The Charnel House Trilogy – A brief triple pack of mysteries – Review

Gare – Tuesday, April 21, 2015 11:36 PM
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The name of Owl Cave may very well sound familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention to the indie point & click adventure scene: their short, free-to-download train mystery Sepulchre came out all the way back in 2013, with the team later revealing that there was more in the works. In fact, as it turned out, Sepulchre would end up being the middle part of a larger narrative, titled The Charnel House Trilogy – the very game I’m about to discuss.

The Charnel House Trilogy consists of three main episodes – and indeed, it would be misleading to label them as separate games, for what we’re dealing with here are really just three chapters of the same interconnected adventure. Still, in the now-completed – or not-so-completed, but I’ll address that later – package, we have Inhale, which serves as a prequel to the events of Sepulchre; then there’s Sepulchre itself; and finally, Exhale, the last bit. Inhale introduces you to Alex Davenport, the game’s primary protagonist (at least, the one you’ll be controlling for most of the adventure) and sheds some light on her personal life and circumstances. Sepulchre follows from the end of Inhale, now with Dr. Harold Lang in the lead – this is the story you know from the free version –, while Exhale goes into some more detail regarding Alex’s story, bringing it to its haunting conclusion as she rides a train that seems to hold its fair share of secrets.

A delightfully disturbing train ride

The game, much like Sepulchre was back then, is a solid attempt at horror through sheer atmosphere, writing and storytelling, as opposed to loud jump scares and mountains of gore. The writing is competent, the music is excellent, and the artwork – which may very well remind you of the Blackwell series – does its job in setting the eerie, somewhat Shining-esque mood. There’s a certain sense of unease taking hold of the player, one that grows stronger and stronger as progress is made, especially in Sepulchre: some scenes are deliberately confusing and unsettling to put you on edge, with the end result turning out to be a delightfully chilling blend of the real and the surreal. The voice acting is, though not quite perfect, is decent enough, with well-known game critic Jim Sterling’s performance as Robert Crowe being one of the more enjoyable – and memorable – ones to me personally.

Missing pieces of the puzzle

However, I can still only give The Charnel House Trilogy a moderate recommendation at best – and this is where we come back to the bit where I said the game didn’t quite feel complete. Despite being a trilogy of sorts, your brief paranormal escapades aboard the old train will, by the time the credits begin to roll, leave you with plenty of questions. The game is sufficiently symbolic in its storytelling, encouraging you to work out theories and look for metaphors and clues in everything happening around you to try and piece together what just happened – or better yet, why it all happened. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. You do reach some form of a conclusion by the end, and Exhale is particularly enjoyable in this aspect: with its disturbing final scenes and revelations, it stands as the definite high point of the trilogy, reminding us that some boogeymen are very much human. However, by the end of it all, one can’t shake the feeling that The Charnel House Trilogy is merely a prologue of the game proper – one that’s still in the making, apparently –, with a larger story at work in the background – this fact is further evidenced by a brief shot following the cliffhanger-y finale that teases a new installment in the series to arrive sometime in 2016.

The Charnel House Trilogy feels like prologue-material in both content and length, as the full adventure will probably not take more than 2 or so hours for most people to complete – it is a decently well-made prologue, all things considered, but still a prologue nonetheless, which may disappoint some. Additionally, those looking for complex puzzles are not going to find it here: the game manages to hold your hand and guide you swift and sure along its intended path, making it more or less obvious which items are needed to be used and where. For those wishing to just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere without getting stuck, though, this may indeed be a blessing in disguise.

A decent choice for fans of horror

All in all, I got the feeling that there was plenty more to uncover and plenty more to explain – if my predictions are correct, the aforementioned new game, scheduled to be released next year, is going to be doing much of the explaining, hopefully sooner than later. Still, that fact alone does not automatically invalidate the whole of The Charnel House Trilogy – with its low price point, it offers a sufficiently creepy ride aboard an old train, even if it does roll the credits disappointingly early. I can’t say I’m 100% satisfied with what I got, but at the end of the day, I can still more or less recommend the game to horror fans as a decent time-killer for a slow evening, provided they don’t set their expectations too high.

----> The Charnel House Trilogy on Steam

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