An easy task?
Charon’s Staircase revolves around a man named Desmond. He works for a mysterious organization called The Ministry, which wants to join the European Union. The only problem is that the organization has some dubious and inhumane things on its record that have been carried out around the Oack Grove estate. To Desmond, the simple task is to travel there to erase all traces surrounding The Ministry.
It sounds almost too easy: find all documents on the estate and destroy everything that can lead to the organization. Of course, it is not that simple. Indeed, it soon becomes apparent that the estate has left more traces of those activities than just some papers. During the four hours you spend exploring the estate, you see more and more of what Project Alpha turns out to be and you are drawn into the mystery that has taken place on the estate.
The game starts when you enter the estate and a few things immediately stand out. For one, the game has not been given a very pretty face. Textures look generally angular, when they really should be round, leaves on trees are made like they were on the original Xbox and more. Now the graphical side of a game is not the most important thing, let alone in a horror game that takes place mainly in the dark and has to rely on atmosphere, but how this game looks is like going back in time three generations of platforms. Fortunately, you get used to the inferior graphics fairly quickly and can focus on your mission.
As your mission progresses, the story of Oack Grove will slowly unfold. While that’s happening you keep yourself mostly busy exploring the environment, finding things like keys and documents and solving puzzles. You do this in the dark woods on the estate, a graveyard and in various dilapidated buildings. It almost provides the perfect setting for a creepy evening, while Desmond’s voice acts as a strong voiceover. In this regard, you can best compare Charon’s Staircase to titles like Layers of Fear, a horror game where you walk through a scary house and scare yourself with great regularity.
Charon’s Staircase manages to build the tension well through a strong soundtrack and well-placed sounds in the game. Only unlike Layers of Fear, which manages to scare you at every door at some point, this game will barely give you goosebumps. In fact, the game is too scripted. You regularly see ghostly apparitions, but rarely will they scare you. Many things pass by at a great distance and do not feel very dangerous. Moreover, the game will always draw your attention to what is coming by automatically pointing the camera slowly at it. These two things take away most of the scare effects that might otherwise be effective.
Quite a few glitches
In the process, the game does let you explore the environment, but you do so at a not too fast pace. The game’s controls feel rather stiff and walking is done at a snail’s pace. Fortunately, you can “run” in the game, although the pace is not very much faster. It doesn’t stop at a slow pace, unfortunately, but the other elements in the game aren’t always as well. Picking up items and opening doors and the like works fine, but as soon as you have to press a code somewhere you have a challenge, at least on the Switch -the platform we played the game on.
Also, the game is sometimes very unclear in what exactly you are supposed to do. Although the environments are pretty linear and you actually always walk in the right direction, sometimes you have to backtrack because a door has been opened somewhere. It is not a punishment to backtrack through the game despite the graphics, but sometimes you will walk a misery before you finally find the right place or that one item.
The same is true during the many puzzles the game presents you with. Some are more clearly explained than others. The game usually gives you some hints in the environment or in documents to solve a puzzle, but other times you find yourself with a blindfold, so to speak. Moreover, you have a problem if you don’t read documents and memorize the things in them, because you can forget about reading back afterwards.
One of the puzzles is the pinnacle of ambiguity, where you have to place a number of images in the right place with only one sentence as a clue. Here you will have to puzzle for an unnecessarily long time in a dead environment before you can move on, and with that the game tests your patience considerably.
Charon’s Staircase Review – Waiting for the budget bin.
Charon’s Staircase would have potentially been a genuinely scary game if many of the elements present had been better developed. Now the game lacks the genuine scare moments and graphically there has been too little attention to dotting the i’s. The same goes for the puzzles you encounter and the controls. The game simply does not feel finished and then 40 euros is really too much money to put down.