Please God, No.
There are always points in life we wish we could re-do when given the severe outcome of a situation. The opportunity of a second chance could bury the regret, embarrassment, or nervousness of a decision with the chance to do differently. But taking on those emotions and becoming a better person is what gives people the empathy necessary to be a decent human being. Looking into the mirror and being able to meld the person you are can be a double-edged sword.
When you step into the shoes of James Young, a mid 20s high school graduate, he has awakened in a dimly lit office building guided by the faint hum of florescent lights and a land-line phone ringing in the distance. The phone answers with a low, lulled voice from a man billed as “The Operator,” introducing you to God’s Basement. Why or how James has been brought here is not explained immediately, as The Operator sends James on tasks to gradually recollect the reasons why he would be in such a place. The more tasks are done the more information James is given, and he slowly starts piecing together why he is in this dream-like state as well as how to get out.
God’s Basement includes itself in the ever-growing genre of walking simulators where sharp reflexes need not apply, but a keen eye and an open mind are necessary. While James’ reasons for rummaging through God’s Basement are not made abundantly clear at the start The Operator does provide a word of warning of disturbing images that may proceed the future areas that James attends, a not-so-subtle nod to the horrors that await.
The 11 chapters are aligned with various puzzles to conveniently slide the plot puzzle pieces together, though saying they’re good puzzles is hard, considering the difficulty ranges from 10 piece gimmes to 1000-piece solid single color jokes. To elaborate: one puzzle will have you focusing on various paintings in a room, finding letters that slowly spell out a word that is etched on a semi-crumpled piece of paper with each letter found. The other has six buttons and you’re to find the correct combination with no clues or understanding of the combination to be found. (To be clear: after stumbling around for 30 minutes, I eventually found a guide that gave the answer. When trying to find where/how they found their answer, no guide gave me any explanation.)
God’s Basement does slowly chronicle a sad, disturbing tale. As each puzzle is completed notes are scattered throughout the dull office interior, where the continuous use of the same small sample of assets starts to peel away at the intended unsettling ambiance. These notes will fill in the gaps of memory lost upon James’ arrival and clue you in on what has previously happened. As each note is found The Operator’s previous mentioning of disturbing images start to form, reliving past trauma from James’ life and a mysterious figure slowly finding its way closer to James with every turn.
Now, how disturbing these scenarios are is always on the beholder, but I’m a little miffed when The Operator said there would be disturbing instances, because they aren’t here. James will spend most of the 3 hour campaign walking through dark hallways, flashlight in tow, with flickering lights and slowly opening doors to accompany the aforementioned spookiness. In reality, God’s Basement relies on zooming in on specific areas to trigger events, turning areas into pseudo-fetch quests to make the game forcefully drudge forward. The constant requirement of zooming in to focus on specific moments, and these moments going on for far too long, kills any natural tension and makes progression become more of a chore.
It kills me to be ready for a jump scare of some kind, especially when James has to be hugging a cracked door and zoomed in to a flickering room, only to have God’s Basement air ball an alley-oop by doing next to nothing. Almost every easy shot to make me jump was met with the ghoulish “enemy” in question just rummaging off-screen, and thus finishing the trigger to go to the next area. The sound design left so much to be desired, and all the possible areas to show something…anything, are left barren and unfinished. The amount of scares in God’s Basement is near none, totalling to two quasi-jump scare moments with the ghost flailing its arms and legs in a way similar to a Garry’s Mod video and running into your screen about 2-3 seconds after you’ve made eye contact. I shouldn’t be laughing when this happens.
Where all hope is left on sticking the landing, God’s Basement prepares its thrilling climax like microwaving a steak. When a plot is set up to understand why James would ever be followed by “frightening” images, with premonitions of murder thrown abound, my reaction to the big reveal should not boil down to, “Well, yeah. I guess that works, but this could’ve been done so much better.”
Without diving too much into what plot is there, this could’ve been a really interesting take on the very hard, demanding, and thankless work that permeates through the life of a caregiver, especially when it’s bequeathed to an un-wanting and un-qualified family member, something that happens to this day due to the extreme costs of nursing homes and care. But God’s Basement is a ho-hum whodunit tale devoid of scares and largely detached from good pacing or explanation. For a game that forces a character to “relive their own versions of Hell,” that sounds about right.
Reviewed on Steam.