The genre of indie horror on PC has been chasing the coattails of Amnesia since it released, but never really quite catches them. Most, but not all, typically have you play a character who is unable to defend themselves, only has the ability to turn a light on and off, and can walk to find items in the dark hallways and barren rooms where every few minutes a turn around the corner is holding a jump scare that seems to keep you engaged long enough to make you remember you were playing a game. If you’re reading that description, you have probably played a game like this and can probably picture a handful of them right now.
The Cellar from Psycho Boy Jack has the distinct dishonor of being the first notable Horror Walking Simulator of 2019. The game touts it’s 1990’s aesthetic and environmental storytelling as reasons to buy it, but doesn’t do much else to really convince. The visual style of the game does hold merit and actively assists in making the tone slightly more unsettling, while also looking rather impressive. But even that has problems as the game is incredibly dark to the point it makes it almost impossible to see anything.
Instead, the plot seemed more like an afterthought, which is a disappointment because the premise given is at least interesting enough to grab your attention.
The environmental storytelling, on the other hand, is not nearly as interesting and feels like every other indie PC horror game set in an abandoned building. It is also a bit odd the game highlights environmental storytelling because the primary use of storytelling seemed more to be the big white letters popping up in the top of the screen to spout exposition at the player when needed. This is unfortunate since the story doesn’t really live up to the visual design of the game. If the game has no combat and only allows the player to walk around and shine a flashlight, it should make up for it with a strong story to actually entice players. Instead, the plot seemed more like an afterthought, which is a disappointment because the premise given is at least interesting enough to grab your attention.
The player plays as a stringer, which is essentially a freelance reporter, who is searching for missing children and has tracked them down to an abandoned primary school where they have been taken to the titular Cellar by a man only known as Mr. Bear. The player searches the dark, abandoned setting while typical jump scares occur and Mr. Bear walks among the school, though it’s pointless because he can never actually attack the player. At most he can only stand there or walk by menacingly while the game expects the player to jump in horror then forget it happened.
There are a few positive elements to the game, like the aforementioned 90s aesthetic that coats the screen. There are moments where the player jumps to the perspective of the children who were being hunted by Mr. Bear and see how they have been captured, and these were something I feel the game could have expanded on more, though at one point you jump to one particular character that was the game actually a horror, this moment would kill any tension the player actually felt and baffles me that they decided to do it. The premise of the story was interesting, but the overall telling of that story feels nonsensical and like more of an afterthought than anything else.
I wish The Cellar could have lived up to its visual design and premise, but it falls very short of what maybe it could have been. I hope that in the future this team can keep this aesthetic while including an actual story or some real gameplay, but right now it just feels lackluster and half-hearted.