Paranormal: A Haunting All Your Own (Every Time You Boot It Up)

All through September and October, I’ve been on an incredible horror kick and have discovered a number of awesome new titles in the genre. Many of these are indie games that work on new, clever ideas to bring scares to gaming. Paranormal has one of the ballsiest: It’s a game where you don’t really do anything, except watch.

It also works beautifully, getting at that same level of realistic helplessness that titles such as Slender: The Eight Pages, Erie, Penumbra and Amnesia: The Dark Descent use to scare the hell out of us. Paranormal gives you the mandate of seeking out scary crap and documenting it, but does a phenomenal job in letting you suspect that it could all go sideways at any moment, and that the weirdness is about to become dangerous.

Paranormal is still a work in progress, and therefore struggles with some issues of stability and the occasional bug or annoyance. But given that it’s largely the work of one guy and that it does a such a good job of capturing that specific “found footage” atmosphere, it’s hard not to take the good and leave the bad.

Artist Mattel Clarke apartment is haunted, and weird things have been happening around him within it. Bent on proving that what he’s experiencing is real, he’s set up cameras around the space to capture any ghostly activities he can. He also trucks around a handheld video camera, and that’s where your role as the player comes in. You play as Mattel as he tries to film the happenings around him — so primarily, your role is to hold the camera and to walk into the various rooms of the apartment, waiting for weird stuff to happen.

And the weird stuff does not disappoint. Mattel’s art studio is filled with half-size human mannequins, for example, which he says “help him to visualize the 3-D space” while he’s sculpting. Of course, those mannequins inexplicably seem to find their ways to new places around the room whenever your back is turned. Apparitions, strange sounds, weird occurrences — the haunting runs the gamut, and it does so in a hurry.

Things escalate quickly, too. Certain events and actions trigger much more intense haunting events, leaving Mattel unable to move or even physically affected or otherwise interacted with by invisible forces. It can be really unsettling, which is, of course, the point. Some things happen predictably in certain areas or at certain times, but for the most part, the events are random, which means that each time you enter the haunted apartment (and as each new day passes), you’ll encounter different things in different orders.

This has its upsides, as well as down. For one thing, it means that you get a new haunting every time you boot up the game, which helps keep it from getting stagnant (specifically because you can’t save). For another, however, it means that a planned escalation of encounters doesn’t really exist. Walk through the studio and you might hear strange noises or see a box slide across the room. Head to the bathroom a second later and you could get a full-on blood-from-every-faucet terrorfest, only to wander back outside and see something rather pedestrian by comparison.

Taken together, though, the pluses of the random hauntings outweigh that more or less single negative, because the whole thing is much more interesting when you don’t know what’s coming. And since you have to start every haunting from the beginning, expecting things that aren’t there (and seeing new things you didn’t expect) goes a long way to keep the scenario fresh even through multiple runs.

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