I’m in trouble. I’m home alone whilst writing this review and just heard a creak down the corridor. It’s 1am and I haven’t eaten dinner; the lights aren’t on in the kitchen downstairs. As I type away under my duvet, I wonder why I’ve done it to myself. I knew I should have played Mario instead.
At its heart Pineview Drive is a basic concept. Throughout each level – with the exception of the last – players are required to complete almost identical tasks within the exact same location. With 30 levels to compete with, this lack of differentiation can become mundane. Its story isn’t gripping either, and upon completion players may find themselves with more questions than answers. But what the game may lack in originality and narrative it more than makes up for with thrills. Pineview Drive is terrifying.
Players begin the story outside an old, eerie looking mansion. We play as man who is searching for clues surrounding his missing wife Linda, who disappeared from Pineview Drive on their visit 20 years ago. Even with two decades in which to find her, no one has lasted more than 30 days in their search. Your task is to survive those 30 days, and finally unearth the mystery of Linda’s fate.
Each day very quickly turns into night, and aside from ceiling lights which barely have any effect, all we have to illuminate our way is a torch and matches. These soon become essential to our search, as nearly every door in the pitch black mansion is locked. With different keys popping up in different locations during different days, our overall goal is to find the relevant one, and then the door that it unlocks. It all sounds fairly easy, but there are things lurking in the mansion and its grounds that seem not to want its mysteries uncovered.
The first few days rely on suggestion for scares; noises and slight movements ease us into tension, and we’re made to question if it’s real or imagination. Yet things soon take a turn, and we’re introduced to an ensemble cast from your deepest, darkest fears. Clowns seem to appear from nowhere, a scarecrow watches us through the windows, and a little girl with long, black hair covering her face, dressed in bright white nightwear haunts us – think the girl in The Ring. Soon it’s not whether or not your character can last the 30 day investigation, but can you?
Pineview Drive is one of the most frightening experiences I’ve had whilst playing a video game. The mansion itself is perfectly sized, so that I vaguely remembered every room I’d been in, but not quite how I got there. As soon as night came I was left in near-total darkness; the matches will only light up a candle in a certain part of a room, and the torch is dim and focuses on only where it’s pointed. Together these made the location feel more like a maze than a mansion, and turned a basic puzzle of having to find a key and the right door into a challenge. I felt lost throughout, and anxious to find my way.
The intense and hair raising atmosphere in the game is established by the sound effects. I can recall countless times I leaped and, embarrassingly, yelped when I heard the sudden sound of a girl screaming or a clown’s malevolent chuckle. I jumped because they were loud sounds of course, but also so sinister. But I had this reaction because I was so on edge from the build-up. Every tiny detail is tended to, from my character’s nervous panting, the rustling of the bushes outside and the faint ‘psst’ you could have sworn you just heard. The scraping and screeching of violin strings is pure evil, and a technique that anyone who knows The Exorcist will recognise with horror. The game contains some of the best uses of sound effects I’ve heard in a game for a long time, and the result is sheer tension and anxiety towards what might be coming next.
Atmosphere aside, a really interesting mechanic in the game is its use of the health meter. It represents the player’s sanity, and this decreases for every fast-paced movement you make. Jolt around when you’re scared and you’ll move a tiny bit closer to not surviving the night. It fits in well with the whole idea of feeling like something is watching you, only this time something is: the game. In general the mechanic worked, but on the 30th day I felt my sanity meter was being harshly deducted. After dying a few times, I knew exactly where the scares were coming from, yet even when making sure I didn’t move at all, I still lost as much health as before. I’m not averse to dying in games, after all I’m a From Software fan. Yet the last level felt out of sync with the rest of the game, not just in sanity but in many ways.
Although the game succeeds in doing what it aims to, scare you, I still felt frustrated sometimes when having to hunt for key after door after key after door. It works at the times when you’re lucky enough to happen upon either early on in your search, but other than that a lot of time is spent retracing steps that you already have done dozens of times. Our character does give hints after around 5 minutes of looking, but this relies on the player actually knowing the room, and where it is. In the beginning when only a few doors have been opened there isn’t much of a problem, but after day 20 I found myself hunting through 20 too many rooms in the pitch dark, looking for one tiny key. The game would flow better and frustrate less if the mansion were divided up, so players don’t have to constantly revisit the same areas. Nevertheless, the horror elements in between made the searches worth the effort.
For anyone not a fan of horror, this won’t be the game for you. Pinewood Drive is unashamedly in it for the scares, so people looking for a riveting story or some mind-melting puzzles to solve will leave disappointed. Yet for those who are fans of the genre, or others who aren’t quite sure, I definitely recommend it. There are evil things hiding in the darkest corners of this mansion, waiting to spook those who think they can’t be spooked. Challenge accepted?
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