was never illegible. The story was fun, interesting, and I spotted a lot of fun references that made me laugh and groan. However, at one point I felt I was at the end of the game, and then it took a sharp left turn sending me totally out of the environment I had been in for the entire game. Although the rest of the game was still fun (and included the draw your own map part) I felt this was a misstep.

In a haunted house story, there are only two characters: the protagonist and the house. The story is encapsulated entirely within that house and that allows for the atmosphere to envelope the player; to trap them in the scenario. Suddenly sending them outside of this environment breaks that atmosphere. I was still good, but not the same.

Despite these minor bumps, I would like to see more of these. Like a lot more. MORE OF THESE.

I recommend Halloween Scream to anyone who likes spooky stories and choose your own adventure books.

Conclusion: 4 out of 5 whining babies.

The Ghost


The Ghost
A short story inspired by urban legends from Japan.
by Magdalen Cochran

Alex eyed the cafe from across the street as she puffed the last of her cigarette. Margeux’s Cafe was on the corner of Fourth and Monroe, right across from the old Whiteside theatre. It had large open windows and through them she could see people sitting at small tables, drinking coffee and enjoying the free bandwidth. She frowned. The patrons looked clean cut and rich. The place stunk of the Junior League and PTA meetings. For a moment she regretted wearing her black jacket with studs in the shoulders. But quickly shrugged it off as she realized that a different jacket wasn’t going to conceal her tattoos, her earrings, or her flamingo pink hair. So fuck it. she thought. Then she spotted Maya sitting in the window. She saw her too and gave a big goofy wave. Jesus, she looks exactly the same. Alex thought as she stubbed out her cigarette and crossed the street. Maya’s long brown hair was pulled back with a cute headband, she wore a blue Rainbow Brite t-shirt and a pink plaid skirt with white shoes. Alex thought she even remembered this outfit from high school. Maya had emailed her a couple weeks ago, asking to get coffee and catch up.

She pushed open the door to Margeux’s and Maya bounded up her squealing. “Hey! Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s really you!” She threw her arms around her and Alex countered with kind of patient smile one would give a hysterical puppy. From far away, she really had looked like the same eighteen year old girl who she had graduated with. Now she could see the age much better. She was rounder, with a few subtle wrinkles just beginning to form around her mouth. But overall Maya was the same manic ray of sunshine she had always been. She spun in place, “I wore this outfit so you would recognize me,” she said and her eyes grew wide, “Wow, your hair is so short!” Alex ran her fingers self consciously through her shock of pink hair. “Yeah, it was longer back then. I think had it black for graduation.” Maya nodded in agreement as the two women walked back to the table where Maya had been sitting.

Alex sat down in the chair and unconsciously crossed her arms. She could tell Maya came here a lot, the barista had swirled a Hello Kitty into her latte foam. Alex had taken off right after graduation, moved to Portland and never looked back. Maya had stayed in their hometown and it showed. They couldn’t look more different and Alex thought they probably looked really strange sitting together. Alex was brooding and volatile, but Maya didn’t care. She never let anything pop her bubble of optimism and even though she was the squeaky clean princess type, Alex had to respect that she never seemed to judge people.

The two chatted for a while. Maya worked for the local Humane Society and sold handmade crafts online. Alex told her about her singing with Mi-go Love, a horror themed Rock band that had been touring up and down the West coast. Maya nodded excitedly as she blew on her latte, “Yeah, that’s why I picked this place.” she said with a grin. Alex paused and looked around the chic little cafe, it looked like the inside of any Starbucks. She looked back at Maya dubiously and stifled a laugh. Her companion blinked innocently, “Oh you haven’t heard about it?” then she gave an indulgent smile as if she was about to impart some juicy gossip. She leaned in closely, “It’s haunted.” she said. Now Alex really did laugh. She couldn’t tell if she thought it was cute that Maya was naïve enough to believe a ghost haunted a coffee shop, or just sad that her life had turned out so boring.

Maya waved her hands quickly, dismissing her skepticism.

“No I’m being totally serious! It’s true!” she said.

“This place is haunted, huh? Is the coffee really that bad?” Alex said and laughed again.

Maya smiled but looked at her pleadingly. Alex suddenly felt bad for teasing her and gave an apologetic nod.

“Okay, okay. So what, it’s like a disgruntled employee or something?”

“Oh no, nothing like that. It’s the ghost of someone’s twin.” Maya said quietly.

Alex was surprised. She had expected something more hokey.

“…Whose?”

“Well that’s the thing, no one knows. They say the living twin never even knew she had a sister. But because they’re twins, the girl’s spirit is stuck somewhere between the living and the dead.”

“…So now she haunts a coffee shop?” Alex had recovered a bit of her snarky confidence. But admittedly the story was not what she had expected.

Maya shrugged. “That’s what they say. I come here a lot and every once in a while I’ll see someone go white like-…”

“Like they’ve seen a ghost?” Alex finished.

“Well, yeah.”

Alex studied her for a moment. She thought Maya was probably the type of girl who read her horoscope in the paper. One who might see a palm reader or talk to you about your aura. But a pang of guilt struck her at this thought. Maya had been the only person from school who bothered to get in touch, and Alex thought she could probably stand not being such a bitch to her.

Maya sipped her coffee, carefully avoiding the Hello Kitty design. She put her cup down on the saucer and that’s when Alex noticed the distinct lack of clink. She paused for a moment. Looking around she saw people were tapping away and laptops, talking on phones, chatting with friends… and she couldn’t hear any of it. She put her finger in her ear and shook, thinking the last concert may have really done in her hearing. Nothing. Alex suddenly realized she was cold. The sun was shining outside, but inside the small cafe the world felt icy, even through her jacket. She was becoming concerned. Am I getting sick? she wondered. Maya seemed blissfully unaware that Alex couldn’t hear her and she continued to chatter away. Alex was about to interrupt her when she saw it.

There was a doorway at the other end of the cafe. A pale figure stood partly obscured by the frame, but Alex could see clearly it was a woman. The world seem to be going on around her in perfect silence. Maya was still talking, idly looking out the window. People came and went as usual. No one seemed to notice the young woman watching Alex from the doorway. She stared back, rooted in place. Her ears began to ring and her heart thudded in her chest. She could see half the girl’s face, her shoulder, and one thin arm that rested at her side. Slowly, the figure began to move into the doorway. A violent chill ran up Alex’s body as she watched the figure move. It was slow and unnatural like she was walking underwater. She looked like she was wearing a shapeless white dress or smock and dark hair drifted out behind her as she moved. The figure fluctuated between swimming through the air and sudden jerky movements that made Alex feel seasick. She stared frantically at Maya, hoping her expression of fear might prompt her stop talking, to look behind her…to see what Alex was seeing. But Maya was still oblivious despite she was looking straight at her now. Everyone in the room seemed unfazed. Whatever was happening was happening to Alex alone. She looked back to the figure who was now only a few feet away. Alex reared back so far in her seat she almost toppled over, but found that’s all she could do. She was paralyzed with fear and the ringing in her ears was getting louder.

The figure came forward with unblinking eyes. Alex’s mind was a flurry of panicked thoughts, but one realization pierced through the static. The figure looked like… Maya. The eyes were dead and lacked any glimmer of consciousness, but they were Maya’s eyes; her small nose, her round face. As she moved toward the table, in that hideously unnatural way, Alex realized the girl was not looking at her at all. The figure turned her gaze to her companion. She knelt beside her, watching her mouth words and gesture absentmindedly. Alex could see the girl’s feet were bare, and didn’t cast a shadow on the tile floor. the girl crouched there for a moment, stroking Maya’s hair and face. The ringing was so loud now Alex couldn’t think. Her hands and feet had gone numb and the seasickness was coming in nauseating waves. She was sure if she had to endure much more that she’d pass out completely.

All of the sudden the girl’s face was transformed. It twisted violently as if she was screaming, but no sound came out. She stood and slammed her hands down on the table which didn’t budge an inch. Her arm flung out wildly at the coffee cup but it passed right through. She stood still for a moment, her head bowed, shoulders heaving. The girl brought her frail little hands to the sides of her head and began to cry. Dark locks of hair whipped through the air as she shook her head. As she did, the cafe started to move and sway along with her. Alex clung to the table as it rocked back and forth. The ear-splitting ring was deafening now, it seems to radiate outward from the girl who was howling in impotent rage in front of her. Alex finally lost control and toppled out of the chair onto the undulating tile floor. Her stomach lurched and she tried not to vomit. But the movement suddenly stopped. Alex looked up to see the girl had stopped screaming, the fall from the chair had grabbed her attention and now she was looking straight at Alex. Her breath caught in her throat and Alex scrambled backward- colliding with the counter. It was her eyes that scared her the most. The irises were so big that she looked like a life-sized doll. The girl knelt again, swam through the air toward her on all fours. She brought her wide, unblinking eyes within a few inches of Alex’s terrified face and then opened her mouth. Her jaw dropped downward in a sickening way that was far too wide for the her small face. She was going to swallow her whole… and Alex was too deaf and sick from the mere closeness of her to do anything except watch it happen. The girl took one white hand and grabbed Alex’s arm.

“…Alex?” a small distant voice said.

Alex was back in her seat. The ringing faded and the gentle hum of the bustling cafe was back. The figure was gone. She blinked and looked down to see Maya was gently touching her arm.

“Are you okay, hon? You kind of space out there for a moment.” she said with a worried smile.

The nausea had subsided and the feeling had come back into her limbs. Alex stared at her for a moment, trying to find the words to describe what had just happened. But it was useless. She got up from her chair and hurried out of the cafe and down the block. Maya could only sit at the table exchanging awkward glances with the other patrons who had watched Alex flee the building.

The End.

HOME: the PC Horror game you’ve never heard of and should play


Prologue:

Despite my sugar pink exterior I am actually a huge fan of horror. I don’t know, maybe I just like contrast. But as someone who grew up with a love horror movies, literature, and cinema, I have acquired the same general sense of disappointment as many fans. The unrelenting march toward mediocrity: torture porn, jumps scares, and well, the new Silent Hill 3D movie just about sums it up. A once subtle and nuanced series swallowed and then regurgitated by a company that understands  about as much about horror as I do about quantum physics.

More and more fans are forced to turn to indie games made by small companies, or in this case, one person- Benjamin Rivers. He’s the creator of HOME and with a few minor complaints I would say it’s a huge success.

HOME: I almost forgot what subtlety looked like

The player starts the game as a man who wakes up in an unfamiliar house and it’s clear that something pretty terrible has gone down. He has no memory of how he got there. The player is then taken on the man’s journey as he tries to find his way back home (get it? hur hur) to his wife, Rachel. As you progress, you discover more about whats going on as he does.

The interface is extremely simple, which is great. When it comes to horror I will always prefer a game with a simple control scheme, having to memorize or fret over countless buttons can suck the atmosphere out of the room. The music is quiet and doesn’t get overly dramatic.

I feel like bigger companies have forgotten- or never hired anyone who knew- what is really genuinely scary. You can put 1,000 different filters on your stupid alien monster, I don’t fucking care. I’m not scared of your high poly zombie or your over designed boss battle. It’s. Not. Scary. And that is coming from someone who is scared of everything. No, seriously. I’m a big sissy, ask anyone.

What’s truly terrifying is the unknown. Losing your mind, accidentally making the wrong choice and getting yourself killed, or the slow and terrible realization that things aren’t what they seem. HOME takes a swing at this and for the most part succeeds. With a few minor slip ups, that is.

It’s not all rainbows and teddy bear smiles

Home isn’t perfect, one issue I found being that there is no save function. In fact there is no inventory, map, menu, or status screen on any kind. This was intention as the game is short and intended to be played in a single play through. But the problem is that this game has multiple diverging paths, and your actions effect what ending you get. When I got to the end I really wanted to go back to a previous save and try a different option, but I couldn’t. You need to replay the entire game from start to finish in order to make different choices. I was also wishing I had some way to re-read notes, letters, or scraps of evidence I picked up. For a game so focused on story and plot, it’s sorely lacking in any way to review the evidence you’ve found. The mechanics are sometimes iffy as well, the game does not always recognize when you’ve triggered an event, and sometimes that leads to some confused dialogue.

And I think the biggest complaint for those who have played it is how ambiguous it is. The ending, depending on your choices, can be nebulous and leave the player confused and disappointed. HOME regards itself as a game that doesn’t hold your hand, and requires the player to meet you half way in order to fully enjoy the story. That attitude is extremely refreshing in an industry hellbent on believing we are all drooling idiots who are incapable of connecting plot points, and would prefer it spoon fed to use- bib and all. Whether it succeeds at that is somewhat debatable. I would say it does- mostly. Because even though the ending I got was lacking, I found myself in bed later that night going over it again and again with my boyfriend.

“Maybe it was like THIS. Or considering this evidence, like THIS!” This went on for about two hours, and despite any mechanical issues or fuzziness of direction- there are few games today that are capable of triggering such an in depth analysis. We had as much fun after the game was over trying to work out different scenarios as we did playing the game itself. And shit, that’s worth a measly 2.99 on Steam.

Recommend it?

Yes. If you like horror, you will at the very least appreciate the valiant effort of HOME. If you roll your eyes at the latest movie trailers, if you think Resident Evil stopped being scary years ago, and that Silent Hill was better before the damn sexy nurse thing became a thing. Then yes, give Benjamin Rivers 3 dollars and play his game. If not, stop reading because we’re not friends anymore.

XOXO –  Maggie