When the promising Silent Hills was canceled, the horror gaming community suffered a major blow. Not only was it the brainchild of Hideo Kojima, but it would have featured input from Japanese horror manga mastermind Junji Ito. Though it wasn't meant to be, another developer was busy working on a game that would borrow heavily from Ito's legacy in some very interesting ways. Developer Panstasz (real name Pavel Kozminski) has been working tirelessly on the rogue-lite adventure World of Horror, one of the most intriguing games this year, and it's finally entering its Early Access phase on Steam.
World of Horror is a satisfyingly minimalistic adventure that's a love letter to the classic days of early Macintosh games. Everything is handcrafted and painstakingly detailed by Kozminski, resembling an impeccable tableau of scenes created in MS Paint. It's all presented in stark monochrome, with several different color schemes to choose from, though you'll only get a few different shades – green, olive, even red if that's your thing. The cold, clinical white is the most effective when it comes to building tension, and the color scheme I ended up sticking with throughout every playthrough.
These visuals are just one of the most unique aspects of World of Horror, however. The actual game plays out unlike anything you may have experienced before. Set in Japan in 1984, you take on the role of one of five different protagonists, each with their own set of traits, starting items, strengths, and weaknesses. While they all have unique backstories, their reasoning for investigating "mysteries," as the game calls them, remains the same: the city is slowly being affected by the manifestation of one of the Eldritch Gods.
Yes, that's Lovecraft I'm speaking of. To keep the god from spawning and throwing the world into chaos, you must solve a series of five mysteries from the game's 12 (20 when the game officially launches) to earn the keys you need to access the game's Lighthouse and stave off the Old Gods any way you possibly can. Mysteries are randomly assigned each time you play, and you can choose the order in which you approach them. This leaves plenty of opportunities for replays after you complete a series of cases, especially since the mysteries themselves change a bit every time you play through them.
Each mystery revolves around something bizarre that's happening in town. You might hear talk of a ghostly woman running around with scissors at the high school, or take an assignment to investigate a strange ramen shop that people blindly flock to in droves. While you're completing your investigations, there are also a series of creepy zombies, cultists, stalkers, and perverts out to get you as well. They're all extremely detailed and in many cases pretty gross, practically guaranteed to unsettle you. I particularly appreciated the attention to detail here, ensuring there were plenty of weirdos in the game to try and stop me at any cost.
While you're working on solving a mystery, you'll have to keep your wits about you as you collect items, perform rituals, and solve puzzles related to the case you're currently on. And when the baddies in town come calling (which can be at random), you can fight back as well. The turn-based combat finds you using both stamina (health points) and reason (mental fortitude) to complete each fight. Reach zero in either, and it's game over – unless you can use an item or a spell to get yourself back in the game. It can be an austere affair, especially if you're unlucky enough to come across a particularly powerful monster, but that's the work of RNG in World of Horror. You just have to be lucky enough to not get caught sometimes, which can make solving mysteries much easier in some situations.
Of course, just because you can get lucky doesn't mean you will. World of Horror can be unforgiving, especially during your first playthrough. There are several intricate systems to memorize, difficult puzzles to solve, and a "proper" way to complete certain mysteries that you won't learn until you've already failed one. Luckily, there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back and trying again, especially with the promise of additional content on the way.
World of Horror is an imaginative homage to a bygone era of gaming – when 1-bit games ruled the world – and an amalgam of intriguing systems that I can't wait to see continue to evolve when the complete game makes its debut later this year. It's set to include 20 different mysteries, mod support, and a swath of additions that should help polish it even further into a shining, horrific diamond.
If you seek something a bit different, yet crazy spooky, World of Horror should be your first stop both as an Early Access title and when the full game debuts in Q4 2020. Just try to get some sleep after you encounter the creepy woman with the scissors. You're going to need it.