Saturday, 26 September 2015

Albino Lullaby - Review

One of these horrors is not like the others. It’s not Sesame Street, of course, it’s Ape Law’s Albino Lullaby, and it’s not like any horror I’ve ever played. Actually, it’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced. Let me tell you why that makes this PC game worth playing, and then, in the dark of night, remembering.

Albino Lullaby is, without doubt, the weirdest game I have ever played. I realise that sounds like an insult, but it really isn’t. In Ape Law’s game, which is aiming for a tense, eerie horror instead of all-out jump-scares, a unique sense of style, nightmarish foes and twisted, echoing dialogue are combine to create something completely horrifying in its own way. And, despite growing tension and utter creepiness throughout, the gameplay is fast and fun, urging you to go forward almost as much as your own morbid sense of curiosity.

The sound design is the first thing to nail home the eerie nature of the game, as whispers beckon you to leave the cage where you begin the game. From here on out, the truly disturbing noises come from the warbling voices of the Grandchildren as they call out to you. I’ll tell you about them in a minute, whether you like it or not. Hint: you won’t.

Walking through the environments of Albino Lullaby feels like walking through a funhouse. Everything seems too colourful and large, and you can’t help but find it all fascinating in an “anything could happen next” kind of way. Similar to a funhouse, it’s all incredibly easy to get turned around, especially with the amount that the rooms can change in a short space of time, but it all adds to the experience. Like Bonnie first mentioned in her preview, Albino Lullaby was developed with VR in mind, and the style is sure to work perfectly for it, as the “layout and level design hold up well in terms of distance of objects, layout of hallways and rooms, and the general principle of movement.” Thanks Bonnie, you just said it so well.

It is these same principles that made me feel like I wanted to explore so much of Albino Lullaby, and keep an eye out for notes of confused, almost poetic, scribbles, open every door, look through every window, and most importantly, press every button. 

Buttons play a huge role in the game, regularly used as part of puzzles or to entirely change the environment around you. As the floor behinds to move, and walls are flipped, added or removed, it feels like you're on a rollercoaster, never quite sure what's past the next loop, but just knowing that you have to see for yourself. For example, quite early on in the game there’s a section with buttons that say “Are you sure?” I wasn’t, at all… but I just had to know. It turns out that one by one, I was pressing buttons that would let out a crazy grandchild. Well, they’re all crazy, really. It’s time to learn about the Grandchildren.

To take a quote from our newly-appointed Site Editor, “THEY LOOK LIKE TERRIFYING THUMBS,” and together they have formed some kind of worm-like cult with an eternal love for their Grandmother. Honestly, they are scary as hell. They talk nonsense amongst themselves and it’s all too tempting to sneak closer to listen in, but if they spot you, it’s time to run. Having no legs and all, the Grandchildren are quite slow. What they lack in speed, however, they more than make up for in numbers and eerie, echoing dialogue, calling after you, the intruder, with unusual phrases such as “he doesn’t say please and thank you”. 

Albino Lullaby has great pacing as a result, and switches between tense stealth gameplay and frantic sprinting and screaming (both the Grandchildren and yourself, as you find yourself completely lost with a group of thumb-like worms edging closer). Ape Law has made sure that you won’t feel completely helpless, though. Once the player has found matches, blue lamps can be lit and temporarily scare off the Grandchildren. Even more effective, and satisfying to use, is Buck’s clicker, which creates a brief barrier that knocks those evil thumbs out of the way like they were nothing more than slimy dominoes.

There’s still a couple of issues in this otherwise impressive title, though. A couple of times I would be running away from a lone Grandchild, only to turn around and see it stuck in a wall. Another time, I jumped down onto a ledge because I was too impatient (and terrified) to wait for a door to open. I soon realised that this meant I was unable to get back to that area of the game without dying, as an entire corridor I had crept through earlier was now packed with a screaming blockage of Grandchildren. It was a minor setback, but an alternate route would have helped me out.

Also, on the other side of the funhouse environment coin, it can be really easy to lose track of your whereabouts. It definitely adds to the atmosphere, especially when being chased, but it’s not quite as effective when you’re trying to find a button you know you just saw. It’s a delicate balance, and one that Ape Law definitely handles well, but know that you may occasionally lose yourself in this mad world.

Even though I experienced these minor issues, Ape Law released a patch during my time with Albino Lullaby, which aims to fix:
·  Boss fight chamber performance
·  Distance between checkpoints
·  AI bugs
·  Player guidance
·  Difficulty curve

That may mean that no player experiences any of the little technical issues that I did, and Albino Lullaby, which is already an impressively strange experience, is getting even better.

Albino Lullaby: Episode 1, as I’ve already said, is one of the weirdest games I have ever played. Do you see now why I consider that a good thing? Between its unique VR-optimised visuals, surreal sound design and the unforgettable Grandchildren, Ape Law have created something worth going to bed scared for. Episode 1 is available on Steam for $9.99 USD, and there will be two more episodes before Ape Law is finished with the cult of the Grandchildren, and I plan to stick around for all of it. Grandmother would be proud.

Getting déjà vu right now? That may be because you read this on IGM, where my article was first featured! Check IGM out for all the latest on indie games, and make sure to peek in on our Patreon, where patrons can get each issue of the magazine for only $2.

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