Creepy and atmospheric, Sagebrush falls heartbreakingly short of “Excellent” and instead hits “Really damn good game that you should probably play anyway.”
Page 3, Game 15: Sagebrush by Redact Games
You’ve come to explore the Black Sage ranch, a compound where a cult committed mass suicide 25 years ago.
Go have a look around.
Sagebrush is one of the rare video games where “Cultist” is not synonymous with “Disposable Mook.” In most games, cultists are what pop out when the game would like you to fight through some bad guys who have dark magic at their disposal and who you don’t have to feel bad about killing. They’re trying to burn your face off with magic, and they’re all in the service of some dark foul goddemon anyway; send ’em to Hell! They have it coming!
The cult in this game is, like many real-world cults, a perversion of Christianity. The people who were once members of this cult were, like all real-world cults, just … people. People who got pulled into something terrible and made some bad choices, but just people all the same.
As you explore the compound, you’ll learn about them.
There was, to be certain, terrible evil here. Of the all too human variety.
There were no dark gods at work here, no enraged supernatural spirits reveling in the cruelty of possessing corporeal flesh, no Lovecraftian entities from beyond the void driving mortals mad with their horrible truths. Just people.
That makes it so much worse.
The game is creepy and atmospheric. The light slowly fails as the sun sets, driving a subtle but palpable sense of dread.
Who were these people? What happened to them? Learning that is the heart of the game.
The game gives the illusion of having a lot to explore, but in truth, it lays its story out in a pretty linear fashion. When you find a thing, it will open-up a new place for you to explore. Explore it, and you’ll find one or two new things opening up new places to explore.
There are puzzles, of a sort, but ones that are fully appropriate for a game this thoroughly grounded. It’s too dark to comfortably see in the community center, so you’ll need to turn on the generator. For that, you’re gonna need a key. Where is it? Try opening that large, prominent box where one might logically store a key.
Most of the game rewards engagement, asking WHY certain things are the way they are. I wanted to know why I was here; in due time, I learned.
But there are issues. Why do the doors constantly shut themselves behind me? Because fuck you, they wanna stay CLOSED because that’s the kind of doors they are. Be grateful they let you in at all. I definitely wasted a bit of brainpower trying to figure that one out. (And also got one hell of a jump scare when a large door closed before I’d actually gone into the room behind it, pushing me out of its way.)
Interacting with objects is sometimes much too fiddly; too many of them have too narrow a “hot zone” where the game will let you pick up or read them. This can make simply reading a note surprisingly difficult, and lends itself to an unfortunate distrust. Can I genuinely not interact with that object, or did I just not locate the precise spot I need to be pointed at?
Walking is kinda slow. Sometimes, this is fits the atmosphere, but if you get tired of it, just hold down the “run” button. This is not the sort of game that will make you face-plant as punishment for running through unfamiliar ground in the dark.
The biggest immersion-breaker was the voice acting, which ranges from “Passable” to “NOPE.” When the credits rolled, I noted half the cast had the same last name as the guy who created the game; this was not a surprise.
These problems are real, and keep the game from being as great as it should have been. However, they don’t wreck the experience, at all.
This is gaming as an interactive storytelling medium, done very very well. If some well-grounded creepy Horror Lite sounds like a way you’d enjoy spending an hour or two, I can definitely recommend it.
Will the next game be similarly unsettling?
Page 37, Game 7: The Dark by Eric Koziol by Eric Koziol
“What you can’t see will hurt you.”
Calling that a big ol’ YUP.