It’s no secret that lofi horror is in these days, and it’s easy to see why. I assume that 2D art is much easier to pull off for indie developers than full 3D graphics, and generally speaking that format allows for creative use of atmosphere to get around budget limitations. Results are usually a mixed bag (IMSCARED is absolutely terrifying, while The Crooked Man is kind of mediocre), but generally 2D horror done right can be extremely effective in the right hands. Enter developer panstasz’s World of Horror, which entered Early Access on Steam recently.
Touting itself as a throwback Adventure/RPG hybrid, World of Horror sees the player investigate strange happenings around town due to the invasion of an eldritch force. At the time of this writing, you can have five different mysteries pop up in a play through, and there are ten total to choose from. You can choose your character, each with different starting stats and level-up perks. The goal is to solve the mysteries while gathering information about whatever deity is trying to force its way into our reality.
It’s a great set up, albeit one that is extremely similar to another indie horror game with Lovecraftian elements called The Consuming Shadow. That game has an extremely similar premise, with you going to various locations on a given run to try and find clues that will ultimately defeat whatever deity is haunting the world that time. Whereas The Consuming Shadow is more focused on environmental exploration and combat, World of Horror is much more of a point and click adventure game.
The UI is overwhelming at first, with loads of tabs and information on screen at any given time. Upon first booting the game up, it’s a lot to take in, but it only took me one failed playthrough to come to terms with the layout and objectives. Essentially, you investigate different locations and doing so causes a random event to occur. These can be anything from encountering a priest who needs help lifting things to running into a woman with a rib cage for a face. Performing these actions raises the “Doom” stat, which is how close to the eldritch being’s emergence you are.
This is where the roguelite nature of the game rears its head. There are many ways for events to play out, mostly determined by skill checks. It can feel frustrating when a skill check fails despite being high in a given stat. It does encourage replayability, though. Different events can occur depending on the location, and investigating specific locations move the given case forward. There’s a constant sense of risk and reward that comes from exploring.
Stat management is a huge part of the gameplay, as well. In addition to your Stamina, you have to monitor your Reason and make sure your character remains as healthy as possible. You might stumble across a spell in a library that can deal damage to an enemy but costs Reason. If either your Reason or Stamina fall to zero, it’s game over, with your character going insane in the former and outright dying in the latter. Almost every decision has some kind of effect either positive or negative (often times both), which keeps you on your toes.
This risk/reward plays out further in your purchases. Funds are scarce, but you can turn in experience to the police for money, which allows you to purchase various items from different places. Of course, this prevents you from leveling up, which applies permanent buffs to your character, as well as useful perks. The default difficulty isn’t too taxing, but it’s challenging enough that these decisions all feel weighty and important. After all, you never know when something might jump out and attack you, forcing confrontation.
Said combat is fairly simple, with different actions consuming “time” each turn. You can just swing away with your weapon and try your luck, but there’s a strong chance of missing if you do that. However, you can prepare using a move that eats up a lot of time but guarantees that the next attack will hit. I haven’t run into anything that really made me sweat to fight, but it’s still a solid strategic foundation for classic turn based combat in this day and age.
The gameplay foundation is rock solid, as is the story, or rather stories. As I mentioned above, there is a pool of ten potential cases that can pop up during a given playthrough, and each one holds a creepy mystery to solve. One sees the player investigating the mansion of a dead uncle, performing a funerary service that can go horribly awry. Another has them investigate bizarre circumstances in their own apartment building, seemingly caused by a mysterious pipe leading to the basement. Each one is a fairly effective, disturbing tale bolstered by great art work that manages to be both detailed and vague enough to let the player fill in the blanks. It’s accompanied by a chip tune sound track that manages to be both relaxing and unnerving when it needs to be.
The biggest complaint I have against the game is the fact that it’s Early Access right now. In game achievements hint at future content updates, and they seem like they’ll really help give the game some longevity. For instance, there are achievements for completing the game with “different timeline backstories,” which means that there is likely going to be brand new scenarios and, most likely, cases to solve. From what I’ve seen, shop inventories don’t change much between playthroughs, which makes build variety feel somewhat limited. I can see myself doing a few more playthroughs just to see each case the game has to offer, as well as confront the different entities at the end. There are already a variety of ways that things can play out, but the journey to get there might wear thin after a few playthroughs, which can lead to the $15 price tag feeling a bit steep.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for the game’s future, though. There’s already a strong horror atmosphere at play that mixes lofi visuals with challenging, randomly generated RPG gameplay. The random elements, while frustrating at times, really add a lot to each play through, and the idea of expanding into different scenarios with new characters and cases to solve means that this has the ability to become something very special. As it is, this is a solid start to what could turn out to be a special entry in the niche horror-RPG genre.
World of Horror is now available through Steam.