Whilst it’s a touch janky, Oxide: Room 104 feels like a modern take on classic survival horror games.
First-person horror games have started to have something of a resurgence in recent years. In spite of the genre’s reputation long since earned from terrible Steam asset flips, there have been a handful of genuinely good games, such as Martha is Dead and In Sound Mind. These smaller releases manage something that big-budget horror games just don’t seem to, and that’s being actually unsettling and even existing at all. Major publishers are often reluctant to release horror games for some reason, so it’s a good thing indie developers are working hard to bring releases to this underserved genre. Recently I’ve been enjoying Wild Sphere’s Oxide: Room 104, and whilst it certainly has its issues, I had a great time exploring the nightmare motel you find yourself in.
You begin with a brief cutscene, introducing you to your character Matt, who arrives at a motel after a job he’s been on didn’t go the way he intended. What sort of job that was gradually becomes clearer over time. Upon entering the reception area, he’s knocked out by a mysterious man in an orange jumpsuit and wakes up in a bathtub in the titular room 104. It’ll be your job to guide Matt through the horrifying hotel, solving puzzles, avoiding threats, and ultimately escaping.
The bulk of Oxide: Room 104 involves solving puzzles to find keys to other rooms in the motel. The puzzles themselves aren’t always all that difficult, and often require you to simply find a way of unlocking cases and doors, or removing obstacles that block your path. Many of them offer different threats though. An early one has you try to pick up a key underneath a centipede. If you simply try to pick it up, you’ll be poisoned, requiring you to find an antidote quickly before you die and suffer some pretty interesting consequences. If you look around the environment though, you’ll probably find one or two ways of handling the multi-footed menace, allowing you to progress. I liked that many of the puzzles had more than one solution, and this plays nicely into the death mechanic.
Unlike most horror games, dying due to the many threats in the motel won’t reset you back to the checkpoint. Instead, you’ll awaken, chained to another bathtub whilst the man in the orange jumpsuit tells you that you need to do better before he viciously hacks off one of your limbs. You’ll then be back in the bathtub in room 104, but this time the motel is slightly different. It’s dilapidated, with a more threatening atmosphere, and there are a greater number of enemies roaming the corridors and rooms. Not only that, but the puzzles will have changed, to the point that you won’t actually need to go into some of the rooms you did during your previous attempt.
Each time you die it becomes more and more difficult to navigate your foes, but the puzzles become quicker to solve giving a good balance should you perish. With that said, should you die too many times, the antagonist will grow tired of your failures and kill you off entirely, giving you one of the game’s bad endings. You’ll then be reset right back at the beginning of the game for another attempt. This may seem punishing, but the entirety of Oxide: Room 104 can be completed in around 90 minutes should you manage to get through it with no deaths. After my disastrous first run, I found my second attempt much simpler as I had learned my way around and had a better idea of what I should and shouldn’t do in certain rooms. It’s quite a unique system, and I can’t think of any horror games that do something similar.
Unfortunately, some of those deaths may feel a little unfair. The damage you can take from some puzzles feel like “gotcha” moments the first time around, with you experimenting only to be harmed as a result. You’ll know better next time, but initially it feels a touch unfair. Then there’s the shooting, which feels very clunky. Aiming with a controller was quite awkward, and I found myself missing shots that I’d normally be able to make. You can actually avoid shooting altogether thanks to the enemies being blind and hunting you by sound and touch, but even this was a little off with some occasionally suspect collision detection.
Then there’s the voice acting, which is woeful. Matt himself should be shocked at what he’s seeing, and the things he says implies that he is, but the way he says it is often laughable. A huge mannequin headed monstrosity appears inches from his face early on, and Matt’s response is “What’s going on here?” rather than screaming like a mad man and running for his life. It’s a shame, as the other elements of the presentation are very good. The music in particular is excellent, and the ambient sound is often quite unsettling — the sound of a terrified woman screaming in one of the hotel rooms constantly set me on edge. The visuals are a little last-gen in places, but they’re used well to generate creepy environments and unsettling monsters. The textures are a little muddy in places though.
Once you look past these minor issues though, there’s a really enjoyable first-person experience here. The atmosphere feels like something out of classic Silent Hill games, especially as the motel becomes more and more run down due to your failures. The monster design is thoroughly disturbing, at least at first, and some of the body horror you’ll experience is at Outlast levels of intensity. There aren’t many games like this one out there these days, and smaller budget releases are ones that should be lauded when they manage to hit so many good notes in spite of a couple of irritations. I’m hoping for more from Wild Sphere as time goes by, because there’s some serious talent here.