Allow me, dear reader, to paint you a picture of an average experience with new indie horror game Apparition.
You’re sitting in a forest in the dead of night. The only light, a small campfire in front of you. The trees are dense around the clearing you occupy. No other human is within an hours drive. A few dilapidated buildings populate the area. They lie empty, save for some old furniture, a few tools, and a bloodstained mattress… Your fingers rest on the planchette of your ouija board.
The wind rustles the leaves overhead, sometimes sounding like whispers. “Are you there?” you ask the spirits. A pause, then “Y-E-S”, as your hand is slowly led around the board. You carry on with your questions, written down on scraps of paper, discovered through exploration. “What’s your name?” …..”Z-O-Z-O”. “Are you good or bad?”… “A-N-G-R-Y”. “Where are you?” …..”H-E-L-L”. And with that last answer, you hear the faint, but unmistakable, sound, of footsteps in the undergrowth behind you.
If that sounds like your thing, I might recommend this chilling new first-person survival horror from Fat Dog Games. I might also recommend some form of therapy. If there is one thing that Fat Dog has absolutely nailed with Apparition, its sending chills down the spine. They’ve gone with every horror genre trope you can imagine. Your character walks very slowly (though there is a run button), you have no obvious means of self-defense, light sources are very limited, random images of corpses and/or demons will snap onto your screen for a heartbeat, the background noises include whispers, groans, footsteps, items moving randomly, and, of course, the ouija board.
Players take control of an unnamed paranormal investigator. Your task is to uncover the mystery of Green Creek, an isolated area somewhere in the U.S., with a nasty history. You can pick which items to bring with you on your venture, ranging from a standard snapshot camera to tripod and motion activated night vision camcorder, and everything in between. Each playthrough is for the duration of one night in Green Creek. This means you’ve that night alone to document as much ghostly evidence as possible. After each playthrough, your evidence is converted into XP, and this, in turn, is used to buy new/better equipment. Certain parts of the area require specialist equipment to access, and therein lies the need to keep playing. There also exists the community Leaderboard, where your scores can be uploaded.
Apparition does some come up short when examined thoroughly, however. At times it’s more Halloween: H2O, than The Shining. The jump scares lose their effect after the first couple of runs, becoming more of a nuisance than anything. The small game area should allow for greater detail in the environment, but too often assets are repeated. “Why the hell are there so many wrenches around here?”, you may ask. Why can’t you interact with them is another, more valid question. Environment interaction is limited to a few scraps of paper and querying a handful of larger objects. It seems possible to run out of exploration options after a couple of hours. After that, it can become a grind. Want that crowbar to access a new area? Do 3 playthroughs talking to ghosts on your ouija board, and you’ll earn the necessary XP. Turning the ouija board into a chore, is definitely not what you want in a horror game.
Therein lies the crux of my problems with Apparition. If you take it as a spooky ghost game, and role play as your given paranormal investigator, there are scares, and enjoyment to be had. However, if taken as a game, and played to be beat, Apparition does feel shallow. The ultimate goal seems to be to trap demons. To do this, you must buy new equipment, craft traps, set traps, bait it, and hope the AI falls for your snare. Something which I failed to do time and time again. In one playthrough, I backed myself into a room, set traps at the door, then continuously made noise and flashed my light on to try attract a demon. Fail. Another time, I set out 5 traps around me in a circle, stood in the middle and waited. Damn demons didn’t even acknowledge my efforts before killing me. In fact, in my entire playing time, I didn’t get to witness a demon at all, except for the death screen.
Credit to Fat Dog, however. Apparition had originally been scheduled for a full release on Halloween. Not satisfied with the game in its current form, Fat Dog has committed to Steam Early Access. Players who sign up for the early access build will get access to Apparition as it exists now, plus help test and critique the game as it’s developed. The early access version will come cheaper than the full release, so getting in early wouldn’t be a bad idea. There is the making of a great horror game here, but what we currently have feels like an underdeveloped, less polished P.T.
Graphically it’s a little rough. Tree limbs are too angular, and the demons/ghosts, when viewed under a lens, look a tad comical. If Fat Dog wants to really grab people by the gizzards, they’ll need some more realistic ghoulies. A more user-friendly item system would be welcome. The option of having a limited space backpack is good, but why not pockets? A simple contextual quick item menu would seem a natural fit here.
Speak with the dead with a Ouija board. Use your camera and audio recorder to register them, putting yourself in dire risk. There’s no defense against the ghosts or demons other than hiding.
The more traces of ghosts you record, the more points you earn. Use them to upgrade your gear and access new places. But you have to get out alive to keep them.
So Apparition presents a mixed bag. Played on your own, in the dark, on Halloween, it’s gonna be genuinely unnerving. Play to win though, and it can be a grind. I would wait and see what the price point is before recommending Apparition. If it’s a cheap buy, and horror is your genre, then by all means, but in its current form, it’s just not a must have for scare fans. Either way, Apparition will be available on PC through Steam Early Access on Halloween, with a possible console release in the future. GamEir.
*Note – Spell mistakes in the headings are deliberate!