Halloween Gaming: Into the Gloom
It’s October again which of course means Halloween gaming! Last year I did a short series of posts called “Utmost Spookiest Games” on a few of the horror games I played last October and….. they were incredibly unpopular…..some of the worst viewed and liked posts I’ve ever written! (Un)Fortunately, I have no capacity to learn from prior failures, so I’m back here again to kick off another month of spooky game posts starting with Steam indie horror title Into the Gloom.
Since the success of Five Nights at Freddy’s, there’s been a boom of low-budget horror games on Steam looking to make it big on the YouTube reaction videos circuit. At merely $2.99, most would probably categorize Into the Gloom with the rest of the cheap jump-scare gold rushers, but actually the game predates the popularity of FNAF. Even if you didn’t know that though, you probably would reconsider it as a “me too” game, simply because it’s a decently well-constructed experience which makes the most of its low-fi potential. While you’ll have no illusions that this wasn’t created on a very narrow budget of resources and time, it makes the most of what it has and stands up as an respectable underrated horror game for what it is.
Into the Gloom can best be described as an exploration puzzle game. You wake up in the operating room of an abandoned hospital and set out to find your way to safety. Along the way, you’ll find several dead bodies and blood scrawled messages on the walls that hint toward a terrible danger that pervades the world. I’ll go ahead and say this, but there are some rather disturbing images in this game. Nothing too extreme if you’re accustomed to survival horror games like Silent Hill or Fatal Frame or Outlast, but if you’ve only ever played the Capcom survival horror games like Resident Evil and Dino Crisis, you might be a bit taken aback by what you’ll find in this game.
The first thing you’ll notice about Into the Gloom is its stark, low-fi graphics. The simplistic, stylized aesthetic is used quite well in creating a creepy atmosphere that is just deeply tense. Grey-scale dominates this game’s appearance with most of the environment being rather morosely shaded with black, white, and grey. Otherwise, the only color used is red which adds a an unsettling flair throughout the scene. Red is used to depict bloodstains, artificial lights, and, most ominously, the bloody sky itself which drapes the disquieting world of the Gloom. The other major thing you’ll notice that adds to the oppressive atmosphere is that the game runs with a very limited draw distance. There’s a general fogginess that pervades your surroundings which results in a mood that feels all the more insecure. If this game nails one thing, it’s atmosphere and mood. I was quite impressed with the feeling of dread I had while playing this game late at night, something I didn’t expect from the screenshots I had seen beforehand.
Moment-to-moment gameplay is mainly centered around exploring new areas, finding items, and solving puzzles that block further progress. Puzzles come in two forms. The first requires you to find certain items to progress, say a set of bolt cutters to get a lock off a door. Sometimes you’ll need to combine items in your inventory to open the way forward, but in general these puzzles are pretty simple and you’ll never really be stumped by them. The hardest part is just finding the items, but even that is far from a pixel hunt or anything. The second type of puzzle is more problematic. These generally involve some sort of brain teaser set to a panel on the wall. For instance, the first puzzle in the game requires you to solve a sliding tile puzzle to open a safe. These puzzles can get a bit annoying, and I generally just had to solve them by semi-randomly clicking around until I happened upon the solution.
An example of one of the more annoying puzzles.
Aside from the puzzles, the other component of the game comes from the monster that occasionally shows up to give chase. Basically, when the monster shows up, the player will need to book it until they reach safety. These encounters typically aren’t so hard, but the monster does move fast so there’s little room to dawdle when making an escape.
I will say this about the monster: there is a long build-up to the monster’s introduction, and I found the build-up to be a lot scarier than the actual encounters with the monster. This I think happens in a lot of horror games, and I made note of it last year when I played Fatal Frame. In a lot of horror games, there’s a tension and dread that comes with the player psyching themselves out as they wait for the monsters to make their ambush. But when the monsters finally reveal themselves, I personally find it to be a bit of a relief.
Another phenomenon that I felt occurs in Into the Gloom and that occurs throughout the horror game spectrum was that the later parts of the game become significantly less scary, as I figured out how the game “works.” What I mean by that is that I was pretty confident in knowing when I was safe and when the monster was about to attack. This is something that I’ve felt in many other horror games, particularly those which require you to run rather than fight the enemy such as Amnesia and Outlast. To Into the Gloom’s credit, though, there was a great moment at the end where my feeling of complacency was completely subverted. In addition, in the “safe” parts of the game, there are still some (non-damaging) jump scares that occur, although I found these to be cheap at times. Regardless, the generally disturbing and creepy atmosphere was something that I felt pervaded the entire game.
The game took me almost exactly 2 hours to beat. However, I found out through YouTube that there is almost another hour of the game that I didn’t unlock. There is an optional puzzle that can be found midway through the game that if completed opens up additional levels that occur after the “normal” ending of the game. This additional content actually goes into much greater detail as to the nature of the “Gloom” world, gives some explanation as to the nature of the monster, and introduces new characters. Seeing as how the 2 hours I played was rather scant in story, I’m a bit disappointed in missing out on this extra content.
Ultimately, some annoying puzzles and a monster that isn’t super-threatening didn’t undermine the intense atmosphere and mood that this game managed to exude. At an investment of 3 buck and a few hours of play, Into the Gloom is probably a worthwhile experience for most horror game fans.