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Clarice Reviews – The Piano!

 

Horror games… I’ve always been a fan of watching Let’s Plays of horror games, from typical survival horrors to just damn-right gruesome indie titles; they have always been one of those genres that I’ve loved, yet never really played myself… So when I was given a game titled “The Piano” that happens to be a survival horror game set in a war-torn Paris, I snapped it up! Hey there guys and gals; once again, it’s Clarice here with my review of The Piano!

Going into this game blind, I had no idea what it was about, nor did I know what it even looked like as I tend to go into things open minded, and, dare I say, with no expectations. All I knew was that it was a survival horror game. The Piano was developed by Mistaken Visions, and I believe is their first ever game, so with that in mind I will try to be as fair as I can with constructive criticism.

So let’s jump right into it, starting with the story – A brother accused of murder, a family ripped apart by the loss of three brothers set in a post-war Paris, as we, the main character John Barnerway have lost all memory of our past, and is searching his fragmented mind to find the answers as to how his brothers were killed. The main focus of this game to is find our lost memories, and to, in essence, clear our name and conscience as people believe we are the infamous “Barnerway Killer”. Beginning the game, you’re thrown into a distorted world surrounded by these black entities that harm your sanity slowly, as you wander, lost in this world – Now, before we get anywhere, I want to clarify that I am playing with a controller rather than with the traditional keyboard & mouse, as I felt this game would be better played with a controller… Unfortunately using a controller only made things more awkward and annoying to play as movement felt clunky, and felt as if there was a bit too much weight behind my movements; it wasn’t really the best experience to play this game with a controller, so I highly suggest you play with a mouse and keyboard for the added responsiveness.

Now, back to the story, as I was playing through this game I was mainly confused due to the central feeling of being lost, as this game is predominantly set within maze-like environments, which makes sense and fits into the whole ‘lost memories’ theme that the game focuses on, having John search fragmented ruins to find his equally fragmented memories… So the idea of searching for your way around environments fits perfectly; however especially in the beginning, a lot of the streets all looked the same and got very confusing to navigate, to the point where I spent almost 30 minutes alone (After considering to draw my own map Zelda-style) just on the beginning area after the tutorial. To add insult to injury, when looking for items the amount of time I spent walking past them due to how they blend too much into the environment was ridiculous – Items really should have a sort of light glow that increases in volume the closer you get; unless you walk directly onto an item, there was really no way of telling what you were looking at or what you were looking for.

Now the first enemy you encounter in this game is known as a Seeker, these basically sap your sanity and cause you to lose your mind, their goal is to make it hard to recover your memories – By description alone these sounds horrifying, having your very memories sucked out by a Deatheater-like being, but in the game they appear to be floating pools of gas with a headlight. Not really intimidating to be honest, and I found that as long as you have enough Medicine to bump up your sanity, you can easily just slip by unharmed and basically cheese your way through; it’s quite unfortunate as this is the first obstacle in the game, and is the most predominant enemy in the game. Not only that, but it seems that with finding key items or medicines, if you can’t reach it and you are in a room besides it, you can still pick it up, making key items easily accessible even when you shouldn’t be able to reach them yet – For instance, in the Valentine Mansion area, I was able to pick up a key from a room that backed onto one of the upper balconies, in an area I didn’t know was accessible yet – It can lead to a lot of disorientation, thinking you’ve just found something, somewhere, or if you’ve shoved your fist in the wall and picked up something to be used in half an hour’s time.

Moving onto the visuals, for a very small team the visuals are pretty damn impressive, although it’s not anything ground breakingly amazing, it certainly is pretty good especially for their first game. I did however come across some issues, especially in the mansion with the random flickering of bright circles where you are meant to be in a dark and dusty corridor, it felt too out of place to be part of the environment or a sanity effect, and did get very annoying. I also found that in the first area if you roll into a certain wall you will end up clipping out of the world, which was quite funny but ultimately did pull me out of the immersion of the game. When it comes to the transitions between the chapters, we was presented with nicely drawn images that transitioned really well and gave a quick recap on what has happened. Saying that however, I felt the transition between exploration to murder detective was a bit rushed as one second you are in one area, then you’re somewhere completely different the next; whereas with other detective horror games, it seems there is a balance between it all, this however feels as if every aspect of the game, whether that be searching for lost memories, to running away from monsters and putting clues together are in separate sections rather than being blended into one big smoothie of a game. Most of the time it pulled me away from the horror and just confused me even more as there are so many different parts to this game that mix and match with no sort of consistency that it all feels so separate. To some this might feel unique and fun, but for me I felt as if this pulled me out of the immersion and forced me out of the experience.

Unlike most indie games nowadays, this one contains voice acting and it’s pretty decent! It gets the point across and does show some raw emotions, but it felt a bit lacklustre especially for some characters which I don’t want to spoil, but I am always happy to see people give it a go and to explore different areas of game development and game design, and to get their feet in the door – However that being said it can always be improved on. I also noticed that if you are having an inner monologue and you pick up a key item the audio tends to overlap lines with each other, causing one big mess of words and can be quite funny. However this does happen in some games and can be a pain to fix, but just a little tip from me; if you want to get the full story, let the dialogue continue and don’t interact with anything until it is finished. Take a moment to sit and listen.
Overall I might have sounded a bit negative at some points, but this is pretty impressive for their first ever game and is better than anything I could ever do; the point of me harping on about the issues with this title is because I want to see this game improve and blossom into a fully realised project. All of the points I have said can easily be improved on and fixed in later patches, but my job here is to inform you of my honest, true experience, and what I felt of the game so overall.
I would rate The Piano a 5.5 / 10 simply down to how each mechanic and core function of the game feels to distant from each other, and how it pulls you away from the horror and confuses you with what this game wants to be, the technical issues and the lack of true focus with the game’s narrative style and gameplay.
 
I hope you enjoyed reading this, and feel free to let me know what you thought of the game! Am I just talking out of my arse or do you feel the same? Let me now and we can debate!
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