We’ll always have YouTube.
It’s a good time to be a horror fan. We’re in the midst of a retro horror boom with game after game inspired by PS1-era low rez spooks dropping regularly. Some lean into just replicating the visual style, while others go all in on making something very much in the mold of early Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Murder House is very much in the latter camp to the point of borrowing a similar control scheme, camera angles, and inventory system. But while imitation is a perfectly fine form of flattery it doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality, and Murder House is dogged by numerous significant flaws that prevent it from joining the retro horror renaissance.
The prologue set in an after hours mall gives an excellent first impression, with variety in its aesthetics and an oppressive atmosphere thanks to its vulnerable child protagonist, claustrophobic passages, and an excellent soundtrack. When the killer first arrives the screen is cut into thirds in a move somewhat reminiscent of Siren showing you his position, yours, and your escape route. Your heart will pound and you’ll sprint as fast as your tiny legs can carry you, killer ever in pursuit, music enhancing the tension dramatically. It’s a fantastic segment, one of the best I’ve seen in a modern indie horror game. I loved it. I just wish the game managed to reach that level of quality again over the remainder of its runtime.
Unfortunately none of my prior compliments carry through once the prologue ends. The split screen cutaways are never used again. The music is never as suspenseful or oppressive. The main character is far too capable, both of running and of fending off the Ripper. And perhaps worst of all, the actual house that the rest of the game is set in is…just a house. Sure it’s dingy and gross, but there’s no notable attributes aside from some stuff hanging on the basement’s walls. Locations are themselves characters in horror media. People remember locations that terrified them just as well as they remember the actual actors and dialogue. All I remember about the titular House of Murders is that it’s a house and murders happen in it.
There’s a plot, but only just. You’re Emma, an intern for a skeevy “news” producer filming a special in the Easter Ripper’s seemingly abandoned home several years after the events of the prologue. Naturally the Ripper isn’t dead and characters start dying one by one. The transition to the main game’s Resident Evil-ish structure reveals one of the game’s greatest weaknesses: the Easter Ripper is a terrible slasher. The suit fits perfectly in the dingy mall environment of the prologue but once you start the game proper it’s completely out of place. From a writing perspective they couldn’t decide what kind of killer they wanted so they just attempted all of them at once: Freddy-esque child murders, a “torture” dungeon with a rack full of sex toys, superhuman kill animations for the adults that demonstrate incredible strength, and a supernatural twist at the end that’s so out of left field that I’m convinced it was the result of being written into a corner.
But perhaps worst of all, the Ripper is impotent to the point of being comical. Hiding barely functions because his line of sight is impossible to gauge, but that doesn’t matter because Emma can beat the everloving SHIT out of her pursuer. At one point I was running from him in the basement only to find myself cornered, so I proceeded to bludgeon him about a dozen times with a fire poker. He didn’t even try to defend himself. If I overpowered him it wasn’t apparent; he didn’t fall over or demonstrate pain or anything, just stood there. I hit him again to test. He did nothing. I walked towards him. No response. He allowed me to leave his basement lair in peace, his vacant stare making me feel almost guilty. Murder House isn’t going for the comedy slasher tone that some films in the genre do, but no one bothered to tell its villain.
So if I somehow wasn’t clear, Murder House isn’t a very good game. It’s short both on content and scares, its attempt at the 80’s slasher aesthetic is weak, and its mechanical issues make it miss the mark as a PS1 horror nostalgic tribute. It also ends within a Steam refund window, making it a difficult sell. And so in closing I want to talk about who this game is actually for: YouTube.
It became apparent from the moment Jacksepticeye was given a voice role in the prologue that this game was aiming at a very specific audience: content creators and the people who watch them. To its credit Murder House is a fine game to enjoy vicariously. Not having to directly interact with it is far and away the better experience, as my friends who watched me play it confirmed. This wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself were it not for the fact that it’s sold as a horror game on Steam just like anything else. And for those of us who don’t make a living overreacting into a webcam, Murder House has nothing to offer.
Reviewed on Steam.