Gently chilling freebie adventure inspired by ‘80s horror, from the designer of Alien: Isolation
The House Abandon is a free text adventure that feels like opening your childhood toybox and, in the nicest possible way, finding it swarming with cockroaches. It playfully recalls how it felt to be scared as a child, recreating the fear of rushing past the horror section in a VHS rental shop, afraid to catch a glimpse of a clawing hand or empty eye socket.
That’s a really abstract description, so I’ll unpack it a little. It’s a horror game from Alien: Isolation Designer Jon McKellan, created in three days as part of the Ludum Dare 36 game jam. You navigate the game by typing commands - ‘open glovebox’, ‘unlock door’, ‘weep uncontrollably’ etc. - and your understanding of the world comes from what you read on screen. The clever thing here is that you’re playing within the game, on a fuzzy CRT television, flickering in the gloom of an indistinct 1980s bedroom. This provides an additional layer of immersion. As you read descriptions and use your imagination to build an image of the house you’re investigating, the world around you reacts as well. To say anything more would ruin it.
The House Abandon is scary in a nostalgic, almost cosy way. It’s the midnight face at the door of your gran’s house; the favourite toy piano that plays slightly the wrong chords. If you’re a horror fan, you’ll scratch around for creepy bits and be delighted by bleeding notes, scrawled messages and psychological trauma, but there are still some cleverly handled shocks. It’s quite short - most people will power through it in around 30-40 minutes - but the pacing is about right for a sharp, effective story. The main obstacle to your progression, as with all text adventures, comes from typing the correct word and meeting the specific requirements to progress. In that respect it’s a faithful recreation of the ancient ZX Spectrum games that came stuck to the front of old magazines, even down to the crackling tape sounds and lurid loadings screens.
Best of all, now feels like exactly the right time for The House Abandon. Stranger Things reminded us of the grammar of '80s horror: throbbing music, autumnal wallpaper and angular fonts that float in the air after you close your eyes. This feels like a brisk, pleasing accompaniment to that. The House Abandon is the sort of thing you’d expect to see someone playing at the start of season 2 of Stranger Things, like a eldritch version of the adventure from Big.
The House Abandon is available to download for free here. Wait until it gets dark, make yourself a mug of warm milk, and treat yourself to a half hour of simple, satisfying shivers.
You Should Be Playing celebrates innovative, unexpected games that belong on your radar, with a new game every Monday at 0900 PST / 1700 GMT. Follow @gamesradar on Twitter for updates.