Temple of Horror is scary for all the wrong reasons.
Horror is hard to get right in video games, as not only do you need the scares and atmosphere, but also the ability to keep things frightening even when a player is doing a section again after a death. It’s a tough line to tread, one that this year’s Oxide: Room 104 figured out in a really interesting way. Alternatively, you could lean heavily on the environmental and visual horror and remove deaths from the equation like the wonderfully gruesome Martha is Dead. Temple of Horror from EpiXR Games of Paper Flight fame, does very few of these things well at all and became more an exercise in confusion and irritation than one that would ratchet up the tension.
You awaken in a dungeon with no recollection of how you got there. Thanks to some mysterious gravestones and bloody messages on the floor you find that you are in the titular temple and that no one escapes alive. Obviously, you intend to prove them wrong and set about trying to find your way out. Messages along your way — including a lovely nod to Dark Souls, telling you to try jumping as you approach a sheer drop — tell you of the futility of your efforts and how the horrors within will consume you, but still you press on through nine stages of slow walking and door finding.
The essence of each stage is to wander through a maze and find the exit whilst trying to survive. Each one does try to throw something different at you, such as paths that are hidden by illusory walls, or the need to find an item to open up a door, but that key point sums up the whole game. Many of the stages contain threats, such as generic enemies that chase you, or traps that will instantly dispatch you, sending you back to the beginning of the level. These things can be fine if done well, but Temple of Horror just feels tedious to play.
Many of the levels are laid out as a labyrinth, and navigating them can be a bit of a pain. The correct path is rarely clear, and it’s only through luck — and in some cases bugs — that I managed to find the way out of some of them. Enemies that block your way are mostly irritating, chasing you as soon as you’re in their line of sight, resulting in you sprinting around a few corridors trying to shake them off before you retrace your steps to sneak around them. It wouldn’t be so bad if the monsters were scary, but they’re predominantly polygonal zombies that all screech, run, and then give up each time you come across them.
It’s disappointing as there are some actually well-designed monsters later in the game. The ones that give off bright light to lure you in look really quite interesting compared to the others you come across, but they still function in the same way as you follow them from a safe distance. I loved the idea of the light they give off being the only way to navigate the paths for that stage, but sadly Temple of Horror doesn’t do anything with that idea, keeping the ground clear in front of you, regardless of the lighting.
A lack of interesting ideas is one thing, but the bugs present are all the more irritating. The visual ones that make the environments behave in odd ways are just about forgivable, but falling through the floor to my death right at the end of a stage is far more egregious. More annoying is the fact that occasionally I wouldn’t be able to interact with the menu to restart the level, forcing me to quit back to the Xbox dashboard and restart the game entirely. Then there’s the collision detection which feels all over the place, and enemy sound effects that just seem to suddenly drop out. This doesn’t feel fully play-tested, and for such a simple game, these issues should have been spotted and ironed out.
There has been an effort to make every stage appear unique at least. Those initial catacombs give way to towers in the sky and precarious walkways. Whilst the gameplay never changes, at least those environments do. They aren’t impressive to look at, but at least there’s that variety present. The sound design is much more impressive though, Ignoring the annoying screeches enemies give out when they spot you. There’s some great ambient sound in some of the levels you visit, and the vocal track over the main menu is fantastically fitting for a horror game in a mysterious temple. If there was one positive to take away from Temple of Horror, it would be this element.