The way humans understand both music and fear is so innate. It feels almost primal and this is something Remothered has a great understanding of. There’s a short whistle that permeates each and every action you choose so it, like any other action we take, feels just as creepy and dread-inducing as its most terrifying moments. The fact that a four-note melody can scare me as much as any horror movie tells me the treat we’re in for this October when Remothered: Broken Porcelain releases on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
The very first minute of Remothered: Broken Porcelain’s preview spoke about the horror of Alzheimer’s and Broken Porcelain – their way of enunciating the fragile way the human mind works. This plays well into a modern understanding of the disease. Studies show that whilst there isn’t a cure, feelings and thoughts of youth can come flooding back with music as stimuli. Whilst you may not understand why, sounds can bring back ideas, concepts, and even locked memories. There’s a reason you remember a smell from your childhood; a feeling when something happens and something you forgot you knew.
The narrative of Remothered encapsulates this to great lengths. You are cramped into a small confined space as Jennifer and must run away from a masked attacker. After succumbing, you are greeted to the start of the real game. These moments of unending terror, like Silent Hill and others before them, are used effectively to express that chaos these conflicting memories and contradicting experiences can inflict on your psyche.
The story only further reflects this. As Jennifer, you are simultaneously part of this horrible world and the real world she has found herself trapped in. Jennifer goes to Flemington Girls’ Institute and works in Mr Ashmann’s inn, but has a rebel streak that gets her in trouble, or so it seems. You are given the chore of cleaning a room and sent on your way. In true horror fashion, Ashmann’s assistant fills you in on some very scary details of Mr Ashmann’s past – a past littered with abuse, incest and a recently deceased family. Ashmann, presumably named after the abnormal heart rhythm phenomenon, ties this theme together with its rhythm and his broken heart. This speed of conversation and change is slowed to a halt as that cyclical whistle melody forces its way into your room. You investigate only to be shocked back to the present by a friend with a nice fake-out jump scare.
The horror style of Broken Porcelain is a little more similar to movie horror than game horror. It is very music-focused and cinematic, with tropes of the genre thrown in alongside some nice symbolism. Even the dialogue with your friend Linn feels of this nature. Rather than getting you to discover their past, clues hide around in conversation making you pick up the pieces of their relationship. Like porcelain before them, it is starting to show cracks and if it’s not fixed soon, it will shatter. That relationship is effectively smashed as Jennifer locks herself in a bathroom to hide from confrontation until Linn goes. This was a big mistake.
Mere moments later, the world has changed yet feels so familiar. The world fundamentally looks the same but the atmosphere doesn’t. Music is a little more dreary, lights a little darker, the world less alive. You appear to have met the uncanny valley.
The gameplay of Remothered is simple but effective. As you hide from monsters and figure out puzzles, small ideas click. You can move, interact with objects, and use defensive items to get away but this is mostly discouraged. If you go into Remothered expecting an action-horror experience, you will be sorely disappointed. The gameplay merely isn’t strong enough to handle this but doesn’t promise otherwise. You will duck under knives, hide in drawers and, more importantly, solve your issues rather than fight them. You must make your way through the inn, and with some luck, out of it again in one piece.
Whilst sound design was fantastic in the preview, some of its specific implementation had issues getting in the way of the experience. Some conversation was very loud whilst other parts were barely a whisper. Some songs fit perfectly where others felt very out of place. The gameplay itself had some issues with smoothness too. One specific jump had Jennifer stuck on her captor indefinitely, requiring a restart, and there was a general jankiness to tight movement and stealth. These are realistically minor gripes from my time but worth looking out for in its final form.
It seems the preview for Remothered: Broken Porcelain has set some very solid foundations. It is eerie, occasionally quite thorough thematically, and has some really good design decisions. Like porcelain, the end product has the opportunity to be pretty, thoughtful and beautiful, but taking it off the heat too early could damage the overall product.
Massive thanks go out to Stormind Games for giving us access to Remothered: Broken Porcelain on PC ahead of launch. We’ll be sure to follow this piece up with a full Xbox One review as and when we can.