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February 2023

Horror Story: Hallowseed

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Fulqrum Publishing
Developer: Jeff Winner
Release Date: Oct. 28, 2021

About Lauren "Feffy" Hall

I am a freelance writer based in Canada, where it's too cold to go outside; therefore, we play a lot of video games. I'm an expert zombie slayer (the virtual kind), amateur archer (for actual zombie slaying and general apocalypse purposes - it could happen), and a work-in-progress wife and mother (IRL). My claim to fame: I completed the original MYST without looking up cheats. It took several years. What other accomplishments does one need in life?


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PC Review - 'Horror Story: Hallowseed'

by Lauren "Feffy" Hall on April 15, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Horror Story: Hallowseed is a single-player story-driven psychological horror game that takes place in a fictional location, forgotten by time, all wrapped in a mysterious demonic terror.

It's a tale as old as time: a tale of good versus evil.

Personally, I love that kind of storytelling trope.

In Horror Story: Hallowseed, an indie horror atmospheric game by Jeff Winner, AKA Tzion Games, that's the long and short of what you get, but simplicity isn't always a drab thing.

From the outset, you're thrown into the story of a fun-loving gaggle of young folk who head to the forest for some good old-fashioned camping, complete with scary stories. That's when the plot becomes all too real, and our lovable crew of mischievous kids gets separated. We follow one character, Michael, as he reorients himself and searches for his friends, Anna and Jay, armed only with the flashlight on his phone, which obviously has no signal. (That would be all too easy.)

As Michael desperately searches the spooky forest, dusk arrives, and he finds some disturbing relics and altars covered in bones and strategically placed twigs. The surrounding forest is clearly used in demonic sacrifices and rituals, and Michael's fears for his friends are amplified when he spies a huge, looming house. He hears some screaming from within, and he starts to realize something is very, very wrong.

Hallowseed gets underway pretty quickly, allowing Michael to interact with objects and doorways, much like any other first-person atmospheric game. It plays out in much the same way as thrillers like Amnesia, Palmyra Orphanage, Soma, etc., so the gameplay is pretty easy to tackle.

Some of the objects or door handles you need to use are a bit evasive for some reason, which is a little annoying but not an absolute deal-breaker. While we're on the subject of game mechanics, there isn't much to speak of, which is ideal for this kind of story-driven thriller. With the typical WASD movement, virtually no crazy options to mess around with, and a tutorial that is essentially "click this, and now you're done," you can get right to the good stuff.

It doesn't take long for hallucinations and shaky-screen events to start messing with poor Michael's mind, but — and I will always maintain this opinion — when you are able to lay eyes on an evil or paranormal enemy in a game or a movie, the immersion into the story and experience crumbles. It is almost always scarier when you can't see what's pursuing you.

For instance, at one point, there is a bathroom with — you may have guessed — a closed shower curtain, which ominously shivers in a nonexistent breeze. Classic foreshadowing: You will instantly know that something bad will happen in that very room. When it actually does, you'd hope that it would be scarier than what you envisioned.

In my case, the resulting event was so far off the mark from what my own imagination conjured up that I actually laughed with disdain. It was such a huge disappointment.

The lesson for developers is simple: Don't waste time showing your players the bad guy in a psychological horror such as this. It ruins it, utterly and completely.

One thing that successfully scared me in Hallowseed, beyond the jump scares that do an admirable job, was the tragic loss of my flashlight at times. I was probably more frustrated than scared because it's next to impossible to find your way around a dark house with matches — a house that is easy to get lost in even with a light. Thankfully, your flashlight losses are over fairly quickly, and that's because when you lose your light, you're dreaming and moving the story along as you do and haven't actually lost it.

This is good, as I was extremely worried that this would be a "limited tinderbox" situation as was the case in Amnesia, which will probably go down as one of the scariest games in history.

As for the story, it's your standard fare horror story. There's a big, bad demon trying to possess you and everyone you know, but you are, somehow, vital to this plan. It becomes obvious that you are being possessed early on, and you also quickly learn how to avoid the big bad demon that chases you (again, it's not very scary when you can clearly see it).

There's a ton of exploration in this game, and it's easy to get lost, but finding your way back to the piano — a clever way to incorporate a save game element — to prevent losing your progress also helps reorient yourself with the house and its extensive grounds.

The audio is another good way to help you navigate the plot (and the house) because when you go long periods of time without little scary events to spook you, it's likely because you've wandered in circles and have missed a key piece of the overall puzzle. The events, which is how I'll describe them to avoid spoiling the plot, also move the story along. If you're brave and fly through the house like a bat out of hell, you can finish the game in under two hours.

Overall, Hallowseed was an enjoyable experience, if perhaps a little same-y. There are so many horror games that start in the same way: alone in the woods and wandering until you stumble upon a house that looms ominously in the dusk. The interior holds a plethora of spooky beasts and paranormal experiences that are out to get you and mess with your brain. To play yet another horror game of the very same ilk is mildly disappointing as a gamer who enjoys the genre.

The voice acting and dialogue were a bit forced, and I can't help but think it would've been more engaging with just text. Again, the player's internal voice and imagination might make the game scarier than the voice actors and visuals.

Despite my misgivings about the scare factor of this game, I did enjoy it, and Jeff Winner is proving to be a very talented game developer. In 2022, Tzion Games is releasing a new title, Death Omen, and, judging from the trailer, the quality seems improved and the theme is slightly different. It's possible that Death Omen might be a better game in all respects, and I look forward to playing more from this indie company.

Hallowseed is still a great playthrough that was uninterrupted by bugs or annoying mechanics, and the jump-scares and rapidly unfolding story will have you sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation. There's a very real sense that you are the good guy and that you can defeat the demon on your tail, despite being the comparative underdog.

Who doesn't love a story about the underdog saving the day?

Lovers of horror games will recognize Horror Story: Hallowseed as a great example of their favorite genre. Costing less than $20 USD on Steam, Hallowseed won't disappoint.

Score: 8.0/10

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