Let’s play a game.
Psychological horror is a tough business. In order to succeed, a good piece of psychological horror literature must include numerous factors – things like believability, questionability, trust, deception, and the unknown. Likewise, a good puzzle game dabbles in similar factors for success. An increasingly difficult array of puzzles is a must, tight controls are necessary, and an ability to walk the line between guiding and telling solutions can make or break an experience.
Needless to say, creating a good puzzle and/or psychological horror game requires a certain finesse. The Crow’s Eye, a psychological horror puzzler from indie developer 3D2 Entertainment, utilizes every drop of talent to push out a successful experience.
In The Crow’s Eye, you take control of the unnamed protagonist (well, unnamed until much, much later) as he awakens in the middle of an abandoned and decrepit old school campus. You’re greeted quickly by a crackling PA system and a man’s voice – one eerily similar to Mark Hamill’s Joker – welcoming and encouraging you to play a game. The prize? Your freedom, perhaps; at least that’s what he promises from the onset. As you venture deeper into his game and through the campus and its surrounding setting, you begin to learn that not everything is as it seems.
And who are you?
I had ideas throughout the early segments of the game based on documents and tape recordings, but it never became quite clear until the penultimate chapter. The journey of discovery and puzzle solving, however, is really worth the effort you’ll put into the short game time of The Crow’s Eye. But I get ahead of myself. There is much to like about The Crow’s Eye, even with its five to seven hour play time.
The basic gist of The Crow’s Eye is for the player to creep around campus to solve a series of increasingly difficult puzzles. Mechanically, the game is mostly sound. There are a few pieces of platforming that caused me frustration, particularly when combined with the slow-motion effect you gain early on, but the game tries to compensate for that by giving your character more space to land. For example, if you’re somewhat hanging over a ledge, the game will consider you on that ledge, so you don’t fall. It nearly balances out. The remainder of the controls are pretty straight forward, with the only unusual aspect being an electromagnetic device you utilize later in the game to pick up objects or jolt yourself in different directions. For the most part, all of the controls work well.
Visuals in The Crow’s Eye work to enhance the overall experience, too. The dark hues and dank environments serve to intensify the creepiness of the school, and the aesthetics almost work perfectly with the antagonist’s insanity (though his over-the-top voice acting performance was almost cringe inducing). Still, more than once I physically jumped, and the bouts of hallucinations were tinged with disorienting visual effects that worked well in tandem.
Working nearly as well as the aesthetics in The Crow’s Eye was its sound production. The limited soundtrack helps to thicken the mystery and intensity throughout the setting, and the sound effects of creaking doors or moaning floors keeps you on edge. Unfortunately, some of the voice acting ruins a lot of the sound atmosphere. The villain’s voice acting is subpar and certainly doesn’t fit the character. The remainder of the cast, however, submit decent performances. At the least, the voice acting doesn’t totally retract from the experience.
If there’s one thing to say about The Crow’s Eye, it’s that it works its psychological horror and puzzle styles extremely well. In various attacks throughout the game, you’re overcome with hallucinations that disorient and confuse the protagonist. You really feel a sense of vulnerability in not knowing who you are (done so, I believe, with intent), and your hazy memories further leave you in obscurity. Puzzles, too, work well and continuously evolve. One puzzle may involve sliding blocks throughout a room into coordinating colored settings; another may have you searching through a terrace to find a series of stone tablets; yet another may have you aligning boxes at varying heights to create a makeshift stairway when magnetized. Each puzzle is clever, and nothing is so unexplained that you can’t solve it. On that same token, the game doesn’t baby you through its puzzles. Sure, the antagonist may give you a clue, but the game will never explicitly tell you how to solve a puzzle. Of course, there weren’t many puzzles that caused me confusion, but the point remains.
For $14.99, The Crow’s Eye is well worth the money. Sure, you’re given an abbreviated experience (but consider that the excellent Resident Evil VII can be beaten in under two hours and costs $60), but the atmosphere, puzzles, and psychological questions will motivate you to complete the experience. Controls and sound work as intended for the most part, though a few mechanical glitches and a certain voice acting performance cause minor issues. But the value is there, especially for $14.99.
Overall, The Crow’s Eye gives players an approximately five-to-seven hour experience that has them dabbling in the mentally unstable shoes its protagonist. Solving puzzles is fun and rewarding, and the atmosphere and setting is legitimately creepy. And as the story unravels itself, the effort put into solving the puzzles should feel rewarding. If you’re a fan of horror and puzzle games (together or separately), then The Crow’s Eye might be something you try out. Even if you’re a stranger to the genre, The Crow’s Eye’s storytelling and atmosphere are worth the while.