I love a good scare, especially when that scare stays with me long after I’ve switched off the game and gone to bed! It’s not easy to produce a good one though, and for many, it takes a lot more than a ton of blood and guts to make a decent horror experience. Indie horrors are always a good shout for a frightening time and with Welcome to Hanwell having recently arrived on Xbox One, I took a look to see if this dark horror was pulling the right strings to provide a true scare once more.
Welcome to Hanwell is played out from a first-person perspective and focuses more on running away and hiding from the grotesque enemies that lay within the darkened corridors and hallways, rather than combat. The game is set in an evacuated city in which your task is to hunt down and collect six pieces of an I.D. card that have been spread across unique locations.
It all starts with players first waking inside of a seemingly long-forgotten morgue that’s covered in blood and falling apart at the seams, with nothing but left-behind doctors’ notes spread around to piece together the early story. Through exploration, and evasion of the very first freakish looking enemy – which all acts as a kind of tutorial to the game – you’ll find your way into the creepy open-world environment of Hanwell.
In terms of visual design, Hanwell certainly fits the bill for a perfect horror setting and for those veterans who have played through the Silent Hill games, it is highly similar to that of the iconic town Shepherd’s Glen, complete with heavy mist-filled streets. Sadly though, open-world and horror rarely ever go hand-in-hand, and with very little to do or focus on besides exploring the creepy vistas and running from the weird and horrific anomalies that roam the streets, the world of Hanwell doesn’t feel quite as scary as it could.
The real action and horror instead comes from the different locations in which you’ll be exploring, fighting and hiding, as you look for each piece of the I.D. card that your character so desperately needs. Each location tells a different, yet equally horrifying story, with these varying from a school to a prison, church, hospital and more. Each one has had a ton of detail put in to truly bring out the individual defining features, and that only assists in enhancing the horror experience.
From start to finish, Welcome to Hanwell takes roughly around four hours to reach its conclusion, and so it isn’t exactly a long adventure. But it does have elements of horror that will resonate with fans of the genre.
As you enter the various areas, the general objective is mostly the same with players required to explore, find passwords and codes for door locks, eventually gaining access to the room that holds the piece of I.D. before being left to then flee from the lurking enemies. What keeps things interesting is the unique feel of each area the stories are told through, with recorded diary notes left behind by the former residents.
Not everything comes down to fear factor, or detail to the visuals in a horror experience though; you have to get the core mechanics right. That’s where one of the big issues comes in. See, the movement is just not smooth. In fact it’s pretty horrible and with each step taken, Hanwell plays out like you are moving wooden-legged. Begin sprinting and things are downright unnatural with head-sway feeling forced, and the general mechanic nothing but clunky to say the least. Movement is a big thing in a first-person experience too, especially when it comes to keeping the engagement, but sadly Welcome to Hanwell falls flat here.
The next area in which the mechanics struggle is the combat. Sure it works if your sole intention is to just swing until the enemy is no longer a threat, but even with an axe in hand, combat feels again rather clunky and unnatural. Not to mention it’s much harder to do than simply running away, so for the most part feels quite pointless unless you’ve accidentally walked head on into a prowling enemy.
One thing I do appreciate with Welcome to Hanwell however is the need to explore. From the start of the game, you know nothing; you don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you are, and you don’t what’s going on. Of course, as mentioned, these things become known through left over notes, but it’s nice to have the information slowly trickle in as it encourages the player to explore every nook and cranny for every last drop of information.
Another issue unfortunately is the torch and how it persistently runs out before taking forever to recharge. Now I get the reasons for it running out of course – it assists with the element of fear – and it forces you to use it sparingly in a world in which freakish monsters lurk in the dark, however when you’re then being held up from progressing because you’re sat waiting for the light to recharge, the engagement is quickly broken and the pace of the game is slowed dramatically. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a simple tweak, but it would be nice to see another game finally match the brilliant Alan Wake for quality use of the flashlight.
There are however plenty of things to hunt down, with more than 100 DNA samples to collect. Now collectibles aren’t exactly difficult to find thanks to their glow, but it would have been nice to have seen them spread a little thinner and more creatively placed, instead of finding one right next to a second. It’s not a gripe per se, however it would be nice to see a real hunt ensue to nab every last one, rather than seeing them presented to you everywhere you go.
Generally though and Welcome to Hanwell on Xbox One isn’t a bad horror game. Visually it’s pleasing on the eye with fantastic detail and a freakish presentation to boot. Enemies seem a little bland but still manage to retain an unwelcoming and often scary demeanour, and each of the game’s locations feel unique and unnerving. Jump scares fill in the gaps between each encounter too, working well without feeling reliant and overused. If you want a fully frightening experience however, then you will need to look through the flaws and the lack of polish that sits in plain sight.
For the price though, Welcome to Hanwell is indeed worth a look, even if just to enjoy the visuals and the odd jump scare.