Another day, another Lovecraft-inspired game. However, the difference from other games that tries similar things, is that Dreams in the Witch House actually succeeds at what it tries to do. It got nice atmosphere that feels like it could be part of Lovecraft mythos, and it got interesting gameplay to boot – beyond the traditional point & click stuff. I played the demo last year and was impressed with the game then already, so it makes me happy the full title retains the feeling I got from the demo. Atom Brain Games created something truly special here, and now we can only hope that they continue on this track for the future. But enough of that, what about the story, and how does it play?
You play Walter Gilman, a student of Miskatonic University with an interest in the occult. The location is of course Arkham, which is an infamous city when it comes to Lovecraft lore. It’s a place where strange powers manifest more easily than other areas – in other words, a great spot for the occult! Your aunt and benefactor have rented an apartment in the “Witch house”, and each week she will send you an allowance of 10 dollars so you can live and study. The game revolves around Walter’s life as a student, and it’s quite possible to ignore the occult and focus on your studies. But as these things go, the mystery of the city will eventually seek you out, and it’s a hard thing to ignore if you are like me and have a love for a good mystery. The risk of this is that you open something that will be hard to close once opened, and the further you get into this riddle of the dark arts, the risks get bigger with Walter’s life at a stake. Yes, you can die in the game!
Not going to spoil anything here, but the story is great, and the way it’s told is good as well. It’s slowly being told in segments spliced between more of the mundane moments of student life, and often it’s dependent on your investigations which adds a feeling of you having to actively seek out the truth. This is a superb addition to the game since it rests the narrative progress on the shoulders of the player. I should add that this is a tale based on one of Lovecraft’s writings that goes under the same name. If you know the plot since before, you will know what is to come since it follows the same story beats, however, the narrative in the game is not set in stone which allows you to dictate how it ends through your actions.
What makes Dreams in the Witch House stand out, beyond the story, is that the game has actual gameplay more than clicking and combining items as most classic adventure games, even if that is a thing too. Right from the start you will come to the knowledge that student life in Arkham is arduous and dangerous, especially if you take the plunge into the occult. You will have to balance money, time, what to study, what to eat, and try to maintain your sanity. It’s a survival game in the middle of your typical adventure, and I found it highly immersive. For example, to survive night terrors you might have to buy sleeping pills for your precious few dollars, otherwise, your lack of sleep might spiral out of control into insanity or worse. Do you eat, or do you waste dollars meant for food just for one good night’s rest?
The best part is that the game lets you plan it out by yourself, and gives you no help past the tutorial screen. In my first playthrough, lots of things went wrong, I starved, I got sick, missed classes, and got haunted by visions beyond what my mind could sustain. And when it comes to looking up information for historical events and other things to proceed with your investigations, you will have to go through lots of “indexes” to search for clues, and at times it feels really involved and often it leads to interesting events. Walter also has stats, like health and sanity, but there are also occult and math. I would say the occult skill is the most important if you want to take part in the mystery. It lets you read old tomes, and decipher standing stones filled with mysterious texts which leads to cool stuff for the narrative. Probably more so than the other stuff, but since it’s all a balancing act, other academic work will suffer which in the end will affect how much money you earn. It depends on how rounded, or “normal” you want Walter to be. Roleplaying at its finest, at least when it comes to point & click. I should also add that there are puzzles to solve in the traditional sense when it comes to adventure games, and most of these puzzles are randomized from playthrough to playthrough to add to the replay value.
The visuals are nice, it’s pixel art in style, as is typical for adventure games, however, it’s well-made and looks beautiful beyond what the quality of the price suggests. It’s cheap (around 10 euros) and got graphics past what is required. Lots of things are animated, like movement, interaction with items, and so on. It helps with the mood, and certain scenes do truly stand out, like the dream sequences of the alien planet. There is no voice acting (not that it is missing), and the sound for effects is okay. The music was good at times, specifically the one tune that plays when something sinister is going on. The reason this one stood out to me is that reminded me of X-com TFTD. Very similar in the tone of the music, as in ominous. You can tell something bad is going to happen when that tune plays. There are a few other pieces, but they do repeat a lot and sadly get a little obnoxious, so I would say the music is the weakest part of the game. Not saying it’s irredeemable bad, but it probably could have been better.
One surprising aspect of Dreams in the Witch House is the price, as mentioned earlier. I got it for around 10 euros on Steam, and from what you get, it is quite remarkable. You can not go wrong by investing in this game. It is well-written, entertaining, and suspenseful providing a lot of different endings that are dependent on what you do ingame. It also maintains the style of Lovecraft, which is something many “inspired” games fail to emulate. A top-notch game, for a top-notch price, recommended!
Thanks for reading.