Sunday, 3 November 2013

Kraven Manor - Review

Kraven Manor is a first-person survival horror. While it is not a very long experience, as it was originally created for a student project, what it packs into the short amount of time is impressive, fun, and all-round horrific. From the minute you are forced to take shelter from a storm in the grand lobby of Kraven Manor, your night takes a turn for the worse. I know what you’re thinking: already soaking and probably coming down with pneumonia – how much worse can it get? Well, quite a bit worse, as it happens.

The first thing I noticed was how great the game looks. The lobby stretched out before me in all of its dusty glory, and large chandeliers, pillars and pieces of art showed the vast wealth that must have flowed through this house before something much more sinister took its place. Given nothing more than the controls needed to move and interact with various objects, I began searching the house for any signs of life. All I found was a smear of blood at the bottom of the stai… Did that statue just look at me?

 It seems we have different opinions of 'art'.

A little unnerved, I stole towards an open door, with only the sound of the storm beating down for company. That was, until the manor started coming to life around me. It began slowly at first, with the tension being built in small non-threatening ways.  A book flung from a shelf, objects moving from one place to another when my back was turned, and a power cut that plunged me into darkness; the protagonist’s frantic breathing mirroring my own.

During the first power-cut in the lobby I was prompted to turn on my torch, and I immediately shone my light in the direction of the bronze statue that stood watch over the lobby from the landing, afraid to let it out of my sight. Then I saw - or rather, didn’t see - something that set the tone for the entirety of this gut-wrenching experience. The statue was gone.

After frantically scanning the darkness for a sign of bronze gleaming in the darkness, I realised that for now, I was alone. There was no other choice than to explore the rest of the rooms. Hidden throughout the manor are small models of the areas you will be forced to whimper your way through. Each area has its own thought-provoking puzzles to solve, and scares to suffer, but only by persevering can you bring the next area back to the lobby where you can attach it to a model of the manor. When you attach these models you can then visit these parts of the house, uncovering the twisted mystery of Kraven Manor as you go.

Decide which side of the manor you'd like to die.

A nice touch is that you can place these areas where you like, and can swap them around at your leisure. For example, the door to the left may initially lead to the wine cellar, but if you put the library in its place the manor will shift around, and the same door will now lead somewhere new. It is an interesting mechanic, and one that keeps the setting both mystical and disorientating. Due to this feature, there is also the inclusion of a ghostly GPS which guides you from one room to the next. While I understand that this was probably included to account for any confusion created by the moving rooms, I felt that it pulled me out of the game slightly by reminding me that it was just that; a game, and one with objectives that I was being lead to.

Though I won’t explain every part of the manor, my personal favourite area was the library, which I also found to be the most terrifying section of the entire playthrough. We’re here for the scares, after all. This area evoked my always-present fears of Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels, which in my mind is one of the best and most disturbing creatures to have ever been created. The Weeping Angels are a creature that is biologically unable to move while you are watching it, but as soon as you look away, it comes for you. Fast. If you don’t know what I’m talking about...

You're looking at the statue. 

Everything is fine.

You look away.

Only for a second.

It's enough.

See? Terrifying.

As I entered the library, wondering if there’d be any Stephen King that I could take to a safer, well-lit room in the manor (if such a room exists), it appeared. The statue. I can only assume it must have had the same idea, and from there the Doctor’s advice in Blink, the episode featuring the Weeping Angels, crept from the corners of my memory.

“Your life could depend on this. Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink. Good luck.”

 As scary as I always thought it would be to be in this situation, it’s much, much worse. I can’t think of the last time a game had me as tense as this part of Kraven Manor did. Attempting to solve the room’s puzzle while always keeping the statue in view proves to be both torture, and impossible. Whether you like it or not, you will have to look away from the statue in order to complete the puzzle, and in doing so will feel completely vulnerable. Expect to be on the very edge of your seat as you realise that last creak of rusty metal came from right behind you, and to fall off it when you spin around to be find the emotionless stare of bronze inches from your own face.

I've told you not to come into my room.

With such tension, it can be hard to fight the urge to rush through each room, but if you manage it there are numerous diaries, newspaper clippings and notes dotted around that give the terror an unsettling depth. Without spoiling it for you, the context involves the master of the house being obsessed with the idea of immortality, and appearing to have no reservations about experimenting on his own staff. Talk about perks of the job.

Kraven Manor has great pacing, and manages to provide the world of horror with new heights of fear along with an interesting backstory, fun puzzles, and impressive visuals. Though the conclusion of the game felt a little jarring for me, as it ditches the slow build of dread in favour of a fast-paced action ending, I would recommend this game to anyone who has even the slightest interest in horror, or in deadly ornaments.

The unexpected popularity of this indie game, which began only as a student project, has resulted in the developers stating that they plan to expand the experience further. While there is no further elaboration on how exactly they intend to do this, I for one can’t wait to see what other dark secrets the long-forgotten rooms of Kraven Manor have in store for us. Until then, try it for yourself. This scare comes with no price tag.

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