Saturnalia is not a very lengthy game, but it surely has spent for much longer occupying my ideas. Any time up to now couple of weeks that my mates and colleagues thought they have been speaking to me, they have been in reality speaking to an beautiful Italian neon-folk horror game sporting my pores and skin and looking of the eye-holes in my cranium. On not less than one event I lay in mattress at 3am, sweaty and frozen in half-asleep worry, as a result of I believed I’d heard a wierd rattling noise…
In reality it was not stillness, however the panic-sprint into darkness that turned my major and oft-unsuccessful tactic at any time when I heard the creature of Gravoi. Gravoi itself is a small however inconveniently maze-like fictional Sardinian city, host to a yearly people pageant that, sometimes, entails the unwary being carried off and killed by a… one thing. Unfortunately, 4 very unwary outsiders – rendered outsiders for quite a lot of causes, whether or not they’re locals or not – discover themselves having to outlive the evening of this pageant, armed with issues like matches, firecrackers and a polaroid digital camera.
You management every of the 4 in a collaborative effort to get the hell out of dodge, and may select to journey alone or in a small group – however extra individuals make extra noise to alert the aforementioned rattling creature. I largely elected to go solo, as a result of I’m a ratfuck coward. Your little Scooby Gang have completely different talents: Anita has a map of the mines, and may memorise the path to any location in Gravoi that you’ve got discovered; Paul has a flash digital camera; Claudia can squeeze by way of small gaps; Sergio has a satellite tv for pc telephone to name for assist nearly anyplace (an actual coup in 1989).
Each, too, has their very own private aim that it will be good to realize earlier than they depart. Anita is having an affair with a neighborhood, and would really like
horrible revenge? to sq. that triangle. Paul was adopted out of city as a toddler and desires to seek out out about his delivery dad and mom. Ticking off the issues on everybody’s to do record and escaping Gravoi may take you, ooh, possibly six hours, relying by yourself tendency in the direction of ratfuck cowardice, and you could possibly elect to depart some issues unresolved.
That’s six hours truly in game, after all, and doesn’t take note of time spent e.g. noping again to desktop to hearken to unhappy acoustic songs about ladies not eager to kiss you and covers of Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls to settle down. Every time you allow a secure space to step into Gravoi, you are weak to the unusual masked, creeping creature, heralded by a horrible shivering rattle – someplace between bells and a Rainstick – that comes nearer and nearer till you see its silhouette. This is the place I’d lose the run of myself and, reasonably than distracting the creature by shoving some firecrackers in a bin, or discovering someplace to cover, would careen off in a random path and get misplaced.
Every foray into Gravoi turned an train in psyching myself up, and a weighing of value vs. profit. I do fairly need to test the infirmary within the mine, but additionally I actually don’t need to return into the mine. I turned intensely paranoid, satisfied that I ought to gentle as few little bonfires round city as doable in case the factor may see me higher, and crept round within the darkness at a strolling tempo. The music and sound design is great, and each time I heard a door slam or one thing crackle within the undergrowth
or a bizarre hum kicked in on the soundtrack I bought just a little extra on edge. There are even methods, with out spoiling something, that the creature turns into one way or the other much more upsetting the longer you play. And the worst half is that typically you are there, all keyed up adrenalinised, and the bastard will not present up! The nerve!
Quite usually, as a result of I’d panic, I bought backed right into a lifeless finish and was caught. When that occurs you’re taking management of one of many different characters, and have an opportunity to free your pal. But if all 4 of the group get bought then, although you retain your progress with the story, the structure of Gravoi is shuffled. Saturnalia has a literal monster, however the metaphorical one is the city.
Saturnalia is completely stunning to take a look at. Gravoi is a group of blocky, Brutalist-ish (probably the most horrifying but sexiest of all architectural types) homes in deep shadow, punctuated by brilliant neons that flare up within the evening, typically clashing with the pink mist that blooms and recedes like a tide, or a heartbeat. Everyone and factor in Gravoi seems to be prefer it was drawn in pencil, so that you simply would not be stunned if the creature ran previous with Morten Harket over its shoulder, and it is an ideal base to obtain sudden washes of color. The design takes inspiration from theatre units and giallo horror films, however is not making an attempt to truly be both of them – which suggests Saturnalia finally ends up feeling extra cinematic and theatrical than games that strive a lot tougher to take action.
There’s no menu or HUD map, so it’s important to use in-game map boards scattered by way of the city to seek out issues. After a whilst you get to know the place your cardinal places are – the church, the intense blue lights of the pharmacy,
the horrible altar, the yellow home windows of the city corridor. It is genuinely disorientating when the city adjustments, and also you not have any sense of which is precisely the fallacious option to run. And but typically I contemplated intentionally sacrificing my remaining characters, as a result of Anita had been taken and he or she had a map of the mines…
Gravoi is a small city, however advanced. Some places aren’t proven on the map boards, however are nonetheless necessary to recollect, and are cleverly marked with, say, a selected little bit of graffiti or recogniseable sound. You want to seek out instruments to open up some areas, mini-puzzles in themselves. You can acquire cash to make use of in merchandising machines, or you could possibly throw them in a wishing nicely, or put your hand within the Mouth Of Truth carving you will discover on a wall – a notably unsettling factor in a game stuffed with unsettling issues. For the courageous, the intensive mine community working underneath the entire city can be utilized as a shortcut to a couple completely different areas.
It makes use of the mines too I used to be not very courageous.
Like most small cities, Gravoi has a fancy sort of social hierarchy, and as you play you additionally uncover the way you’re speculated to behave when you dwell in Gravoi. You construct up a fancy internet of interlocking clues and occasions by discovering letters, outdated images, or diaries kicked underneath beds, and may choose nexus factors in a menu to see which issues hyperlink collectively. Eventually you see how the city is so hostile to outdoors affect, to alter, to deviation from what is taken into account regular, that they’ve actually taken ‘higher the satan you understand’ to an excessive. The writing succeeds in making all of it unusually poignant; you get the sense that many locals are trapped. It’s not a pleasant place to go to, and also you would not need to dwell there both.
Saturnalia although? That’s an expertise you need to have. More and extra I discover myself skulking across the edges of the bell curve, searching for uncommon issues that provoke uncommon emotions. Saturnalia is one. It’s a pulse-raising, shiver-making, darkish little whisper; a stupendous game. Sometimes tiny issues go just a little fallacious in Saturnalia – dialogue triggering at barely the fallacious second – however you will hardly discover. It’s a uncommon game that unsettles you sufficient to cease taking part in, however attracts you sufficient that you simply flip it again on nearly instantly. A uncommon game that is so unapologetically particular, that does not appear to have diluted any a part of itself. Rarest of all is a game that is really distinctive, and makes you suppose “I have not performed something like this earlier than.”