Haunted House: Cryptic Graves – Review
Follow Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Dreampainters
Publisher: Atari
Platforms: PC

Haunted House: Cryptic Graves – Review

Site Score
2.0
Good: Reasonably detailed rooms
Bad: Glitches, voice acting, lack of any real horror
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0
(0 votes)
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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

In 1982, Atari released the survival horror game Haunted House on its own Atari 2600. The objective was pretty simple: search Zachary Graves‘s three floor house for three pieces of an urn. The challenge, however, lay in the fact that walls were often invisible unless the player lighted a match. Combined with the presence of a bat, tarantula and the ghost of Mr. Graves himself and the protagonist’s inability to carry more than one item at once, the task could be a daunting one indeed. Thirty-two years later, the franchise has been dusted off once more. Haunted House: Cryptic Graves brings us to Mr. Graves’s mansion once more, but does this experience honour the original?

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Story

The player is cast into the role of Anya Graves as she inherits Abaddon Grange, the estate of the late Zachary. Apparently, it is well-known that Anya’s grandfather was an occultist and loved to collect all kinds of supernatural paraphernalia. Needless to say, the estate and its contents are worth more than Anya could ever make in a lifetime, so she decides to take on the challenge presented in dear grandpa’s will. If she can remain in the house for the duration of one single night, the entire inheritance is hers for the taking.

While this should be a reasonably exciting premise for any horror game, it is impossible to enjoy even the first few minutes of it. This may be blamed on Stan Galeki, an elderly man who accompanies you to the mansion in order to investigate the paranormal activity there. He possesses the charisma of a dead squirrel, however, being animated rather stiffly and walking incredibly slowly while being cursed with voice acting that actually manages to lower the bar for bad performances. Luckily, you are separated after the introduction, which leaves the storytelling up to some letters that are scattered throughout the building. Not that most players will bother reading them, though, since completing even thirty minutes of this adventure should be considered an achievement. That’s not only up to the story telling, so let’s move on to the true needles in this ghost coffin.

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Graphics

Haunted House: Cryptic Graves is pretty nice to look at. Each room is reasonably well detailed and it’s always a plus when you look down and there is an actual body to look at. Too many first person games get away with letting players essentially be floating cameras, but seeing Anya’s legs actually helps with player immersion.

It doesn’t take very long, however, before the polished visuals start to show some cracks in the form of glitches. A great horror game relies on leaving players in the dark – often quite literally. Every corner could harbour a threat and every door could lead to your doom. Here, however, walls and doors tend to glitch, allowing the player to see through them and thus assess the contents of the room before even entering it. Not that it really matters, as once you actually see the enemy inhabitants, there is nothing to fear anymore. Yes, they are that ugly.

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Sound

The greatness of a horror game is often due to creepy sounds that fill the player’s ears while he’s out searching for a way to survive. A jump-scare without sudden loudness to accompany it just isn’t the same, just like an eerie creaking door or even subtle footsteps or whispers can send a chill up even the most rigorous spines.

Of course, this only works when it’s all timed impeccably and if the recording quality is up to par. Haunted House: Cryptic Graves, however, sounds as if all voice acting has been recorded through Audacity while using a cheap headset. Hearing the ghost’s sigh should be terrifying, but instead it will make you feel slightly violated, comparable to when someone breathes in your ears. It’s so bad it almost becomes funny. This could even be a laughably bad experience, which could be fun in its own way, if it weren’t for the painfully boring gameplay.

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Gameplay

As in most survival horror games, Anya is a fragile girl who is unable to properly defend herself. This means that whenever a monster is present, the objective is to run and hide. This is pretty standard, but still manages to get screwed up. The Silent Stalkers, for instance, although being invisible and strong enough to kill a grown woman in but a few strikes, are unable to open a simple door… Which is something many players will only discover after opening a walkthrough, as Anya’s first encounter with this enemy is so badly placed that it will make the player think that they have been glitched to death multiple times before taking to the Steam community to find out what’s going on.

To add insult to injury, the mansion contains a lot of doors… Most of which are locked. This means that whenever you find a key, you have to try every door in order to find out which lock it belongs to. In other words, this is one of those games that is screaming for a walkthrough. The problem there is that Haunted House: Cryptic Graves is received extremely badly by, well, everyone, which renders the possibility of fan-made walkthroughs nigh inexistent.

Moreover, the game tends to indicate useable items by naming them as you are looking at them directly. See a door? The game will tell you. See a useable crate? The game will tell you. See some crayons that you need to touch in order to advance? The game won’t tell you unless your eyes meet one of the tiny little buggers. In other words, it “aids” the players with all of the obvious stuff, while becoming a stubborn, nit-picking twat whenever help is actually needed.

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Conclusion

Never let it be said that this review is too subtle: Cryptic Graves defaces the Haunted House franchise with its numerous glitches, mind-numbingly atrocious voice acting and uninspired gameplay. While the developers, to their credit, have announced that they are working on fixes for the many errors within the game, this will not save the game from the inherently dreary experience it delivers.

The lack of pre-release marketing indicates that Atari knew that this title would be bad even before its release. At the very least, this should have been an Early Access initiative, giving the players a voice so that they could have helped to shape it into at least a mediocre experience. Right now, though, it doesn’t even come close to that description, and even the most dedicated genre aficionados should steer clear of Abaddon Grange. You have been warned!

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Tom Cornelis


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