When you initially think of animation your thoughts will no doubt go to the Disney world of singing birds, huge-eyed heroes and heroines, and lovely pastel universes where everything will be alright in the end. On the other side, you have Rick and Morty, Family Guy, Eastern European nightmare cartoons from the ‘60s, and now… Sally Face.
This is a game that at times will completely shock you with what you are seeing on screen, but it is more than capable of enticing you into its strange universe. It’s compelling and uncomfortable – both watching and playing – but in the same breath, it’s completely original and unusual. Welcome to Sally Face.
Sally Face is one of those games that you just have to play to believe – a nightmare world mixing the mundane and the unusual. It’s not afraid to not pull any punches in terms of violence, meta dimensional storytelling, and supernatural world-building.
First released in 2016 on PC, Sally Face was dropped in episodic fashion over the coming years. Now though, lucky console owners get to play the whole complete story now, across five episodes. It’s a narrative adventure game, very much like a point and clicker that puts you in the title shoes of Sally Face.
Sally Face is a boy who we first see as a grown man getting interviewed by a psychiatrist at the start of the game. We then zoom back to the ’90s where Sally Face – now as a young boy – is found with a tragic past and a prosthetic face, moving into some apartments with his father. This apartment is dealing with the murder of one of its tenants from the get-go and the other rooms scattered around hold some very strange and unusual residents. Sally Face explores the apartments and soon finds himself led into a world of darkness and mystery.
The story – told over the five episodes – is an intriguing and thrilling one throughout. Like a strange nightmare, you question what is reality and what is in Sally Face’s imagination. It plays with the supernatural uniquely and fascinatingly, but it also puts you in surreal environments where you might be examining the art of the devil himself, to becoming a doodle on a piece of paper, walking around and talking to other scribbles. All the characters encountered are brilliantly rounded, interesting and a pleasure to spend time with. It’s like a mixture of a teen drama series with Hellraiser.
The gameplay is quite simple and to begin you will be found walking around the levels, interacting with items and people. There are loads of conversations to be had and people to talk to, with these opening up dialogue trees that will lead to further clues on what to do next. You can pick objects up that will be stored within your inventory, but there is no inventory management to be had, nor combining of items. Sometimes knowing what to do becomes confusing and the solutions to some codes and puzzles can be quite convoluted without a guide.
There’s a moment in-game where you get access to a Gameboy-alike, just one that is souped up so you can detect ghosts with it. But the gameplay also cleverly lets you play some made-up Gameboy games, utilising these to unlock progression through the story. These bits in the game are a nice distraction from the main gameplay but are also created with love and are good fun to play.
There is a fair old chunk of game to be played here in Sally Face, and when you put together all five chapters, will probably happen across eight hours or so of game time. Those eight hours are weird too, as it gets ever more bonkers by the end; somewhat out there. I loved it all the same.
The developer of Sally Face – Steve Gabry (Portable Moose) – has had this idea brewing since 2007 and the animation has been influenced by ’90s cartoons like Ren and Stimpy. It’s a brilliant piece of work visually, with striking character work and great detail in all its level design. And it’s not afraid to switch things up too, heading into a nightmare world and the surreal; it’s here where it really comes alive. I will never forget a sequence in which a ghost appears for the rest of my life – but that’s all you’re getting from me, no spoilers. The sound is solid with some good effects too, whilst the music has a metal theme and works brilliantly with the game.
Sally Face is an excellent piece of creative work, especially in terms of story and visuals. It is truly original and takes you on an amazing journey over its five chapters. The homage to the ‘90s in terms of music, visuals, and certain sequences are all nice touches, and my only real criticism is that you may well find yourselves lost at times as the solutions to progress aren’t always as apparent as they should be.
But apart from that, you’ll love your time with Sally Face. It’s one you won’t forget for a long while.
Sally Face is available to download from the Xbox Store