With a swathe of excellent first-person horror games being released right now, Quintus and the Absent Truth struggles to stand out.
Touting itself as a first-person horror game means that Quintus and the Absent Truth is going to put itself into one of two camps if the past few years in this genre are anything to go by. On the one hand, you have genuinely unsettling and downright terrifying games like Martha is Dead or the indie darling IMSCARED. On the other, you have a slew of jump scare parades that lack any sense of atmosphere. Despite having a few interesting ideas, Quintus falls more in the latter category than the former.
You play as Alan, a former musician who has failed to put a single note to paper in ten years and has been struggling to cope since the death of his wife. Waking up at his dining room table, he is reminded that it’s his daughter’s birthday, only to find via some moderately creepy goings-on that she is missing. A creepy-voiced phone call tells him that she’s been taken to his old record company. Alan heads over there to find out what’s going on and if his daughter is still alive.
The plot is seemingly quite simple, hitting the kinds of tropes you might expect, but it does a couple of interesting things and even dives into a little time travel at one point. It’s not the most creative, but it’s also not done terribly.
The gameplay is much weaker though, but it does once again do a couple of interesting things. For the bulk of Quintus, you walk around corridors trying to find keys or other such objects to progress. Occasionally there are little puzzles, but they amount to little more than finding another object. What’s neat is that you’ll sometimes need to take control of the titular Quintus, Alan’s pet mouse. Quintus himself can get into spaces that Alan cannot and accesses a few unusual adventures of his own. Whilst these sections are neat enough, especially when the mouse delves into some of those time travel moments, they do amount to the same thing that Alan would be doing, but on a smaller scale.
That smaller scale is quite nice to see though, with Quintus having to navigate a kitchen which is obviously much larger than he is. You need to find other ways around the environment, climbing along cutlery or knocking over brooms to move forward. The narrator nigh-on tells you what to do, but the different environments do make it more interesting. It would be nice if there were some element of threat here, but I didn’t find any. There was even a cat in one section that does absolutely nothing to put the mouse in danger. Perhaps the developers didn’t feel confident in adding actual danger to the game, but this felt like an enormously missed opportunity.
And that’s really Quintus and the Absent Truth in a nutshell: missed opportunities. Rather than just being scripted sequences, it would have been fun to have the option to control Quintus at will, or have puzzles that required coordination between Alan and the mouse. Instead of whimsical moments interspersed with the odd unearned jump scare, there could have been mounting threat from the cat stalking the rodent. There was a fairly neat music based puzzle early in the game, so where were the other musically themed challenges later in the tale? There’s a lot of potential here that goes utterly unexplored.
The visuals have an interesting flair to them, with light and shadow changing the style of the world considerably. In darkness, everything becomes monochrome, with details being lost and the world appearing more like a series of line drawings. Introducing light brings some colour and detail to the small area around it. It’s a neat look that could have had some puzzles built around it. The character models are quite weak, looking like something from the PS2 era of gaming, but they do have a certain charm to them, and it’s actually quite rare that you see a character on screen for more than a few moments. When it comes to sound, things are a lot stronger, at least in the music department. Considering Alan’s past career that makes sense, but it is done well, with some lovely piano tracks throughout. The vocal work comes across as quite cheesy at times, especially with the supposedly scary voices.
That lack of scares is really what brings Quintus and the Absent Truth down. The occasional jump scare accompanied by a quick violin chord doesn’t cut it when the atmosphere isn’t there due to the repetitive gameplay, simple environments, and lack of any threat. A tiny rodent should feel vulnerable when surrounded by a huge environment, and a human should be at risk to the apparent ghosts around them. The trailer for this game certainly looked interesting, and some of the content within certainly is, but the bulk of it comes across as one of those basic horror games you can pick up on Steam for a couple of pounds. With any luck Wreck Tangle Games’ next release will have a greater focus on fear and making use of the solid ideas they have.