It is undeniable how much of an impact Amnesia: The Dark Descent has had on the survival horror genre as a whole. I think it’s safe to say The Crows Eye would be very different, or perhaps wouldn’t even exist without it. Amnesia opened the floodgates, showing indies the horror genre could be so much more. The Crows Eye takes a page out of Amnesia’s blood soaked book and adds numerous unique twists of it’s own, focusing on the psychological terror of it all.
You follow the path of an unnamed protagonist trying to escape the university of Crowswood. Influences from Bioshock are also abundant with a crisp Art Deco user interface, and audio logs represented as tape-players scattered throughout. You’re soon introduced to the insanity of William Holtzwick, the man in charge of the university. He will guide you through the university accompanied by his disturbing cackles of joy as he tests your mental well-being. While this cliche inspired by many horror influences such as Saw can be tiresome, the voice acting is hard to fault. Sometimes it does feel a little bit over-done, but this it balanced out by the audio logs of the other characters who are counter-actively much less insane.
You will also come across many puzzles, some of which are solved by mere trial and error, others requiring much more thought. Unfortunately there is a jarring disconnect between the environment and many of the puzzles. After exploring an abandoned manor house, the first puzzle is occupied in an enormous room of towering pillars and floating boxes. While the game soon gives you a reasonable explanation for these floating boxes, I would be lying if I told you it didn’t ruin the atmosphere a bit.
In the context of the entire game, floating boxes are a minor quibble, The Crows Eye nails the atmosphere 99 percent of the time. It knows how to play off your expectations, my stomach sank with dread on the first occasion it gave me a healing item; “Why is this game giving me a bandage? What’s going to hurt me?”. The notes you are given offer just enough mystery; keeping you eager for more, while letting your imagination run wild. Thunder claps will sound in the distance, the sound of crows taking flight, constantly keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Many of the sounds are so subtle it’s hard to tell if something dreadful lies behind the corner or if it wasn’t coming from the game at all. This tension isn’t squandered by cheap jump-scares every 5 minutes either, there were times I was almost hoping for a monster to appear, only to relieve the knot that was forming in my stomach.
The further you venture into the unknown the more variety soon opens up. While many of the puzzles involve pulling levers and moving boxes, they are short and satisfying to ensure they don’t become too repetitive. The game is paced with a mixture of searching for items, soaking in the atmosphere, performing logic puzzles and some simple platforming puzzles. First person platforming is often a huge frustration in games, but very early on you are given a syringe of adrenaline used to slow down time. This mitigates any frustrations I would normally have towards this kind of platforming.
The story twists and turns drip feeding you just enough information to keep you going. Some might find the story horribly vague at first, but to me it felt justified; brilliantly simulating my own confusion if I was in that situation. Almost all the loose ends are tied up, however it feels somewhat rushed. It would be far more engaging for the player to make up their own mind, being directly told extinguishes a lot of the mystery for me.
Last but certainly not least, this is all brought together by a surely haunting original soundtrack. While the graphics are somewhat dated it was hard to be taken from the experience when the music adds such a huge level of emotional depth. Mostly composed of violins and piano, it distinctly sets each scene and consistently keeps tension high.
All in all 3D2 Entertainment have a made an enthralling psychological puzzle horror game, despite the cliche setting. It takes many of the tropes from the horror genre, but uses them sparingly to ensure your experience never feels cheap. Those looking for a gruesome horror game with a jump-scare around every corner will be disappointed. The Crows Eye lets your imagination do a lot of the work, enabling a much more psychological feeling of terror, rather than fight or flight. If that sounds like your kind of thing, I highly recommend it.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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