“Hello Matthew… I wanna play a game…”
Dying: Reborn, released February 28th to Playstation 4, is a first-person horror and puzzle-solver from Oasis Games. Awakening upon a lone bed in a small and dirty room, through the intense headache that rattles your better judgement and with no clear memory of what or whom has put you there, you must attempt to think your way through the veritable labyrinth that is this abandoned hostel. Stepping into the role of a young man named Matthew, all you know for sure is that you’ve come looking for your sister after receiving a strange note that could only have come from her, right?
Soon however, Matthew finds that he must first save himself if he’s ever going to escape this place with his life, sister or no. What follows is a series of deviously crafted puzzles that calls for a keen and scrutinous eye and quick thinking in equal measure. Through the course of this campaign; you’ll be exploring the environments and investigating every crevice for some clue to lead you on, picking up items along the way that can help you, if you can just figure out how to use them properly.
It’s similar in ways, and it’s hard not to say this when horror applies, to the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises. In the way that the nature of these puzzles relies heavily on cryptic clues scattered throughout the environment, from the artwork hanging on the walls to bloody messages left behind by your predecessors, and yes, even a piano puzzle. Although the song is marginally less complicated to replicate. The items you’ll find will also require some investigation and ingenuity in order to figure out how certain objects can be combined and used to progress. So it’s safe to say that the puzzle solving element of this game is definitely its best foot, however where it markedly lets itself down is with its claim to the horror genre.
In its aesthetic and feel; there’s a real sense that this title is emulating films like the Saw franchise, and that includes the benefits and the shortcomings that come with that comparison. Though the puzzles are fun and there’s a definite sense of cleverness that comes when you finally figure out how this thing fits in that thing, the story itself and surrounding horror elements can feel quite cheap. As a first-person game I was immediately reminded of titles such as House of the Dead and Time Crisis; it certainly matches as a visual piece and the quality of acting was pretty much on par, which it’s unfortunate to say means it was underwhelming. The tone definitely takes a stab at the creepy and the establishment of a tense atmosphere through the typical swinging lights and blood-stained walls sadly comes out as quite a contrived attempt rather than nuanced or subtle in any way. It is difficult to discern whether this game is attempting to parody the genre at times, or if it’s simply falling victim to these tropes.
The focus being mostly on the puzzles, there isn’t a great sense of urgency nor is there any implication that you’re in any kind of immediate danger beyond being trapped in this place. The occasional lazy scare reminds you that this game is supposed to be a horror whilst not actually delivering on that promise. The escape room offered by Resident Evil 7’s Bedroom DLC is a good antithesis to this, delivering tough puzzles made worse by a constant and returning threat.
The environments and layout of each chapter manage to keep a flavour of variety and influence new and interesting puzzles. Graphically speaking this game is a middleweight; while it isn’t anything special in visual terms, it looks good enough that exploration doesn’t become a chore. Movement and the UI are generally a little clunky, but to its credit the HUD and exploration mechanics are minimalist so there’s a constant feel of progression even in the occasional cyclicality that comes with going back and forth to work out the puzzles. As a linear puzzle-romp with little deviation once the exploration is done with, there isn’t any real reason to give this title the second playthrough. A little on-rails, to return to the Time Crisis analogy.
So, the verdict? The pursuit of the mystery surrounding this story and the equally Delphic fish-headed antagonist are very much the dangling carrots that carry you forward through this game. The puzzles are cleverly orchestrated and fairly fun to navigate but unfortunately this simply isn’t enough to negate the fallibility of this game in other aspects. As a horror it has a lot left to be desired, but if you prefer your scares to be on the softer side then you may find the B-movie atmosphere of this title to be to your taste. It’s yet another example of a game where you could probably do better if you’re looking to scratch a horror or puzzle-solving itch, the price tag just doesn’t match up to the time you’ll likely dedicate to this.
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