Monday, November 18, 2013

The Madness: Puzzle horror

Here's my sister Andrea's review of a recently released Ren'py game. It's the first time I've seen Ren'py used to make a puzzle game, and I was impressed. Here's her take:

What does it mean to be insane? Perhaps you’ve heard that it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Or perhaps you know the legal definition:
Insanity. n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

The Madness, a free psychological horror/puzzle game by Gliese Productions, explores both those definitions as you dwell in the mind of the disturbed protagonist.  As you change reality to match memories of the past, you start to uncover the awful truth…

Its puzzles, based on interacting with items in the environment, sometimes require connecting information from several clues.  Most are challenging; a few are maddeningly difficult.  Choosing one of the easier difficulty levels allows the player to skip some of the harder puzzles, but then they have to live with not knowing the solution.

Just as if you really were inside the protagonist’s head, there is very little exposition, but item descriptions and narrative subtly convey hints about the true reason for the madness and the protagonist’s character.  

While the puzzles are creative and challenging, where the game really excels is its ability to make the player not just notice madness, but to feel it. The game’s creepy sketches and evocative music also elucidate solutions to puzzles and unnerve the player.  

There’s only one thing that prevents me from whole-heartedly recommending this game, and that is the ending.  Though it makes sense and gives closure, it is disturbing and disheartening.  I certainly can’t recommend this game for anyone with trauma triggers, or who is sensitive to horrifying and/or depressing content.  But if you are yearning for a taste of dark insanity, The Madness delivers.