Reveil – Three ring circus?

Fun house! A whole lot of fun!

Reveil might seem by the numbers, but you won’t see the end coming.

I’ve played a lot of horror games. The good, the bad, and the ugly all have their place, whether that means moving the genre forward, or simply being some B-movie fun. Sometimes though, one comes along and you just know you’ll remember it for a long time, for better or worse. Reveil is one of those games that for 80% of its run time will feel like a solid, if middle-of-the-road, horror game. But it will rip the rug out from under you at the final stretch in a way that I’ll keep coming back to for the foreseeable future. I won’t spoil it, but if you like horror with a twist, this will do it for you.

You play as Walter, a man who awakens from a strange dream to find that his wife and daughter are missing. Through a series of strange events, Walter finds himself at the circus where the three of them work, and sets about trying to find where they are. Throughout his journey, he’ll experience strange flashbacks that he has no recollection of, explore maddeningly laid-out versions of his own home, and wake back into the same nightmare over and over. Will he find his family, or are things even stranger than they seem?

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Well this seems thoroughly out of place.

Reveil is a first-person horror game like many others, and whilst it isn’t always heavy on terror, it certainly nails the atmosphere and manages to come up with some fun puzzles. During each of the five chapters Walter will find himself locked in rooms that he’ll need to find his way out of. Most of the time he’ll need to interact with objects to find items to use on other objects in order to find a key. It has a nice escape-room vibe to it a lot of the time, with most puzzles being pitched at just the right level to not be excessively difficult but still leave you with the satisfaction of solving them yourself. You’ll need to crack codes, complete dexterity tasks, and even open a puzzle box or two over the course of the four-or-so hour story mode.

Occasionally you’ll need to complete tasks whilst under threat from enemies. This tends to boil down to finding some items while avoiding a monster that hunts you in a small enough environment and they are mostly fairly brief sections, bar one which was pretty irritating. Late in the game you need to find three orbs in a pretty sizable forest whilst a monster is on your trail. There’s a neat mechanic of bells hanging from strings being set up as traps to signal your whereabouts which I quite liked. I wasn’t a fan of how big the forest was and how long it took to find the landmarks I needed though. It was like Slender all over again but with a slightly better torch. Luckily, being caught doesn’t reset your progress, allowing you to keep the objects you’ve found. Small mercies, I suppose.

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There are some really neat puzzles. This one felt good to solve as the challenge was at just the right level.

Between puzzles and enemies you’ll be walking through increasingly strange environments that twist and warp throughout the chapter. Walter’s house changes layout — often using that neat when-your-back-is-turned trick from Layers of Fear — and the circus seems far bigger than it should be. These sections look and feel the part, with oppressive colour palettes and droning soundscapes. There’s a reliance on cheap jump scares in a few of these sections, which makes sense for when you walk through a circus fun house, but becomes predictable and annoying rather than building atmosphere. I feel like Reveil is too smart to rely on these so much, but rely on them it does.

Then the eerie, almost dreamlike world is ripped away in a sudden shift that tries and in my opinion actually manages to bring all the seemingly disparate elements together. The world is radically different at this point, but the mechanics are still the same. The cliche of horror games being less frightening in the final act is alive and well here, but it’s put to good use. During this final chapter you’ll even be able to find multiple different endings depending on if you find certain items or make certain decisions. No need to replay the whole game to find some innocuous decision you made in chapter 2 — just pay attention and you should be able to make an informed choice.

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Some of the stealth sections are a bit irritating, but you aren’t punished harshly for failure.

All of this is improved thanks to a really solid visual style that reminded me of Madison, as well as a number of other horrors that attempt to recreate a realistic environment. The look of the game throughout is very nicely done, although there is a heavy reliance on one colour filters at times. I hope you like red. There are some lovely lighting effects early on, and I never once found that Reveil made things too dark to see. I will make a little complaint about which items you should be paying attention to. Some important objects just aren’t clear at all, and if it weren’t for a hint system highlighting interactive items then I’d probably still be stuck in the first chapter. The controls are a little fiddly here too, with it sometimes being tricky to line up with the object you want. A mouse and keyboard would be better than a controller, shockingly.

The sound is mostly well done too. There’s a good soundtrack in here, and it’s used sparingly, often relying on more environmental soundscapes like a good horror game should. The puzzle boxes have nice clicks and thunks as you complete elements of them that I particularly liked. The voice work is fine, quite good at times in fact, but Walter is inexplicably calm for most of the runtime. Even when things are utterly bonkers, he seems to be able to articulate himself pretty well, without so much as raising his voice. It’s a little immersion breaking really, and I think I’d lay the blame more on the script than the performance.

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There are some pretty neat visuals as you go through the story. This, for example, is a train.

With that said, Reveil is certainly a solid horror game that will give you a twist in the tale if that’s your thing. It’s not perfect, but with its short runtime, interesting story, and multiple endings, it’s hard to do anything other than recommend this one.The mechanics may seem cliche, but the story will surprise you. Don’t pass on this because you feel you’ve seen it all before. You haven’t.

Reveil is available now on Xbox, PC, and PlayStation.

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