Today in our current gaming climate, it’s become increasingly more accessible for indie horror game developers to get their games out. Thanks is due, in large part, to Steam, which allows passionate creators to market and release their smaller games to a large audience. Of course, all games are not created equal and there is an oversaturation of titles to choose from...
...If you’re looking in the right places, though, and are willing to take a chance on a game that has little press or reviews, you can find some truly amazing experiences.
Developers Joe Fender and Luke Fanning established Straight Back Games just last year and have released their brand-new game, The Watchers earlier this month. The brainchild of the story and script is Hannah Headden. This is a cooperative only game where both players control one of two siblings; Luisa and Frederico Peurta. The game begins with the players tasked with finding a way into an old Mansion tucked away in the hills of Coyote Valley, California. After working with your sibling to find a way inside, you begin the investigation of the disappearance of their estranged mother, Anna Peurta. She was once the leader of a cult called The Watchers of Azazel and they conducted their practice and rituals at the now abandoned mansion. As you make your way through the mansion you come across artifacts that hold clues about Anna, solve brain teasing puzzles and learn that your sibling may not be the only person or entity that is roaming the halls of the mansion
The best thing The Watchers has going for it, is its cooperative implementation. Funnily enough, this was not something I was expecting. As a survival horror veteran of sorts, when I think of an ideal, or even just a competent game in the genre, solitude, limited resources and sparse communication with the outside world are at the top of the checklist. I love being proved wrong and The Watchers certainly put me in my place. Before I started the game, I had mentally deducted points as I didn’t understand why the 2nd player couldn’t be the computer, but it becomes apparent very quickly why that wouldn’t work. Each puzzle and situation requires player communication and if they had even tried to implement a working A.I. for a partner, it would be near impossible. Even with today’s best A.I trickery, I legitimately can’t see it being a fun experience. The puzzles and situations go beyond what some may be used to, as you won’t just be pulling levers and standing on pressure points, (there is plenty of that still) but you will be timing perfect movements to avoid lurking cultists.
Puzzles were designed by Andrew Fender, a family member of Joe Fender. The gameplay loop, if you will, essentially boils down to hunting down artifacts that belonged to your mother and then sneaking your way back to an altar in the middle of the mansion, where you deposit it. The trick is not being detected by the cultists, which becomes harder and harder with each artifact found. The strategy of all this comes by way of investigating your route before you pick up the artifact. The cultists do not appear until you actually pick up the artifact, so this gives you and your partner free roam to do a kind of dress rehearsal of sorts. It’s actually pretty essential to do this, as many of the puzzles require very specific timing on with both players. Sure, we’ve seen some of these types of puzzles before, but the way it’s presented to the player here is very unique and unlike anything I’ve ever played.
The only notable negative of the game comes by form of its lack of matchmaking or in-game partner search. When starting your game, you’re given a list of location servers to choose from, then the option to either host or join a game. If you’re hosting, you’ll be waiting for all eternity for a random player to join, even if your server isn’t private or requiring a password. If you’re searching for a game, it’s the same eternal waiting game experience. The game does provide a link to its Discord, which is an effort, but I had no luck finding a partner to play with. To play the game, I had to track down a friend of mine and marry our best availability to begin. Much of the issue here is not by fault of the dev’s. As I said before, there is a Discord and the actual functionality of the menu’s work perfectly. I’m afraid the real culprit is the lack of players. It’s a new game, yes, but it’s also a very niche title with very little promotion. All of that is understandable and I think, considering the quality of the game, it will catch on and the servers will populate. In short, if you’re planning on giving this game a shot, (which you should) make sure you have a partner lined up.
About halfway through my playthrough, I realized that my co-op partner and I were regularly having fits of hearty laughter and equally letting out panicked shrieks. It’s at this time that I realized the extent of its fun factor and how both my partner and I were taking to the game incredibly well. That is what a good cooperative game should evoke, and The Watchers excels fantastically. I hope this title becomes far reaching in its fanbase, because our developers have crafted something that’s not only fun, but incredibly unique and involving as well. The game speaks for itself, though and I urge anyone interested in survival horror or cooperative play to grab a friend and head into the mansion.
The Watchers is now available to scare the crap out of you and a friend on Steam.
When making your way to the altar with the artifact, turn your flashlights off. Even if you think they can’t see you from far away, they probably can…
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth