World Of Horror Early Access Review: Classic Randomized J-Horror Galore
Those of us who grew up on Uninvited, Darkseed, or any number of atmospheric text-based horror games are in for a nostalgic blast from the past with World Of Horror.
We recently got a chance to jump in on the Early Access version of the game, and we've got good news for all those truly messed up '80s kids.
If you like the randomized nature of games like Betrayal At House On The Hill and dig old adventure games, World Of Horror is basically your own personal funhouse of scary stories.
Although it definitely needs extensive player feedback during the Early Access period to get polished up before final launch, World of Horror is already a bone-chilling experience.
World Of Horror Early Access Review: Classic Randomized J Horror Galore!
From its chaotic opening complete with stuttering mouse to its point-and-click adventure mechanics, World Of Horror oozes old-school from the get-go. The scary tropes cover everything from the Cthulhu mythos to Japanese bizarro horror in the vein of Junji Ito (Uzumaki, Gyo).
The classic aesthetic we often associate with old PC games is on full display with a default black and white color scheme. If you want to get fancy, there's an option to change the base white palette to another color, and you can even choose the hi-fidelity "2-bit" mode that comes with grey shading.
Set in 1980s Japan, World of Horror's Classic mode (the only option currently available in Early Access) tasks you with solving five mysteries in any order you choose. Each involves a large number of randomized investigations, which you must complete before dying or going mad.
After completing all five mysteries your poor, doomed high-school student or newspaper reporter can finally unlock the lighthouse and see what horrors are hidden within.
Along the way you interact with various parts of the town utilizing RPG elements and randomized dice rolls. Your paranormal investigator levels up and increases her stats (if she survives long enough), and there's an option to turn the advanced dice roll info on or off.
In many ways, a Classic mode run is a lot like a randomized Call Of Cthulhu pen and paper campaign set in Japan. Which specific big bad is causing all the various shenanigans — from the appearance of evil mermaids and elastic rubber men to the disappearance of stars — is randomized each playthrough.
Those Great Old Ones are more than just window dressing, though, as each entity impacts a playthrough in different ways. When Cthac-Atorasu's mystical web covers the town you can't run from combat, but when the towering eye of Ath-Yolazsth looks down from the heavens, then the Doom meter rises anytime you cast a spell.
Nearly every part of World Of Horror has luck involved. Taking the eerily empty metro towards downtown might be uneventful, resulting in a slight reduction to the overall Doom meter. However, you might get accosted by any number of horrible things, causing it to rise.
Many investigative segments feature extra completion options that are only available if you have a specific skill, item, or spell. Unfortunately, due to how random all those elements are, it's fairly unlikely you'll ever actually have whatever you need at any given moment.
While you can't change the randomization of investigations and mysteries, it is possible to pick your character, difficulty, and Great Old One options ahead of time for slightly more control. For instance, picking your investigator lets you start with a spell rather than an ally, or you might have higher dexterity than knowledge.
Keeping It Old-School Without Getting Lost
After having completed several Classic runs, I'm struck by the strong contrast between World of Horror and Wizardry: Labyrinth Of Souls, which hit PC in January. Both openly worship a style that doesn't get much love anymore, but while Wizardry feels terribly constrained by its old-school mechanics, World Of Horror is liberated by them.
Surprisingly, World of Horror employs a number of unique and interesting combat options for such a simplistic style.
In one particularly frenzied fight, which came before I'd picked up anything useful, I had an ally distract the enemy to avoid taking damage that turn. I then scavenged an improvised weapon, dodged a deadly attack, saved up power for a surefire strike, realized there was no way I was getting out of this alive with a broken bottle for a weapon, and finally utilized the environment to end the fight in a story-related way.
Despite how cool all of that sounds, all of the randomization found in World of Horror can really screw your investigator over. A new negative effect settles over the town after completing every mystery as a terrible Great Old One further wakens. If you get the wrong combination of missions and negative effects, it's just simply game over. There's no coming back.
If the randomized investigations don't offer you healing items immediately, it's flat out impossible to win. You might have no choice but to look at a horrifying painting that deals stamina damage at the start of the next mystery and immediately die.
Of course, you could select Initiate difficulty to get more starting stamina and a better chance of making it to the end alive and sane, although that negates some of the rogue-like elements inherent to World of Horror.
Cracks In The Horrific Mirror
While World of Horror has a solid foundation, there is one major, glaring flaw at this stage of development.
Simply, the game needs four or five times as many mysteries and individual investigation scenes to be worth playing long term. The larger mystery cases and smaller investigative scenes will repeat often if you play through more than once. While it's possible to get different outcomes based on your inventory, stats, and stamina and reason pools, there's still a lot of repetition to be had.
Thankfully, it appears there are spots where more game modes and Old Ones will go, so I expect the options will increase ahead of launch. And that's not to mention that each mystery has multiple endings depending on how you finish the final investigation, meaning you can find different resolutions by tackling them in different ways.
World Of Horror further features a currently inaccessible menu for mods on the start screen. It seems like the idea might be to have players add their own stories, effectively multiplying future content.
Another tinier issue deals with the game's text. Because of the randomized nature of every mystery, some of the text in the investigation scenes doesn't actually match up with your objective.
In one scene, the main character says, "Let's get out of here" after witnessing something horrible, Logically, it indicates I need to leave the area. However, the mission actually requires that I then investigate the same area a second time, which doesn't make any sense.
Hopefully, it's something that will be fixed by the game's full release.
World Of Horror Early Access Review — The Bottom Line
In terms of atmosphere and aesthetics, World Of Horror is already exactly where it needs to be, even if the randomized elements need some fine-tuning.
Early Access will give the developers time to add in more content and smooth over the existing stories so they flow better. With more time to gestate, I expect World Of Horror will emerge from its cocoon a more beautiful (and terrifying) beast ready to destroy the world at final launch.
World Of Horror comes to Steam Early Access on February 20. You can add it to your wishlist here.
[Note: A copy of World of Horror was provided by Ysbryd Games for the purpose of this impressions article.]