What's going on, horror game fans? It is I, your fearless (and sometimes fearing) watcher with another Scary Game Review. This time I review indie-horror game, The Tape.
About the Game (courtesy of its Steam page)
The Tape is a first person horror game, with found footage stylization, slow pace and creepy atmosphere.
The game relies mostly on creating heavy atmosphere, instead of a cheap jump scares. Some of the scenes you are witnessing in this game are the most disturbing in horror game history.
The game tells story of middle-aged detective, who is tasked with search of a young girl, missing in US suburbia. He travels to abandoned house to check some of his clues and reveals things so horrifying, that it make him question his own sanity.
Onto the Review!
I was watching Harshly Critical's playthrough where at the beginning he says that he heard this game is really bad. Normally when I watch his one-shots, which is a plethora of really bad indie horror games, he is right. However, even if people say that, I still try (sometimes even failing in the first few minutes) to keep an open mind and try not to judge until the end of the game. Entertainment is, after all, subjective. As is the case with The Tape. On it's Steam page, the positive and negative reviews are pretty 50/50, but again, all together it only has over 25 reviews in total. Not much to go by, if you were to ask me.
The game was made in Unity (according to Harshly Critical's gameplay - I'm no expert on these things, so I'm going to take his word for it), which already has a terrible reputation as a bad horror game maker. But a lot of people who are passionate about creating something use it and good for them. Something is better than nothing. But when I hear, Unity horror game, I automatically think, "This is going to be shit." And usually I'm right. I want to say I'm not 100% right on this game.
Let's do things differently than I have in the past with the reviews where I start with The Good, The Bad, and The Scary. Let's start off with The Bad first just to get it out there and when I get to The Good, it will be like soothing the burn. Granted, I'm not going to grill the developer of this game, Kazakov Oleg, because they tried and I believe it really shows. But ...
- Probably my biggest gripe with this game is the story, or lack of, I should say. I tried my best to guess what's happening, but the game has little to no narrative and really doesn't explain much. Some games that don't necessarily tell too much are great that way, having you guess just what is happening and letting the veil slowly reveal the shocking truth. This one doesn't do well in that department.
Also, a lot of games, whether it's the big game titles or indie, show us the story: either through notes, audio logs, or voxophones (for Bioshock Infinite fans out there), and on some occasions even all of the above. Sometimes they show it through visuals and like I said, have the watcher piece all the pieces together. This game does not do that. I think it's trying, but I think because it's too invested in trying to be innovative and different, it seems like sometimes it forgets to tell us the story. It was confusing at times to come to an understanding of what is going on.
People can argue that the Steam page has the description, but that really doesn't matter as you still need to have some sort of narrative in the game itself. Having the description on the Steam page is no excuse to have little to no narrative in a game that claims it's telling a story. In the Tape's defense, they do have a cutscene at the beginning where it explains why this guy is heading towards this house where this girl was abducted. Once you get further into the house, you will see that a girl (assuming she's the abductee) is shackled to a wall. A guy who looks like a butcher cuts her throat and they collect her blood, but after that ... it's just nothing.
It's just one random thing after another and granted, some of the stuff done is somewhat cool and fun, but it's hard to guess what's happening when there is very little explanation. Why did they need the blood? Never explained.
Did the protagonist see the woman being killed and drained of her blood? Never explained. Although, I'm assuming not as the cutscene started as you go down this corridor. It just happens abruptly. You can guess that the protagonist heard her as in the in game audio, you can hear the sounds of a woman crying. Soon, you enter the room and see where she was, as her body has been moved. Blood spilled everywhere and ... no reaction whatsoever. I'll get to this problem in a few paragraphs.
Later in the game, this crazed woman is after you. Is that the abducted girl? Never explained. If so, why is she like that?
Why does she have supernatural abilities? Is it because they brought her corpse back using some sort of satanic powers? I apologize for the many questions that may seem annoying, but these were just never explained. They left it too open. I don't mind leaving things up to the viewer/gamers interpretation, but when you have too many plot holes it becomes too confusing to render and less fun.
The scenes moved around to different areas with no reasoning of why. Why is he here and then all of the sudden somewhere else? To explain what I mean, I will have to go into spoiler territory (but it's a very short game, so kind of hard not to reveal too much of the story). He is caught by the worshipers and they do a seance on him. After what we presume he died, because his eyes turn black, he wakes in a cell, they worshipers either drain him of some pints of his blood, or trying to get him to drink (another confusing scene), and suddenly he's in this empty room. Why did they decide to lock him up one minute and then the next they kind of don't care? Seems kind of stupid to do that without a reason. Did they feel he wasn't a threat? Did they feel he would not make it out alive anyways? Was their plan to make him into their personal play toy? You need to explain these things or give some sort of hint.
Also, I couldn't get invested with the main character, because he never talked, he never questioned anything, and that's just another common problem with these indie horror games. Not saying that having a tough bad ass protagonist who doesn't speak. For example, I just got done watching a new indie episodic horror game called Albino Lullaby. The character you play as doesn't talk at all. But things are explained through notes, at least. The point is people can not invest in the plot if they can not invest in the protagonist. If you don't feel doing that much voice acting, maybe go down the old Silent Hill route by having the thoughts in text. That way we know he's at least reacting to this weird stuff he is seeing.
Of course, where there's a protagonist, there has to be an antagonist. But with this game ... ehhh, I don't know! There is no real antagonist in this story or they just don't feel like telling us. It's just a bunch of satanic worshipers and the demon woman. Granted, I could be wrong on that, because when he was caught and they were doing that seance, there was a person dressed differently than the rest, sitting on a throne, and just had this head honcho presence. Although to the developer's credit, he did give him a spiffy skull mask. Regardless of that, we don't know who this is, because there is NO narrative to tell us who the hell is this person. Is he/she/it the main dude? Or was it just the worshiper of the month?
Because of this lack of narration, I couldn't get into the story. That doesn't mean I wasn't trying.
- The frame rate isn't that great during one sequence. One part you're walking down multiple hallways while a bunch of stuff is happening (I'll get to what in the good section) and the frame rate just drops. Not terrible, but not could cause a headache.
- There are some way overdone horror cliches in this game. One, at the end, is the whole "Look behind you" trick. A lot of games have done this, especially since the famous scene in the Silent Hills demo, P.T. It worked there, because it really did add tension, but once something is overdone it's just not scary anymore. I can understand homages and that's awesome, but not ones that are just so tiring. A twist to a homage isn't bad, but not one that's almost exact.
- If you want a game that's going to last a long time, this probably isn't what you want. It can be completed in roughly thirty to forty minutes (based on the walkthrough I watched). Not that it's a big deal to me, but it may be to some people.
Surprisingly, there is some good, because up until now all I've done is harp on the story. I've watched countless horror games that have had little to no plot, but that doesn't mean there are not a few good head turners to keep you interested.
- Right after you wake up after the seance, you walk into a room with a bed. Suddenly the bed spits blood and out comes a body that shrieks before it descends back down. John (Harshly Critical) said it could be a reference to a horror movie called Death Bed. Sorry to say I'm not familiar with it, but I thought although it was random to have a bed in this middle of an otherwise empty room, it was kind of a cool effect.
- Despite doing the overdone, look behind you trick, there was one homage that I thought the developer did well for (what I'm guessing) not having a big budget at all. This was the weird hallways that we saw in the Silent Hills P.T. demo. Now, I could make the argument that it was a complete rip off, because it did goes as far as having the rotating eye ball portraits, but I could look past that (again, writing it off as a homage), because there were other things happening. Like one, blood pouring down the walls. I guess it could be cliche, but I'm a sucker for it. Also, although as explained in the Bad section where I said they were these weird people, it did add a little bit of tension. Not a lot, but enough to make you expect one of them to do something. They don't.
- As you will see in the playthrough video I'm going to be posting at the end of this review, there is a water part. It's almost horror tradition to have at least one part with water. We've seen it in Amnesia, we've seen it Outlast, and we've seen it in SOMA (which took place in the Atlantic Ocean, so I guess that makes sense ... never mind), and we see it here. The let's player I watched, as you will see in the video, didn't really care for it. I kind of liked it. I liked it how at this point it was like a game and not like, just walk here and something will happen. What you have to do is walk to these lights while avoiding this big creepy face coming towards you like a shark with it's mouth open. I thought it was creepy, some people won't. But all you have to do is go to these lights (or stars, I have no idea) and the face will run into it (like a goon) and disappear. This is while something is going around extinguishing them. You have to survive until the time runs out. Not that it was that fantastic, it was at the very least passable as fun to watch.
- The Tape also does the black and white filter to make it look like it's being video recorded, hence the name The Tape. When the game first starts, it's going to look really grainy which is distracting and almost made me stop watching the gameplay, but the developer was nice enough to let you adjust that in the settings.
You may be wondering where the Scary section is and here's the reason, the game can be creepy and somewhat atmospheric, but I never once felt scared in this game. I never once felt that much tension.
Is this game the best indie horror game out there? No. Is it the worst? Absolutely not. That award can either go to countless stupid, repetitive, Jeff the Killer 'games' or the Timore trilogy. And no, you will probably never see me review those. But as much as the Bad section took the most space, the game isn't that bad. Is it even good? Well ... I'd say low mediocre. If they didn't do a few things and if it didn't seem like the developer was at least trying, then I probably wouldn't even bothering reviewing this and would probably have another review this week, like Layers of Fear or Until Dawn. But the game was well enough to merit a review and I know I'm not IGN, but it's some sort of advertisement for the game.
Do I think the game is worth it's current asking price of $4? Yeah. It's short. Very short. I think you're getting a good deal on it. I've seen much worse Steam games asking for a whole lot more.
I hope the developer keeps going and trying. Maybe even somewhere down the line re-do this game and re-release it. I think anything, even something that isn't that good, is worth another chance. But if people went by that logic, Hollywood would be remaking crappy movies rather than classics. Yes, I'm one of those pesky "they're ruining my childhood!" people.
Anyway, I'd say give The Tape a shot in either playing it or buying it. Hope you guys enjoyed the review and next time I'm either going to review Layers of Fear or Until Dawn, but those are on the radar right now. Take care and check out the full playthrough of The Tape down below, courtesy of my favorite video game commentator, Harshly Critical. Stay scary!