The Empty Inn – Bite-sized pixel horror – Review

Gare – Wednesday, May 13, 2015 11:16 PM
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I first talked about The Empty Inn around the time it was announced – an indie horror-exploration game designed to look like a game from the 8-bit era. Created by the one-man team of Candlelight Studios, The Empty Inn gives you a lamp and not much else as you explore the titular, abandoned inn. And that’s more or less what happens: you arrive on a stormy night and off you go, trying to unlock every single door in the house. There’s not much of an active storyline to The Empty Inn, aside from a few instances of text popping up on-screen, so exploration is really what you’ll be doing during the vast majority of your brief, 15-20 minute stay at the inn – that is roughly how long it took me to get through the adventure.

Find a key, open a door, rinse and repeat

I will admit: the retro 8-bit aesthetic, though simplistic, did have a certain charm to it, as the innocent-looking art style creates a sufficiently eerie contrast with what’s actually happening in-game. My major gripe with the title, instead, is that it feels a bit like a tech demo, so to speak – a proof of concept, if you will – to a potentially bigger, more fleshed-out game that’s nowhere to be found here. Disregarding the length of the game itself (a short game can still be a good game, after all), The Empty Inn’s gameplay focuses entirely on searching every nook and cranny of the map for keys – this isn’t especially difficult if you click on everything –, which you would then use to open more doors and progress further. Occasionally, there’s a button or two to be pressed, but that’s more or less it – for players hoping for intricate puzzle-solving, The Empty Inn will most likely not scratch that itch.

Matches aplenty

The game’s core mechanic revolves around your lantern, the light of which diminishes rapidly as you explore – and by rapidly, I mean *rapidly*. It doesn’t take long before you’ll start desperately looking for a set of matches to keep your lamp lit – and once your lamp starts to lose its power, the boogeymen of the place come out of hiding to try and catch you. And while this mechanic does lend a decent sense of urgency to the gameplay (with the first few instances of an enemy suddenly appearing near me being quite startling), the inn itself is riddled with matches wherever you go: as such, I barely ever found myself in any real danger, and even when a monster did pop up, I managed to banish it soon enough by finding some matches. This being the case, the monsters themselves pose little danger and are hardly terrifying, being nothing more than ghost-like beings that float your way and deal some damage if they hit you, only to disappear afterwards. Storyline-wise, there’s not much to speak of, really: a few notes here, one or two cryptic messages and ghost-scares there, then the abrupt ending happens once you reach the final room, leaving you probably more confused than anything.

A horror game without the horror

Overall, The Empty Inn was – unfortunately – a horror game that didn’t quite scare me all that much, with puzzles that weren’t really puzzles at all, and a story that wasn’t entirely there. It might be worth a look if the classic, NES-era art style fascinates you – it does look delightfully authentic –, and its price is low enough, so it’s hardly a huge investment by any means. It is a decent attempt at creating some retro horror atmosphere, particularly from a lone developer; still, I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing: that more could’ve been done with the premise and mechanics, that the story could’ve been more pronounced. Take the brilliant The Witch’s House, for instance: a shining example of an exploration-centric, puzzle-solving horror game that remains minimalistic in terms of visuals but still manages to tell a memorable – and genuinely terrifying – story. I wish I could’ve seen something along the lines of that in Candlelight Studios’ latest offering, but sadly, I was left disappointed.

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