A horror game involving a pandemic and a lot of wine? Well, that hits a bit close to home.

What kind of pandemic and where does the wine come in? During the game’s opening, we find out that the sickness causes strong fevers, terrible delirium and death. It has relentlessly decimated the inhabitants of a group of Mediterranean islands where rumour has it that a prestigious red wine produced in the capital can cure the sick. We follow the story of Martí Vermelló as he steals a boat and heads to the winery in an effort to save his loved ones. As Martí explores the island the story behind the pandemic slowly unfolds.

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In terms of the storytelling, most of this is done using notices and newspapers scattered throughout the chapters, which give an insight into how a once prosperous island descended into martial law, chaos and cannibalism. Residents of the island are literally locked in their homes and forbidden to leave under punishment of death in an effort to contain the spread of the sickness. As for Martí himself, I didn’t find I connected much to our silent protagonist as there are no cutscenes or dialogue to give you insight on who he is as a person. For me, that didn’t matter though, for I was the protagonist.

The majority of the game involves solving puzzles to open doors and some environmental puzzles as well. For the doors it mostly involved finding the appropriate symbols to unlock them, of which there could be up to five. I preferred the environmental puzzles to the door mechanisms though, as these started to feel a little repetitive after a while. These door puzzles eventually become purely stressful as I was frantically searching for the solutions whilst being pursued by a headless menace, who appears at regular intervals throughout the game. Towards the beginning of the story, we’re also introduced to a second antagonist who delivers the first jump scare of the game, and who can also be seen at regular intervals throughout the story, seemingly hunting whoever may be left alive on the island.

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We have some traditional horror game mechanics at work too, such as running out of stamina and no combat whatsoever. Generally though, I feel that once a horror game introduces an element of combat against its foes, it immediately becomes less frightening. We don’t have that in The Wine though, as at no point did I ever feel completely in control, especially when the environment seemed to shift around me. I didn’t expect such a disorientating experience going in and a particular highlight for me are the ‘Sea of Wine’ areas which I won’t spoil, not unless you really want to see it on a stream. The Wine causes you to question what is real and what isn’t, and I enjoyed the way the game kept me guessing, trying to work out what the hell is going on. 

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I can’t talk about a horror game though without discussing the prevalence and application of jumpscares. These are aplenty throughout The Wine, but they never felt cheap for me and were used effectively. I was caught off-guard and genuinely scared on a number of occasions, which only added to my enjoyment. I’m not a fan of games that throw jumpscares in for the sake of it, but fortunately this one doesn’t fall into that trap. They tended to be where I least expected them to be, rather than the more obvious places which served to keep me on edge throughout the game and had me dreading going round corners, especially in the hedge maze.

I completed this game in around three hours across two sittings. Due to the game being split into chapters it can definitely be played in shorter bursts, but I would personally recommend setting aside a good couple of hours to play through it. The story is intriguing enough that it just sucks you in, then scares the life out of you.

Without spoiling the end, the game has a satisfying conclusion that caused me to reflect back on what I had experienced. Upon completing the game you’ll unlock photo mode, which can be used to unlock more secrets. I’m usually a one-and-done when it comes to horror game playthroughs but the world-building and narrative is absorbing enough for me to go back and find out more. Plus, I missed a load of cat photos so I simply HAVE to collect them all.

Visually the game looks much better than I expected with a vibrant colour palette which doesn’t have the feel of an intense horror game. This bright and breezy setting looks just like somewhere I’d want to go on holiday, not somewhere that will leave me screaming in terror. The darker areas that are lit only by candles or a flickering light are equally stunning to look at, though naturally in a more ominous way. The controls are smooth as was the overall performance and I don’t really recall seeing any drops in framerate throughout the entire game. I also didn’t encounter any bugs, which seem to now be a feature of pricier titles, and why I’ve found myself enjoying indie games more and more.

All the more impressive is that this game is made by solo developer Carlos Coronado using the Unreal 4 engine. This game really showcases that a lot of love and passion has been poured into it, much like a large glass of full-bodied wine, if you will. There are also two more Horror Tales games in the works called The Astronaut and The Beggar, which I personally can’t wait for and look forward to covering.

Verdict

Horror Tales: The Wine is a triumph of imagination and creativity wrapped up in a beautiful, yet horrifying package. It is a perfect example of why I love indie games so much. If you’re looking for a short and not-so-sweet experience, this is the vintage for you.

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