Platform Reviewed: PC Platforms Available: PC Publisher: OwlCave Developer: OwlCave Release Date: April 16, 2015 MSRP: $5.99 (Php. 277.01)
Everything seems to be perfectly normal… but they are not.
The Charnel House Trilogy is a point-and-click horror adventure game that follows the story of two people and their nightmarish trip aboard a strange passenger train. The game was developed by Owl Cave and the trilogy was created around its second chapter, Sepulchre, which came out earlier as a free stand-alone game. By adding the first and last chapters, Inhale and Exhale, Owl Cave managed to create a deeper and darker story for the characters and their fateful trip to Augur Peak.
SPOILERS AHEAD. Just the mild ones, nothing crucial.
The Charnel House Trilogy’s first chapter, Inhale, follows the story of a young adult named Alex Davenport in her apartment, just a few hours from boarding Old Gloria, the train that that would take her to Augur Peak. Players can interact with the things on the screen point-and-click style as Alex goes through her preparations for her trip. Through her narration, it is revealed that Alex is still having a hard time dealing with her recent break-up with her boyfriend. After going through the other interactions, Inhale ends with Alex standing outside a train station while waiting for the train to arrive. Here, she meets Harold Lang, the protagonist of Sepulchre. The creepiness factor of this short chapter is around, I would say, seven out of a ten. The creepy flashes of a hooded guy in Alex’s apartment and the seemingly normal, yet freaky train conductor were creepy but not that much. They do serve as curiosity rustlers, though.
The next chapter in the trilogy is Sepulchre where players follow the events that happened to the other protag inside Old Gloria. The game switches its focus towards Harold Lang, a guy in his thirties that is on a trip to Augur Peak to dig through soil, find stuff and study them, as he says in his dialogue. Out of boredom, Harold wanders around the train carriages where he meets the mysterious train conductor, Don. Events seem to go stranger and stranger by the minute and every interaction that Harold gets into makes him more disturbed. He meets this freaky looking hooded guy inside a cabin which we could just suspect as the same hooded guy that showed up in Alex’s apartment. He tries to look for Alex to find some sane company in this insane train but he fails and the chapter ends with Harold on the verge of losing his sanity with a pile of dirt. Creepiness factor: nine out of ten; it’s quite there.
The final chapter, Exhale, brings the focus back to Alex and her experience inside the train. Now this is where the strange stuff goes overboard. Like the creepiness factor is WTF/10-level of creepy. First, things start out pretty normal as Alex, also out of boredom, checks out the train’s amenities. She also meets Don the conductor who mentioned that Harold was also looking for her earlier but he then just went back to his cabin and slept. Slowly, Alex also notices how strange this mysterious train is turning out to be as she meets this little girl travelling all alone inside the cabin, the hooded guy, her ex-lover in the form of the train’s bartender, and her overly friendly neighbor which turned out to be her psycho stalker. She even saw her friends having a party inside the train cabin and they act like they were still inside Alex’s place on the night of the party. Then, the revelations started to get clear one by one such as how the little girl and the psycho neighbor are related, what happened to Alex’s ex-boyfriend when he stormed out of her apartment on the night of the party, and what the train was supposed to be, although the last part was kinda vague when Don revealed it. (It just might be a reference that I’m not familiar with on my end.)
The game was rendered in 2D pixel form but the art ain’t shabby. The faces of the talking characters beside their dialogue boxes are an added touch because they managed to depict the speaker’s facial expression despite being pixelated. The background music adds to the eerie experience but the real point maker is the voice acting that they did for every character. It sometimes sounded like they were just reading a script but it still is a nice touch for a game that relies on a story narration. Out of all the voices, it was Don the conductor’s voice acting that stood out while Alex’s voice acting also came out great.
Story-wise, The Charnel House Trilogy managed to create this haunting and eerie atmosphere and vibe without using so much of the shock factor and gore that most horror games use. It aims to scare its players psychologically by making them think that the normal and harmless things that they encounter everyday aren’t always what they seem to be and that they can still bring out these unexpected and debilitating horrors. The point-and-click nature of the game didn’t pose much of a challenge and that’s good because the players could focus more on the story than trying to frustratingly find out what to do next to progress further into the game.
The Charnel House Trilogy might look unfinished as there were questions still left unanswered, not to mention that more questions came up at the last minute. The game is hinting that Alex’s and Harold’s story isn’t over yet with the revelation on the last scene showing that they have a mutual friend on Augur Peak (that is if said mutual friend calls Harold as “Harry”). Nevertheless, The Charnel House Trilogy gave out a thrilling ride that started out slow and eventually picked up pace until everything went crazy. Personally, I do not mind if the game gets a sequel as the trilogy felt like it was just a glimpse of what is more to come. I do recommend to those gamers that aren’t really fond of horror games, like me, to try out this game as its scare factor is quite bearable and that it is dwelling more on unravelling the mysteries of our protags, the train, and Augur Peak. The next installment wouldn’t be out until some time around 2016 but my anticipation for it is quite high as early as upon finishing the game.
Would you like to take this horrifying train ride as well? Let us hear about it in the comments section below!
This review is based on a review copy provided by the developers/publisher.
MAJOR SPOILERS INBOUND. CLOSE THE TAB NOW AND SPARE YOURSELF FROM BEING SPOILED. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
This is just a speculation that I thought of while I was working on this review:
Maybe the reason why Harold “fell asleep” on the end of Sepulchre’s chapter is that he wasn’t able to handle all the scary and disturbing stuff that the train threw at him. On the other hand, Alex was strong enough to make sense and break through the train’s “shenanigans” which was acknowledged by Don during the grand revelation. Just comparing the two, looking at their background and working on the little facts that the story gave about them, Harold seemed to be doing well in his life and he wasn’t dealing with any real-life issues while Alex has her recent break-up and the recent death of her stepfather to deal with. All of these problems, plus the fact that she seemed to be familiar with what the “sepulchre” is, has made her relatively unfazed with all the weird stuff that has been happening during the trip. Well, we’ll find out more on the next chapter if Harold would still wake up from his slumber or not.