The lighthouse dates back to ancient times, when most ports had fires burning at their entrances, guiding ships through the right passage. But it’s the lighthouse shape we are so familiar with that comes from an 18th-century design, protecting ships from hitting the rocks below. And they have become structures for film too, including the most recent movie with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson called The Lighthouse, which this game has some close themes.
No One Lives Under the Lighthouse is a game that is full of mystery, full of suspense, and full of household chores. Are you ready to be the defender of the light?
There is a minimal story here, told through some text at the start of the game. But the weight of the story, the subtext, and the deep visual narrative is massive. It creates a place full of strange magic and odd logic; a place that feels uneasy when you play.
You take the part of someone who, at the start of the game, is being taken to a lighthouse on a remote island. It’s a setting that isn’t of the now, but somewhere in the past; it could be anytime in the last hundred years or so. On the island, your job over the coming days is to keep the lighthouse on every night. But that job keeps getting increasingly hard as outside forces try to stop you at every turn.
Mostly told through visual storytelling with the island being the main narrator, events in No One Lives Under the Lighthouse happen to question your sanity. A seagull collapses through your roof into the kitchen. A swarm of moths hit the lighthouse bulb. A strange creature hunts you across the island. There are some answers delivered to why these events take place, but not everything is explained. And like a good horror movie, the best things are left unsaid.
Gameplay wise the game – for the most part – is set in the first person. You can move around the island, pick objects up and use them with other items in a very basic manner. There are no instructions to be had and so you’ll need to rely on your instinct to keep the lighthouse running. This lack of hand-holding is a welcome addition and adds tension to the strangeness of the place. What you can do is try and light the lighthouse but you need fuel to spin the bulb. That fuel is found in supplies, but they keep moving. There is some house maintenance to be done as well where you might need extra tools to fix things. It all works like a puzzle adventure game but without any hints.
There are a few moments when No One Lives Under the Lighthouse switches to the third person, leaving you to run and hide from something; I won’t spoil what that is here. The game has a style that is deliberately old school, occasionally stuttering away, not as accurate as it should be. At times I’ve experienced the odd crash. But none of this has managed to take anything away from my enjoyment of the world.
As I alluded to, No One Lives Under the Lighthouse has old-school tendencies and that is shown fully in the visuals. Looking like an old PS1 game, it embraces this style and makes something quite unique and stunning at times. Honestly, at times I get a bit frustrated at retro love ins, but when they are used creatively like this game, then I’m all for it. The soundtrack is a masterclass in ever-increasing horror too – a mix of drones and dread but a sudden change in tempo for some action sequences. Effects are outstanding and sparse which again adds to the solemn atmosphere.
Original and intriguing while at the same time being strange and beguiling, No One Lives Under the Lighthouse works some old-school visuals in the best of ways. The story is wonderful and ambiguous, but whilst some of the gameplay feels a bit stodgy in places and game crashes are likely, those issues somehow add to the whole tone.
No One Lives Under the Lighthouse is proof that lighthouses are the strangest, most magical of places.