I have always felt a bit sorry for the local caretaker at any school or institution, mainly because it’s a tough old job. They have to put up with all the problems connected with keeping a huge building running, coping with people breaking things or chasing after those intent on making a mess of their environment. The worst thing for those in this profession though is the fact that the general public will always look at them with a hint of suspicion, due to being cast as the baddie in all manner of TV series, films, and games; it’s been easy to just blame the evil caretaker for all manner of crimes. In this game though the Caretaker isn’t just a good old fashioned all-around fixer and maintainer of buildings, but yes, he is once again a homicidal maniac.
Caretaker puts you into the shoes of an investigative journalist hunting down the story of an urban legend that focuses on a caretaker of a factory in a small town. You see, this particular caretaker apparently killed all of his co-workers in a rage, and is now back haunting his old hunting grounds, looking for more blood. And that’s about it when it comes to any insight or information into the narrative, because there are no cutscenes or dialogue arcs to inform you of the narrative or the characters. The developers behind it very much want you to discover the story yourself, taking hints from the environments and discovering the minute details you might find along the way. This makes sense to me, and I very much enjoy the chance to unveil a narrative myself, rather than it being imposed upon me. However, from playing through Caretaker at no point did I find myself stumbling upon enough clues or any sense of story; yes, there are some special clues that you can pick up on, and specific rooms suggest the motive of a maniacal being, but they aren’t that interesting or deep enough, feeling very much like a very trodden path.
Gameplay-wise and Caretaker revolves around walking around with a flashlight, at times breaking into a sprint when needed. This will mean you wander around a number of dark and abandoned industrial buildings, picking up certain objects to examine or use them – keys and the like – to open doors. There are special posters to collect with photos of victims or enemies on, and bits of information to collate.
You don’t have any combat options available to you, so when you do encounter the Caretaker himself, you’ll need to cleverly sneak past him in the darkness or run in the completely opposite direction to get far away from him. The whole process of eventually seeing the Caretaker isn’t very frightening, I’m afraid. He doesn’t look or move in a way that conjures fear or makes the hairs on your arms stand up though, instead just coming across as any old generic character from a game. We’re used to taking in deep cinematic experiences in horror games, ones that shake us up, or keep the horror hidden without revealing its true nature. The film Jaws immediately springs to mind, the shark isn’t revealed until the final moments, so the audience doesn’t realise that it’s a rubber machine powered by some poor old tech in a wet suit. In Caretaker, the villain looks like a reject from an old Doom game, and that’s hugely disappointing.
The gameplay itself is fine though, and whilst you should expect to complete the game in just a couple of hours, dying a few times in the process, there is nothing in particular that will be much of a challenge.
The visuals of Caretaker are a mixed bag and, like previously mentioned, the Caretaker himself is a bit of a let down in the horror department. The game otherwise takes you through proceedings in the first person, providing an empty industrial estate for perusal. There is nothing to report that sticks out though, as most of the game is taken in through the torchlight, leaving you to journey through deserted buildings. The sound is good thankfully, and it creates a decent atmosphere through its effects and tone. Once again though, the Caretaker attacking you isn’t ever a frightening experience, and I feel even more use of sound could certainly help with the tension.
Taking things for what they are, the whole Caretaker experience on Xbox One isn’t a terrible one, but it isn’t an awfully fun one either. Instead, it’s a solid walking and hiding horror game at its most basic level. The environments and the detail of those settings aren’t interesting enough to keep your attention throughout, the puzzle elements are very basic and the story is one that could be worthwhile, but fails to ever thrill. It also isn’t helped by the fact that the Caretaker himself is hugely one dimensional. It’s an alright game that has potential, but unfortunately the Caretaker doesn’t deliver this time around.