The Conjuring House Review: Haunting, But Not in the Way You Think
We want horror games to immediately put us on edge. We want them to make us question every decision we make and ignore almost every fiber of common sense we have. We want them to scare the living hell out of us.
We also want them to do those things in a logical, engaging way. The Conjuring House delivers on these initial (unsettling) hopes, but they're quickly washed away as annoying bugs and glitches halt forward progress and suffocate any horror that would have otherwise terrified us.
Although The Conjuring House wears the masquerades in greatness, it never fully realizes its potential, becoming not much more than a murky, stumbling mess.
The Atkinson Mansion
The beginning of The Conjuring House immediately places you face to face with the mansion's supernatural threat, giving you no illusion of what the game's about.
In a cliche that's more and more common, things open with a set up -- a visitor to the house quickly succumbs to the evil within, leaving you little time to assess how all of the pieces fit together. Although you can expect to see the evil force for remainder of the game, everything's a little jarring right out of the gate, especially considering the story elements don't exactly flow from one segment to the next.
As you cut to a brand-new character -- our true protagonist -- who gets sent into the home in search of a previous paranormal investigation team, things (kind of) come into focus. Kind of.
In true horror form, you'll begin exploring the house to learn more about it and the nefarious forces within. Fully robed characters disappear right in front of you and a demon-woman hellbent on ripping everyone's face off stalks the halls.
You'll find that the supernatural beings holding you in the confines of the mansion can only be defeated by finding five artifacts -- artifacts a Satanic cult used to summon them in the first place. This sets you on an adventure full of jump scares, death, artifacts, keys, and many locked doors.
It's all typical horror game fare; most of it's stuff you've seen in other horror games like Layers of Fear and Remothered. In and of itself, the horror found here is decent at worst and scary at best.
It's just that key mechanics and a hefty amount of bugs make progress slow and enjoyment difficult.
The entire first part of the game can take you far longer than you'll probably want it to -- and longer than should be allowed. Because this is a puzzle game, you already know you have to discover several clues hidden throughout the house to move forward. That's a given. And because it's a horror-puzzle game, you're also being hunted by demons and wicked spirits as you search for clues and solutions.
However, this is also the biggest snag in the game. Despite the developers crafting setting out to make a non-linear horror experience, several mechanics refuse to function unless the player interacts with or triggers specific events in the house.
An example of this comes immediately after you're given the flashlight. Right after getting it, you'll find a number on a wall written in blood. This is the first combination to a padlock you need to open nearby.
However, you're then forced to search the entire first area for other lock combinations, also using your flashlight to find them written in blood. However, they don't always trigger. I had searched the entire first area only to come up empty. But when I went down a specific hallway and watched a small cutscene, I found I magically had access to the third and final number of the combination.
The frustrating thing was that I needed another number that never appeared.
I was forced to eventually stand at the padlock, guessing over and over again until the lock finally opened. Invariably, I was killed by the ghost several times in the process, and I had to consistently memorize what combinations I had already used on the lock.
Because of this particular bug, I even restarted the game several times in hopes the fourth combo would appear. It never did.
At this point, I know what you might be thinking: I'm just bad at both horror games and puzzle games. However, I spoke to a colleague who was also playing the game, and we discovered the fourth code was almost impossible to discover. We found that it could even be bugged, as we both restarted several times and only he was able to find it after several tries.
Not only do these hard stops get needlessly frustrating, they also make the game needlessly difficult. Since your flashlight is integral to finding puzzle solutions, you're in a race against the clock since there are a limited number of flashlight batteries in the game.
Because you can only find a certain amount per area, you're often left searching locations over and over again -- and coming up empty handed, shrouded in impenetrable darkness.
Throughout the game I ran into a number of bugs and glitches, from visual issues with the ghost to certain objects blocking my progress. There were times when the ghost would clip through objects and others where I attempted to interact with an object and couldn't until I restarted the game to try again.
One of the most troublesome involved the ghost and save spots. To save in The Conjuring House, your character must safely enter a warded area, complete with seals, scrolls, skulls, and perfect candlelight. When the character closes the door, the demon cannot enter. Once it wanders away, then you can save.
However, I had saved a game with the demon nearby, patiently waited for it to go away, and confident I could return to my searching. However, I was shocked to see my character get swiftly mauled by the creature and the 'Game Over' screen pop up.
This happened to me several times. When I spawned on a save I knew I was going to die on, I attempted to run past the demon and go to a new save spot. This worked once, but several of these attempts still left my character dead.
The Conjuring House is by no means a high-resource game. However, when you get into larger areas beyond the first few hallways of the mansion, the game noticeably starts to struggle.
I noticed this early on while wandering around a well-lit section of the mansion after I had descended a flight of stairs. The tearing was slow and tedious; to make matters worse, the game continued to struggle throughout my entire playthrough despite certain areas being less "intensive".
Things were made worse when the demon finally showed up to chase me. Running away from her as my game attempted to constantly load was painfully difficult to say the least.
In the off chance stuttering and tearing weren't bogging me down, The Conjuring House looks fairly nice and polished.
Light and shadow work together to produce a nice ambiance and atmosphere, while the visuals creepily reinforce the notion that not a single person has lived in the house for decades.
Taking time to stop and appreciate the eerie setting the developers crafted is certainly worthwhile, and the cut scenes appear polished, too.There's little doubt there was love put into this game.
However, love only goes so far when there's a creeping evil constantly breathing down your neck -- and one you can seemingly never escape from. And I'm not necessarily talking about the ghost.
The Conjuring House tries to aim for something far more than the traditional horror game within the first few minutes. Sadly, these notes mostly fall flat as the game is haunted by a bevy of glitches and problems that exponentially stack up as time goes by.
Despite the developer saying players can take a non-linear path through the game, you'll still have to trigger the correct events in order to progress in many of the game's key moments. This problem makes the game tiresome and more importantly, it quickly erodes the game's horror elements, leaving a sour aftertaste that will linger long after you've stopped playing.
At the time this review, the developers have release a 2.2GB patch, but they did not note what the patch covered or what was fixed in the game.
I'm not sure if I'll ever know. As much as I hate to say it, I'm glad I'll never have to return to the Atkinson mansion again.
You can purchase The Conjuring House on Steam for $24.99.
[Note: The developer provided the copy of The Conjuring House used in this review.]