Taking to the horror genre is a difficult act for some developers. They have to make an interesting story, new events that don't mimic or copy another games, create in-game objectives for the players to complete that aren't repetitive, and make monsters that are as visually scary as they are mechanically. Not being able to keep a players attention tends to happen from monsters not being scary due to predictability or just not visually scary, a repetitive task that occurs too much, lack of depth in the story or doesn't offer something new.
A few of these things were my issues from Threatening Sleep, but the game is not all bad. I will separate the positive and negative sides of the game in this review, much like a pro and con list. So now I am left with the universal question: Do I give you the good news or the bad news first?
Let's start with telling you what Threatening Sleep is. It's an indie horror game that was developed and created by Davide Winchester. As a solo developer, he created his first two games: Cursed Valley and Threatening Sleep. Both games are his beginning work in the horror genre and are relatively similar in mechanic and play style. You must collect an item, avoid the monster and reach the goal. The map is randomly generated in the sense of item, monster and goal locations; not by layout. So every attempt will be different and no two playthroughs of the game will be similar to each other.
From the start of the game, you wake up on the couch of what appears to be your home. But, for it being your home, it is awfully dirty; much like it has been abandoned. But don't you live there? If not, then why am I here in the first place? Also, there is no narrative or cut scene to tell you any bits of story or information. Even the objectives must be found by pausing the game and clicking on the "objective" option. The objective should just be displayed and told to the players from the moment the level starts.
The first objective is to follow the sounds that are in the house. Problem is, the volume is turned to about mid-level because the game's main menu music was loud and now that sound is my queue for what to do next, the volume is turned way down in-game. So, now we have to turn the volume knob up so I can hear the small sounds. While following the sounds, you find a few scares including a creepy guy sitting in a chair near the bathroom that does nothing when you get right up next to him and something standing in the window which, again, doesn't react to the player. Why do we just see things that don't affect you, come at you, look at you, respond to you or anything?
Moving forward to Chapter 3, we find ourselves in a hallway with the objective to be "burn 6 sets of bones" with no explanation in narration or notes. Then you begin to look for the bones and by the time you find the first set, the monster of this chapter will be right on you where you need to run away. Here's the problem, the monster takes up the whole hallway, so unless you find a room to drag the monster in to and then run around it, there is no way to go around or run away from the monster, making this level incredibly difficult. Seeing how early in the game we are and the only other chapter with a monster in it can be beaten without running in to the monster at all, this is a little hardcore. This same objective is found later on in the game, in Chapter 8, and that setting is outside. These two chapters map layouts should be switched.
Now we are on Chapter 9, the last section of the game. Here we are suddenly given a cross with simple instructions on what button to push to use the cross and a count down timer on the top screen. Checking the objective, I see that the goal is to simply survive the time and try to find a way out. My first act was to test the use of the cross on a monster, so I went and found one. As the monster comes at you, you use the cross and the monster turns away from you and turns out they will still grab you if your back is turned while the cross is out. Obviously, the cross is meant to give us protection and after the use there is a "recharge" time where you can't use the cross. My problem with the cross is that it doesn't even work every time. I had tested it a few times after the first attack from the front while I had the cross out and I would say about 80% of the time, the cross works great, but there is about a 20% chance the one tool that is supposed to give you protection for roughly five to ten seconds won't have any effect on the monster.
Overall issues is that when you run, the speed is barely faster than walking. This makes it hard to tell if we are going fast enough to get away from the monsters, as it is a chasing game, and to see if our character experiences fatigue at all. Another problem is that the transitions between chapters seem to be suddon and don't follow a usual map. While this would be fine if there was some explanation as to why, there is no narration or notes to find. The lack of information and story makes the chapter transitions seem like out-of-place jumps. Also, majority of the monsters looks similar with a different make up style or outfit. The range is black cloak, dark grey shirt and pants or a black cloak with blade wings; blade wings being in Chapter 2. The variety needed to be worked on to make the monsters a little more unique. There was only one monster that differed from the rest and I call him a "Crawler" because he is a humanoid with a big head, no shirt and pulls himself across the ground with his arms, crawling.
Chapter 1, the intro, may be typical, but it is the only chapter that is set up with a "ooh, what was that?" type scare tactic to it. Chapter 2 is the start of what the game really is; a map with a monster and goal that is randomly generated on the map giving you a new path to take to avoid the monster and find the key. The monster gives an initial scare due to it's size.
The best section of the game was Chapters 4 through 6. Without spoiling it with details, this is where Winchester showed he knew how to build your anticipation and really use it against you. Chapters 4 and 5 will have you searching for where to go next and keep you on your toes as you look around corners, expecting the next monstrosity at any moment. After you make it through those chapters, you will start out in Chapter 6 with expectations raised from how the last couple chapters played out. Again, a vaguely explained objective, working in Winchester's favor this time, simply says to find the door and listen for the second sound. Unsure what this means, you go through a labyrinth style hallway with very sharp turns, anticipation rising. Then when you finally get to the door, after not seeing an enemy for awhile, you try to open the door and a loud horn honks and now you know, you need one more honk to get through that door. Now you are left standing at the door, knowing full well that monsters are coming since they must of heard the horn blare.
Chapters 7 and 8 are in a more open style map. Taking you out of closed in hallways and throwing you into city streets as you attempt to complete the objectives. Now you have room to actually maneuver and avoid the monsters as they attempt to chase you while you complete the tasks at hand. This is a better way to have it set up since the monsters are so large and the players need more room to go around and get away.
The ending had an interesting twist to it as well. While there was no dialog, narration or story to follow during the game, the ending cut scene gives a sense of understanding before quickly bringing you back to hopeless confusion as you witness the events leading up to the final shot of Threatening Sleep. I do not want to spoil anything for those that still want to play, but the ending of the game was a pretty good way to wrap it all up and shows you who the real enemy of the game is.
The game has some good and bad qualities, but this is a good show of progress from an independent developer that is trying to produce some good games for the horror genre. Winchester is working on more games and has a free game called Cursed Valley up on his GameJolt, in the same profile as Threatening Sleep. I hope that there will be improvement in the games coming later from Winchester and that he can see this review as constructive criticism.
While the game was only $2, I expected a little more. Where's the story? Why am I in this situation? There are so many things that the events in the game could mean and the transitions would seem smoother with a story reasoning to go behind the seemingly random scenes and goals.