Silver Chains Review: Tried and True Haunted House Horror That's Better as a Let's Play
I'm always up for a new horror adventure title. It doesn't matter the time of year (begone summer, bring us that glorious October already).
Silver Chains from Cracked Head Games does an admirable job of working within the standard genre norms to tell a haunting tale now and in the haunting season.
However, the game doesn't shatter any of those norms. It doesn't push any of those boundaries further out into the blackening abyss. Unfortunately, we all know the drill of a horror game like this.
We open things with our poor, doomed protagonist stuck in a big building for an unknown reason. Of course, they must occasionally hide from a un-killable monster while trying to unravel a mystery.
Silver Chains even embraces classic tropes in its opening segment, and it's something straight out of 1991's Uninvited.
But after that opening scene that we've already seen a million times before, Silver Chains offers up a mix of folklore, traditional ghost tales, psychological horror... and a whole lot of dolls.
What Silver Chains Does Differently
The very first thing that stands out in Silver Chains is the high level of graphical polish the game presents, which is far beyond most other indie walking-sim horror games.
Aesthetically speaking, this particular haunted-mansion is just flat out beautiful, and the environment is a genuine joy to peruse, especially when you aren't being chased by some awful thing or other. However, this isn't a game where exploration is rewarded, or even necessary.
There are some achievements to miss if you don't explore, but you won't have to worry about missing too much when sneaking between walls, exploring libraries, and running at top speed down dusty hallways.
Like most titles in this style, you always know you are on the right track because the big bad will appear and chase you whenever you find the next storyline objective. In this case, its the monstrous Mother.
Speaking of Mother, Silver Chains employs a truly solid monster design, here. There's no doubt she elicits a more viscerally terrifying reaction than a lot of other "run-and-hide" horror games that have released recently.
Besides her wildly flowing hair and spooky supernatural aura, Mother can skitter along the walls in a most unsettling manner; getting caught in her oversized hands isn't a fun way to die, especially when you consider the animation is accompanied by an extremely unpleasant snapping sound.
Although neither the atmosphere and nor the story's execution is as dark as, say, Outlast 2, Mother is easily a scarier antagonist than the pickax-wielding Marta. Silver Chains does a fantastic job of wrenching up the gruesome quotient so desperately lacking from death sequences in other games.
It's something that motivates the player to not get caught, and it's something more games in the genre need to take heed of.
Chase sequences aside, Silver Chains has its fair share of effective jump scares, especially if you play in the dark with the volume up. That's because the sound and music is mostly a step up from other indie horror titles.
While walking on the kitchen tile sounds godawful (and thankfully, it only occurs in that one room), everything else here is meticulously crafted to increase the game's atmosphere, from the creaking wooden horses to the children whispering, "She's coming!" when Mother is on your trail.
When you aren't jumping out of your seat from a sudden ghostly appearance or hiding from the deadly Mother, the bulk of the game consists of finding ways to access new areas, which is where Silver Chains' monocle mechanic comes into play.
With the spirit monocle equipped, you can follow ghostly signs to find hidden entrances or changing rooms, which is a bit different from what you'd expect in this genre.
Unfortunately, the puzzles are pretty standard fare for the most part. Input a safe code, gather three doll parts, twist some nobs to a specific pattern, find four paintings — it's all fairly standard fare.
One Big, Unavoidable Problem
Besides its rather by-the-numbers mechanics, Silver Chains has one major problem that can't be overcome by high-end visuals or amazing sound effects— there's even less actual gameplay here than Layers Of Fear.
You don't even get to open cabinets and drawers in the search for the next journal entry or key. It's all "walk here, press 'E' to interact" — and that's it.
For many players, Silver Chains will work better as a Let's Play than an actual game.
Having both played the game and then watched a playthrough, I can confidently say that the latter is a better experience with the lights off, headphones on, and a YouTube clip at full screen. At least then you don't have to deal with the frustration of repeatedly dying or trying to figure out the puzzles.
The Bottom Line
- Beautiful graphics for an indie title
- Sound effects and music match the atmosphere
- Classic haunted house storyline and terrifying main enemy
- Extremely short
- Puzzles are by very by-the-numbers
- Lack of gameplay elements makes this more fun to watch than to play
If you dig Outlast, Amnesia, Layers Of Fear, or The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter, then Silver Chains can find a place in your collection of puzzle/adventure horror games.
Unfortunately, it's a very short experience that makes the price tag hard to justify. I finished it in less than four hours and one sitting. If you can guess all the puzzles on your first try, you could complete it in just over an hour.
Considering that you can watch the whole game online without having to deal with frustration puzzles and deaths, and get the same overall experience, I have to (sadly) say that Silver Chains is a well-crafted game that's only worth buying if you must play every game in the genre.