Horror games are a dime a dozen these days, so it’s really weird that the slasher sub-genre is so rarely represented in the medium. Sure, you have stealth games where you must hide from the killer, but they lack that certain element that makes old slashers…well, old slashers. We have games like Dead By Daylight, although that has an emphasis on mechanics over atmosphere. No, the sub-genre is scarce in gaming, which makes the general output of indie developer Puppet Combo stand out even more, and their latest game Murder House is proof positive of how to make a slasher movie work as a single player video game.
For those that don’t know, Puppet Combo has been releasing small-scale horror games that take heavy inspiration from slasher movies on Itch.io for quite a few years now. While there is some supernatural stuff thrown in for good measure, most of their games tend to be a variation on hide and seek, where you must run around solving puzzles and exploring the environment while avoiding an exceptionally lethal killer. I personally have played the very short Power Drill Massacre and have yet to beat Babysitter Bloodbath. But even though I have yet to beat the latter, Murder House still feels like a refinement of what came before.
Following a brief—but rather frightening—prologue, where you control a young boy with awful hair whose fate is already sealed, Murder House puts you in the shoes of Emma as they investigate the home of someone known as the Easter Ripper. The Easter Ripper turned himself in, but Emma and the news crew she’s with have decided to see if they can find anything else about the horrific murders he committed. Being the crew’s intern/boom mike operator, Emma has to do all the leg work in getting them in to the house. You can guess where things go from there.
Gameplay wise, Murder House is a very small-scale throwback to the very early days of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The camera is in fixed locations around the environment, and changes every so often to a new, disorienting angle. Tank controls are used to offset these jarring changes in perspective, and there’s no option to turn them off. Personally, I really don’t mind this play style, but many hate it, so that might turn you off the game right there. And yeah, movement feels clumsy and imprecise, but that just adds to the intensity when the action kicks in.
Instead of a giant mansion or haunted town, you have a very focused and centralized location to explore in the form of the Easter Ripper’s house. Like the best survival horror games, you’ll come across various locked rooms and drawers in the beginning that you’ll come back to later. Sometimes these have weapons, but most times they have items that are critical to progressing through the game. Despite aping old slasher movies, the game is surprisingly lax, allowing the player to get a good bearing on where they are, and what the setup of the house is like, before introducing the Easter Ripper into gameplay.
But rest assured, this vicious killer does come eventually. After the brief but chilling prologue (which features a cameo by famous YouTuber Jacksepticeye), the player knows to expect this purple bunny gone bad, but his arrival still manages to be frightening every time. This is in large part due to the exceptional sound design; the soundtrack is a lovely mixture of synth and more intense industrial stuff, and it ramps up at certain points to something that sounds like screaming. The poor sound quality somehow makes it even scarier, like some perverse uncanny valley effect for your ears. Even during some of the slower moments, the sound gets under your skin and makes it so you never feel completely safe. And why should you when the Easter Ripper could be lurking right around the corner?
The visuals are deliberately rough, but like the sound design, their overall lack of polish actually makes the game much scarier. Everything you witness just feels…wrong. More wrong than if the game had state of the art graphics, and even though the character models look worse than in Thief: The Dark Project, the kills are still supremely disturbing thanks to the mixture of sound design and how liberal this game is with its blood. It feels like you’re playing out a really low quality slasher movie with bad effects, but somehow, this only adds to the horror. You feel dirty just watching it, and have plenty of options when it comes to customizing the visuals. There are different filters for VHS enthusiasts to use, and most make everything really blurry. Still, it’s a neat option to have.
You get to know the layout of the house intimately by the time you reach the game’s end, and the tasks you’re given to get there are pretty standard stuff for the genre. Find this item in room A, bring it to room B to get key C. There were times where it felt like I was stumbling around in the environment, but I was never stuck for too long, which was nice. It let the scares come at a steady pace. They’re not overdone, meaning they pretty much always land when they need to. The same can be said for the game as a whole; it took me about two and a half hours to beat my first time through, and I would imagine it would be much shorter on a second run. To me, the small location lets this brevity work in the game’s favor. It never feels dragged out and you’re constantly progressing.
That does lead to the biggest sticking point with the game. At full price, it’s about twelve dollars on Steam (although as of the time of this writing, it’s about ten). That’s pretty steep for a game that takes a maximum of three hours to get through, but to me it was worth it to support a developer who is doing something that no one else is. I viewed it almost like buying a really cheap horror movie for the night, and in that sense, it feels more than justified.
At the end of the day, you play a game like this for the genuinely disturbing and scary atmosphere it builds. Even though it apes old ’80s slashers, it manages to be legitimately scary where that sub-genre often wasn’t thanks to superb sound design and visuals that make you feel gross. Its story is entertaining, and also unafraid to go to some really dark places with some of the discoveries you make later on (the Easter Ripper did, after all, murder children). You could argue that Puppet Combo repeats themselves too often with their games since the majority of them are hide and seek style slashers, but it’s difficult to argue against how unnerving and intense the end result usually is. Murder House is a rather brief, but oh-so-sweet love letter to a bygone era, and it manages to overcome the flaws of the sub-genre its aping by being legitimately scary.
Murder House is now available on Steam.