Trenches – Something Horrible

Trenches is trying something relatively unique, on a conceptual level. A psychological horror game set in the trenches of the First World War. I can’t understate how appealing that concept is, how it could be such a fantastic vehicle for transporting you into the shoes of a WW1 soldier in that gruelling meat grinder. But, it would seem, Trenches and I were not destined to have a good time together.

I’m going to preface the incoming rant, critique, spiel, whatever: Steelkrill Studios, you have my utmost respect and admiration for making this entire game on your own. Making a game is an astonishing feat in a team, and borderline miraculous solo. Genuine props to you, and I really would like to see what else you come up with. Please, keep going.

Photo of a family, held by a hand with a lens flare

Okay. Let’s start with the atmosphere. It’s thick, oppressive and creates a sense of tension in the default game mode very well. Fleetingly. You walk through this fog-drenched, knotted trench, and you’re lost. The light through the choking smog of battle pierces your eyes. And you keep walking. And walking. And you get lost.

Jump scare.

That first one got me. It got me real good, and it made me laugh and roll my eyes. And then, another. Without the same cadence of tension. And another. Another. So on. It quickly sets into a groove of not letting you sink back into the atmosphere with whatever STARTLING IMAGERY it can find from ye olde bag of generic horror crap. It’s annoying.

Body bags in a line, in WW1 trenches

Furthering the annoyance, the randomly generated collectable. And you realise you’re just playing Slender again. Apparently, there’s a monster? I never encountered it. The number of collectables is an issue, nine is just a bit too much for what the game loop is. 

Okay, I’m going to have to just have an aside here. Fetus dolls? Really? I appreciate sticking to a vision, but the choice there is just baffling. I get the point of it in the wider context of the story, but it’s a swing for profundity that lands in a soup of “are you serious?”

So you wander the knotted trench maze, and it just gets more and more boring as you go on. Oh no, a weird face. Gasp, blood. Someone screaming. Oh joy, bugs over the eyes. And. So. On. 

A WW1 trench. Little light, grimy.

It was around this point in my playthrough, which I think was about the 20 minute mark, that I realised what I wanted from A World War 1 first-person horror survival game” was simply not what Steelkrill wished to make.

And you know what, fair enough. I’m not going to begrudge that, much, but… There’s a sense of exploitation here. With the combination of boilerplate Slender game structure. With the tactless collectable. With the ending and narrative conclusion that left me with a single question of: “are you serious?”

Trenches takes an incredibly unique concept, and wastes it chasing a dime-a-dozen horror experience you’ve probably played before. There’s no insight to be gained about the Great War here. No sensation of what being in the trenches was like. I wasn’t asking for gaming’s All Quiet on The Western Front or even a Blackadder Goes Forth. Just, literally anything else.

Trenches is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation and Xbox. But please, just go watch All Quiet on The Western Front. Sorry Dann.

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