Halloween Scream is a new Xbox LIVE Indie Game developed by Bandana Games. It costs just 80 Microsoft Points to download and is available just in time for Halloween.
It is a text-based adventure game, a genre sometimes referred to as “interactive fiction,” so the gameplay all boils down to pressing one of the four buttons to do something (press B to go West, press X to examine the desk, etc.) These games were pretty popular in the 70’s, 80’s, and even into the 90’s, but it is rare to see them today.
Halloween Scream has a very clichéd story. A family member of yours has recently passed away and left you a large inheritance but to receive it you have to go to some scary old mansion and spend the night – the night of October 31st to be exact. When you actually get to the place, you discover a note on the ground which says you have to reach the mansion’s tower before the end of the night to actually earn your inheritance. At least this gives a reason why you have to look around the mansion rather than just spending the night peacefully sleeping on your aunt’s couch or something.
So basically you roam around the mansion and its surrounding curtilage which has some other places to explore such as a garden, cemetery, greenhouse, and chapel. Each room and place has its own description and you can examine/interact with various objects or just move on. As you explore more and more, the game becomes increasingly mysterious and you’ll run into more puzzles. There are hidden keys, hidden rooms, and strange happenings (like a huge statue you see upon your arrival suddenly going missing).
The game is very well laid out with a lot of attention to detail. There are no glaring spelling errors, which is always a good thing for games heavily based on text, and the sound is easily one of the title’s biggest highlights. The music gives the game a spooky atmosphere as if something very bad is always right about to happen. There are also various sound effects which compliment some of your decisions such as walking up the stairs or smashing a mirror. Actually hearing these things immerses you a bit deeper into the game.
As for pacing, Halloween Scream is pretty slow. That is to be expected with an interactive fiction game like this one but most of the game is just exploring which can get to be a bit tedious and boring after awhile. The danger comes in the trap decisions disguised as mundane ones. Some decisions can end fatally so you really have to put yourself into your character’s shoes and ask yourself if what you are about to do would be a good idea to try in real life.
Dying in this game can be very punishing. You can only save the game in the main floor lobby so if you get caught up in solving puzzles or exploring, you can go for quite awhile without stopping to save it. Then if you end up getting killed, you lose all that progress and have to go back and do everything all over again. A death can really kill (no pun intended…okay maybe a little intended) your motivation to keep playing. Once you go through a section of the game, you already know all the answers so it’s not fun to have to replay it again. It just becomes work at that point. The game would have definitely benefitted from a checkpoint save system.
It would have been nice to have a bit more description given to you about each room, a few paragraphs rather than just a few sentences. Entering a new room should in of itself be like an adventure. Where are you? What all is in this room? Do you have memories of being here before? Does anything look strange, interesting, or out of place? The descriptions just aren’t as vivid as they could be and Bandana Games should have done more to help the reader mentally paint a picture. The puzzles in the game aren’t really all that hard, either. Most are either completely obvious or can be quickly figured out through trial-and-error.
Halloween Scream stays true to the old interactive fiction games but it is clear why this genre died off over the years. It’s just a little too slow paced for most gamers these days and Halloween Scream’s story doesn’t quite make up for the lack of action. That being said, its slow nature would definitely make it a good game to play while waiting around for trick-or-treaters to come to your door.
Final Score: 3 / 5
(This review was based off a review copy of the game).