A typical horror game will consist of jump scares, visually scary creatures, suspenseful story and eerie atmospheres. Majority of what gives you the chills is what you witness is going on within the world of the game and feeling yourself immersed in the land of terror. You see monsters, shadows, movements, lights, darkness, tools, objects, puzzles, and so much more. Thus the number one concern for most horror developers is the visual aspect.
But, what if we took a step outside of the visual horror box and took a look around at what other options we have? The first thing that comes to mind, for me, is the audio. The sound of the monsters closing in or trying to listen to small queue's that tell you to run or hide. The music and sound effects of different sections of the game play big roles as well.
Dark Echo was created by RAC7 Games and it is a blind horror puzzle game. Now, what is "blind horror puzzle" as a genre? The game is played where all you see is a black screen, or white if you complete the first half of the game, and there are a set of footprints. The footprints are you and when you move, sound waves echo off of you and resonate in the hallway, or room, you are in. This is your only visual for where to go.
In order to uncover the layout, whether the path is safe, water or dangerous you must move around or clap your hands to have the sound waves resonate and reveal the room with the color coding: white is safe, blue is water, yellow is an activation panel (or key) and red is dangerous. Taking a step on any red area will instantly kill you, taking a step on yellow will open a door or activate a section of the level, and when you go in the blue areas your character will be swimming. The reason it matters is that the enemies react only to sound. If you walk slowly they can not hear you and if you are in the water, going slow just lessens the spread of the sound but will not be muted.
The game was fun to play and often challenging. It was interesting to play a brand new style of puzzle and I agree it goes under horror. Even without nothing more than a few color coded lines, when you saw a small shadow ball with red lines splaying all over, it got you nervous. It was great that many of the puzzles required manipulating enemies locations by making a loud noise in one place and quietly sneaking around to avoid it and reach the level's destination.
As far as challenging, the early puzzles had a good way of showing how to play the game and each level was titled with a hint of what to expect in the level, or what to do in some. Every level was a guessing game though. I would always start with a clap to look at the layout and see which direction to start heading, and it was a nervous start every time since that is exactly how to get the levels enemies to come at you. Many of my deaths did fall victim to being unable to see how close to the red areas I was when I have to sneak around. It had a good balance of enemies nearby and an environmental challenges.
My favorite levels to play were the ones with moving pillars all around the room. With death pits (square sections of red color coding) in the center of the path for many pillars, being pushed into the pits was an easy task. In order to see the pillar movements you must make noise constantly and see the different sound bouncing distance. And each noise is only one time frame, so even after clapping 10 times in a row the location the pillar is currently in will be different each time but you will be able to start seeing it's pattern and how fast it is moving. This was the greatest challenge in the game.
I also thought it was interesting that after you beat the levels in the dark, you are tasked with levels in light. While the levels are mostly the same except with an extra enemy(ies) and an extra challenging section of the level, they were still fun to play through. The images on the right is the same level in dark and in light.
However, I thought it was a little bit of an upset that when the levels switch from the dark to light you find that the levels are exactly the same in name, layout and goal. The only difference is that there is sometimes an extra enemy or an added obstacle. I was hoping there were going to be different enemies to avoid or just a whole new set of levels that will be continuing to get harder in difficulty from where you left off after completing the dark levels.
Here's the trailer for the game:
The game was fun and challenging in a new way that was interesting and different. I hope to see more games with an innovative concept o what makes a challenge and what they want the players to do. It was great to experience a whole new approach to horror puzzle and look forward to seeing what else RAC7 Games will come out with.