I’m a big fan of horror, be it a slasher flick, haunting ‘found footage’, or even a grotesque blood fest. To make a horror experience memorable however it needs to utilise more than just simple jump scares or gruesome scenes; it needs to have an impact on the emotional and mental well being of the individual experiencing it. Oh, and you need to be left with the chills. Whether you agree with that or not is of course dependant on what you look for from a horror media format, but for me, that’s the key, and with the recent release of Xbox One horror adventure Bring to Light, I was hoping to sit down for the fright of my life.
The story begins with events transpiring from a sudden subway accident in the dead of night, from which you emerge the sole survivor. Very little information is given about our protagonist or their overall goal, as you leave the debris of the wreckage behind. But there’s no time for questions as you begin on the path into the dark and winding tunnels, presumably to find your escape. Of course, like all typical horror stories, it doesn’t take long to find out that there is something else lurking in the shadows; something ready to prove more of a danger than the crash that almost took your life. This is hammered home once the Avatar of Darkness and his vicious Shadowspawn prepare to close in around you.
Now before we go any further, it’s well worth noting that even though Bring to Light is certainly fully accessible with standard controller gameplay, it wasn’t exactly intended for it, with full VR functionality proving the real focus during development. And it doesn’t take long to see that focus come into play with puzzles and frightening atmospheres that would feel so much more at home on the many VR headsets currently on the market.
With Xbox One currently lacking any type of virtual aspect however, gameplay is only experienced through that of a standard controller, but whilst the clear VR intention is there, Bring to Light isn’t a bad game for Xbox One. Okay, so it’s not quite the best horror experience on the market, and you certainly won’t remember your time with the game quite as fondly as say that of Alien Isolation, but it’s a capable horror title that manages to provide a few scares in the right places, and at the right times.
The gameplay is played from a first-person perspective, and to progress players must solve the various puzzles that stand in the way, making their way through environments such as a subway, a sewer, a cave, a lost city, shrines and more. In that sense, Bring to Light could be seen as more of an explorative puzzler than a horror, but stick with it and the supernatural thrills will soon push to the front of the experience.
The story itself is fed to the player in dribs and drabs through a bunch of collectibles; mobile phones, documents, etc. There’s nothing overly memorable going on for the most part as the protagonist tries to piece things together, and for me the key cause to progress came from wanting to understand the weird creatures I was seeing from time to time, as well as finding the truth to where everybody had gone, and what exactly was going to happen next.
Sadly, the answers to those questions aren’t the focus of the game and despite starting strong with the horror elements as you creep your way through a darkened subway, illuminating the shadows with your phone whilst searching for the next step in the linear path, things quickly take a turn when the puzzling elements come into play. See, while many of the puzzles are well balanced, providing both a slight challenge yet still remaining accessible and fun, Bring to Light should first and foremost be a horror game, and when you’re spending the majority of your time trying to line up light rays to solve a puzzle, the element of fear very quickly dissipates.
The issue with this is that when you’ve finished your playthrough of Bring to Light on Xbox One, something which should take roughly 3 or 4 hours from start to finish, you’ll be left questioning if you had been playing a puzzler or a horror, even with supernatural entities present and running as a key point. That’s because the puzzles are also a key gameplay feature, and it’s hard to know if these are only there to add length and challenge to what is essentially a walking simulator, or if the horror is included only to add atmosphere to the puzzling. Of course, a puzzling horror would be a great experience to see, however Bring to Light isn’t a game that manages to pull both together seamlessly.
That said, there is enough on show here to push players through to the end. Each environment is well crafted and while there seems to be a lot of space that could have been filled with a few more objects to stop the larger areas feeling like they have a bit too much excess space, everything in place does come bearing impressive visuals. One thing that does slightly disappoint however are the enemies. They are often used as a jump scare mechanic but rarely do they ever feel truly frightening, with nothing original to really point out and be amazed by.
And then we have the sound design, and even though a large part of the game is mostly silent, when the sound does kick in, it does so in fantastic fashion with sudden shudders, striking effects and some generally creepy vibes powering through to your stereo headset.
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a quick thrill, don’t mind a few challenging puzzles and want an atmospheric shakeup to your usual puzzlers, then Bring to Light isn’t a bad choice. It’s not going to wow the masses but it’s worthy of an afternoon sit down and despite the lack of VR on Xbox One seeing it fail to emphasise those big scares, there is just enough in place to make you jump.