Temple of Horror may not look like it, but it’s a Rather Important Game. It comes from EpiXR Games who, at least recently, have been the most prolific development studio on the Xbox. We’ve had a game a week from them for the past month, which should give you an idea of just how prolific they have been. But Temple of Horror is their first foray out of the flight sim genre. It’s a horror walking simulator, and this could mean a completely new path for possibly the busiest studio in the land.
It certainly could have been an Aery, Murder Diaries or Life of Fly game. Each level is a cavernous hall or dungeon that – and this shows how much we have played those other games – uses assets from those games. You could swap the first-person character for a parrot, and imagine soaring through the portcullises and spiral staircases on the hunt for feathers and some achievements. So maybe it’s not too distant from their game library after all.
You play an unnamed person, wandering the Temple of Horror for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Temple of Horror is more interested in mood than it is backstory, so you’re going to have to make a small leap in the story department. Narrative is delivered via gravestones that are entirely optional, but even they are a bit story-disinterested. They bark on about unspeakable horrors, and whispers of a diamond that may or may not be the source of their power.
Blood spatters on the floor have the dual effect of making you feel like you’re playing a Souls game (an early one tempts you to jump off a cliff for a secret, and you know how that’s going to end), as well as wondering who would take the time to write “Die!” and “We want to eat your soul!” in someone’s entrails. To add to the curiosity, they float a few inches above the floor, as if the janitor demanded that no one permanently damage his cobblestones. Some floating souls are also collectible, but we couldn’t tell you why. They don’t seem to offer a single thing of note.
Your weapons as you walk around are, well, you don’t have any. There’s a walk and a run button (tied to a stamina bar, so don’t dare think about having a jog about these environments), and a jump, which is used once (once!) in a platforming section. You are going to be strolling for the length of Temple of Horror, and you will be doing so slowly and slightly awkwardly. The movement never flows perfectly, as if your knees were made of shale.
Your job is to find something that represents the end of the level, and that something isn’t always clear. It’s occasionally a staircase, other times a black expanse. You’re going to have to hunt for it regardless, as there are ten levels here, 100G on offer for completing each, and you have a diamond to hunt down.
Each level has something approaching a gimmick, a theme, that separates it from the others. There is an Indiana Jones-loving trap level; a maze with striding four-legged beasties; a dungeon with hidden walls; and a sewer system where you have to time your runs so that you don’t get ingested by a hulking spider. These diverse themes manage to give the levels some variety, as the threats are different in each, but we would never go so far as to say they are enjoyable.
Because Temple of Horror is horrific in more than one way. Sure, it does have some unsettling moments. The audio design in particular is rather good: it shrieks and scrapes, making you feel utterly unsettled throughout the hour or so that represents the length of Temple of Horror. Enemies scream at you when they spot you, giving you a split-second to jam the run button and hope that your stamina bar has enough length in it to get you away. We spare the audio designers of any criticism.
The criticism is aimed, blunderbuss-style, everywhere else. Temple of Horror is a soggy little horror game that keeps coming apart like wet cardboard in the most inopportune moments.
There are the creatures, who are hilarious to watch if you catch them unawares. Shambling zombies walk on the spot like they were working out on a treadmill, and have a habit of chasing you by striding into corners and doing the Resident Evil shuffle. Some lolloping creatures with long, gangly legs and arms are quite effective, until you realise they are scared of planks. You can stand on wooden gangways, inches away from the stone paths on which they walk, and you’re suddenly invisible.
Which is thankful, as getting caught by them isn’t much fun. The second level is particularly egregious in this way, as you need to collect four human hearts to activate a lift, but zombies seemingly appear out of thin air to gang-tackle and send you back to the start, removing said hearts in your inventory. It’s infuriating to know that an enemy that was previously cuddling a pillar is now superpowered and can pop into existence next to you.
Because Temple of Horror is absolutely riddled with bugs. One level had us falling through the scenery. Another started with a gate open from the start, meaning we didn’t have to do any of the puzzles to open it. We completed the last few levels, only to receive no achievements for doing so. We counted a significant bug every level, which is sizable when you consider that Temple of Horror is only ten levels and ninety-ish minutes of play.
The abundant shonkiness would be excused if there were fun or thrills to be had, but there aren’t. Too many levels are slow plods through not-very-much, wondering if you’ve circled round on yourself because everything looks so similar. Collectibles are meaningless, factoring into nothing at all, so they soon get disregarded. And it’s less a sense of impending doom, and more a sense of sudden, random doom, as creatures occasionally appear out of nowhere. That’s if said doom isn’t off doing a moonwalk because of some bizarro AI.
There’s an alternate dimension where Temple of Horror is the sounding of a horn: EpiXR Games can do more than just flight simulations, and they’re coming for other genres! But we’re pretty far from that dimension. Temple of Horror is such a limp horror game that its legs are falling off.
You can buy Temple of Horror from the Xbox Store