Technically speaking, No One Lives Under the Lighthouse.
This is another one of those PS1 style horror games that are quite popular at the moment. I really liked Paratopic as an example of this genre, but that’s not to say that every one lands as well. They do tend to have one of two things in common. They’re either inspired by 80s slasher horror, or their plots are hard to follow and bizarre in the extreme. No One Lives Under the Lighthouse certainly fits into the latter category.
You are a lighthouse keeper on a remote island, given the job of lighting the beacon each night, and maintaining the island throughout the day. Of course, it doesn’t take long for strange happenings to begin occurring at night, often whilst you’re inside the lighthouse itself. Items aren’t where you left them, machines are mysteriously damaged, and something keeps knocking on doors. I can’t go into too much detail for fear of spoiling a lot of what happens, but suffice to say that you rapidly descend into madness, and all sorts of Lovecraftian shenanigans abound.
The horror element comes across really effectively, and rarely, if ever resorts to jump scares. This is atmosphere and escalating dread all the way. Every night brings something new and creepier than what came before, from strange noises in the distance and creatures swarming the lighthouse, to horrifying fleshy chambers beneath the island and being stalked by twisted monstrosities. This latter element is particularly nicely done, as you often have to flee from the monster whilst seeing through the monster’s eyes, Siren style. Quite why all these strange events are happening isn’t terribly clear, which is quite fitting for the eldritch themes at play. I’m sure finding all four endings will shed a bit more light on the island, but I quite like the cosmic horror stylings of not fully understanding why you are enduring these nightmares.
Mechanically, you spend most of your time going from one part of the island to another, finding items to complete a task. Tasks aren’t really directly given to you, beyond your instruction to light and maintain the lighthouse. You’ll often find something is damaged or missing, and you’ll need to find some way of resolving the problem. Most of the time you simply need to go to the nearby tool shed to grab a hammer, rope, or some other tool. This is fine, but it does get a bit tedious running back and forth over and over. Interestingly though, you can find unrelated tasks that will alter your path through the game. Again, I won’t go into too much here, as there’s enjoyment in the discovery, but you may come across something you can interact with, if only you can find the correct item to do so.
Aside from the back-and-forth fetch quests, this is really quite enjoyable, with a wonderful horror aspect. The second half of the game isn’t quite as strong though. Once you actually start finding out just who is or isn’t living under the lighthouse, things start to switch into a more basic horror game in some ways. There’s still a creepy atmosphere, but now you have to avoid monsters whilst collecting items, with you being caught leading to a restart of the section. You walk around similar corridors waiting for the next event to trigger instead of exploring and solving problems. It’s a much weaker element to the game, and it’s at this stage where the plot becomes increasingly confusing.
I still enjoyed No One Lives Under the Lighthouse at this stage though, if only to see what madness would occur next. In some ways I saw this as being a bit like Scorn, in that the environment is as much of a character as you or anyone else you come across. Whilst you will speak to people, seeing what was around the church, inside your own cabin, and even under the lighthouse told just as much, if not more, about the world and its events.
The visuals use that aforementioned PS1 art style, with low resolution, low poly graphics that keep what you’re looking at something of a mystery at times. This plays well with a horror game, as not knowing is just as important as being stared down by an eldritch beast. In fact, having you be chased down from the monster’s perspective is a great effect here — even though it makes the controls a touch awkward — as it means you don’t actually see what the monster looks like until quite late in the game.
Then there’s the sound design, which absolutely carries this game at times. The limited music somehow sets up a simultaneously calm yet tense atmosphere, whilst the ambient sound really drills into you at times. The sudden bangs on the lighthouse door, the screech of seagulls, and the almost mechanical crash of demonic legs on stone floors are all distinct and frightening in their own way, and are frequently expertly timed to maximise your discomfort.
As an overall horror package, No One Lives Under the Lighthouse is generally very good if you’re the sort of person who can enjoy a slow burn horror. It may only be about two hours long, but it maximises that time by gradually ratcheting up the fear, especially in that first hour. I will say that I was let down by a couple of bugs. I had the game lock up at one point, and another time when I loaded the game to a faded version of the title screen constantly plastered across my display until I launched the game again. Nothing game breaking, but irritating nonetheless.
This isn’t a game for everyone, but as a horror experience, there’s little out there that is genuinely this unsettling, especially at this price point. It’s certainly worth a look for those who have become desensitised to mainstream video game horror.