Graphic filters are nice tools if you handle them with skill. They are used like make-up because they are intended to underline natural beauty in order to emphasize contrasts. As soon as someone starts to paint over a face with make-up, caution is advised, because then something less beautiful should usually be hidden. The same applies to image filters, as the horror adventue Curse of Annabelle proves.
The graphics are not that ugly. In any case, I've seen worse things, especially in the indie area. But I can't shake the feeling that Rocwise Entertainment's people want to hide something. Feels once a minute a completely exaggerated graphic effect scurries across the screen, giving me the impression that I have to go to the optician. Blurring, jerky fisheye distortions, color shifts … something like that. In combination with ridiculously often used stylistic devices from the scary moth box – for example, flashing in five-second intervals – all of this appears even thicker than in a B-Movie.
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Wait a moment. Is it me who needs glasses or is my character just as high as a howitzer? Strolling across the street with a crooked head, so lame that even pressing the race button just allows him the stride of an arthritis-stricken pensioner, and then constantly haunted by imaginary voices? So if there are no drugs involved …
Game? Which game? I control a man named Nathan, around 30, who wants to uncover the mystery of the death of a little girl. In a first-person perspective, I sneak with him through locations such as a cemetery or the cursed house of the Ramsey family, who is allegedly behind mysterious murders in the 1950s. On the way I collect tools and read a whole bunch of confused notes that have no meaning for the course of the action, but should make the setting more mystical.
Nothing happens for a while in the first hour, unless you ignore a few cheap jump scares. Supposedly I am supposed to solve puzzles, but that doesn't match my view of it. I rather dig through cupboards and tables and click here and there on items that I put in my inventory for use elsewhere, almost every action being carried out fully automatically.
This leaves me a lot of time to absorb everything that Rocwise presents to me as an environment. As it should be for a scary game, such a mystical search for clues can of course only take place at night and storm. I wouldn't have expected anything else, even if it is dripping with cliché. Nevertheless, the circumstances are really weird. The attempt to convey both psychedelics and playful content with as little material as possible drowns in an almost slapstick-like awkwardness. The lousy English speakers, who in some flashbacks lack both emphasis and empathy for the respective scene, are the least evil. At least initially.
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I laugh inside when I think of what a bungle of electricians must have wired up the houses in which I am desperately looking for the few useful clues. Light switch for an entire room? Pah! I have to switch on each wall lamp separately so that it radiates the luminosity of two candles within an estimated one and a half meters. Seems like occupational therapy with a hidden object character.
There is unusable cheese everywhere, the analysis of which stretches the playing time senselessly. If you know which utensils are good for you, you can finish the game within about two hours. Wow. It is only when I write these lines that I realize how absurd that sounds. Nathan's snail's pace is deliberate so that the first half of the game doesn't fly past you as quickly.
The House of demons
But it gets worse, because it only really gets going in the second half when Nathan dies, but in return, as a walking spirit, has access to three books that give him insight into psychic measures. In a book he learns everything about demons and how to make seals that drive them away. The second book is the exorcist almanac par excellence including actively applicable magic. The last tome is the Ramsey diary, the entries of which are supposed to provide information about strange events in their old villa.
From this moment on, the gameplay makes a 180-degree turn from would-be scary to action-adventure with effective magic. It doesn't get any better, just more inconsistent, because the game designers reveal even more clearly that they themselves don't know what they were trying to do. Totally out of thin air, Nathan can suddenly jump back and forth between multiple timelines while being chewed by the ghost voice of his old flame Emily pretty much everything to do.
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Here, at the latest, Curse of Annabelle conceptually collapses like a house of cards. Zero tension, zero inspiration, but a foreign shame factor of 150 and lots of inconsistencies. Now if Nathan is a ghost, why do I hear his footsteps? If he can travel through time, why not have time to explain the circumstances of his new skills? How does he manage to pick up books as a ghost when he can't even touch a doorknob on the other side? Aaaargh, these illogical connections eat my brain away!
Questions after questions, but I'm not sure I would like the answers. When I hear Emily and Nathan talking in the ghost dialogue, my toenails roll up every second. Their dialogues sound as if fifth graders were reading something to each other. You can hear that the two speakers never stood together in one room. Having to struggle through multiple-choice conversations in these circumstances should be included in the list of torture methods at Amnesty International.
Well, there is a good thing about the change in game content: at least you know what to do from that moment on. You move through the Ramsey House, find enchanted rooms, jump through time in search of medallions with which you craft seals, and finally chase away the demons present. And then in an endless loop. Apart from the many particle effects that the graphic designers weave in, this has the tension of a tax return because all demons perform the same appearance, but at least the gameplay offers a direction that you can follow.
And Annabelle? The girl the story is supposed to be about? Yes, you can get to that at the end, but the end is so pointless that you want to bang your head against the edge of the table.