Note: The following review covers the first episode of Haunted Memories only and does not include the DLC.
Before you’ve even booted up Haunted Memories there are already a couple of clues about the kind of time you’re in for. Firstly, the description for the game on the Steam store has spelling and grammar errors and doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. Secondly, and more worryingly, the title of this game during alpha testing was the rather desperate “Haunt: The Real Slender Game”. I’m sure looking at it, some would say that Haunted Memories started life as a Slender rip-off and has been steadily but ultimately futily trying to patch itself away from that point, but that’s a completely unfair criticism, where Slender made you collect eight pages Haunt made you collect thirteen pages. That’s a whole five more pages!
Haunted Memories, which is not in any way a cheap replication of the ideas Slender delivered, has you waking up in a misty forest, powerless to fight back against a bizarre man lurking among the trees as you seek out specific objects. Instead of the procedurally-generated item placement and “Survive for as long as you can” principle behind Slender however, here there is a scripted, more constructed experience where you must work out not only where to find items but also where you need to deliver them to. Sometimes the solutions will be obvious, e.g. When you pick up “Restryct A Key” you know you probably need to go to the place on the map marked “Restryct A”. Other times there’s a little bit of mental work to be done on your part, for example when you find a generator out of petrol you can work out you might be able to get petrol from near the car you saw earlier. Some of the time though, the game just wants you to search the map blindly for objects. In general, the experience has far too many moments of it not being clear where you need to go next, sometimes even deliberately. There’s a late-game moment where you find a few slots with reds light near them. It’s a clue that they need to be filled with a specific item, but there’s no clue as to where or what the item is. You must meticulously search every tiny bit of the map for what is not obviously an object you need when you see it. By contrast it makes the incredibly unchallenging tasks of being just handed an item and told where to go next a relief, because while that’s monotonous busywork, at least there’s a clear goal.
None of this would be as skin-crawlingly painful as it is if moving around the game world weren’t such a burden. There are huge, almost identical expanses between the locations in Haunted Memories, and at least 90% of the game is moving through these spaces. Sprinting makes this process marginally more tolerable, but after a certain amount of that your character starts giving a frustratingly exaggerated head bob. All this movement is kept incredibly linear through way of the map being made up of a number of long dirt paths and play involving retreading these same routes again and again and again. It’s soul-crushing to spend your time trudging from one spot to another through endless woods only to find that where you guessed you needed to be is not where you needed to be. At one point I spent about seven minutes climbing a hill because starved for clues on where to go next it seemed as reasonable a guess as any, but at the top I reached a small gate which was apparently impossible for my character to overcome, so with a sigh I had no choice but to start my way back down the hill. It was a pleasant release when I died from fall damage by jumping down a couple of sets of stairs. You can also only save when you reach a typewriter so death often means yet more repetition. In theory this might be made more tense by the inclusion of the game’s big bad, but it doesn’t pan out.
In Haunted Memories you’re stalked by a monster called Mark Slender. I swear I am not making this up, Slenderman’s forename is Mark in this game. This version of the internet’s favourite urban myth is not as menacing here as he has been in other incarnations. As opposed to the simple and imposing faceless man in a suit of Slender, here he seems slightly more cartoonish with the ability to float and tentacles growing out of his back. There’s not that same sting of shock when you spot him and he lacks power. He doesn’t move quickly and it takes prolonged eye contact (or face contact I guess) to die from him so you learn that once he appears you can just look at the floor for a few seconds and wait for him to go away. Yes, where other horror games would instill a sense of panic and intense desire to run from a hideous creature, Haunted Memories delivers all the thrills of staring at the ground. He doesn’t even appear that often, making a lot of your walks in the game fairly mundane, and when he does it’s more of an inconvenience than anything. If he does get you apparently he often only teleports you across the map which means, you guessed it, more walking, but never once did he reach me in-game. Every time I died, apart from the aforementioned jumping incident, it was because I became stuck in world geometry and “fell to my death”, an event that occurred three separate times within the relatively short play time. If the Steam comments are anything to go by this has happened to most people who’ve played the game, with everything from barrels to stairs capable of inflicting collision-based fatalities.
There is another type of enemy in the game which will more overtly attack you, sometimes pressing you to fight back with one of the weapons you can find about halfway in, but hitting them has the feel of thwacking a cardboard tube against a sack of packing peanuts, and both times I killed one they died by collapsing through a wall. I will say for the game that it is capable of presenting a creepy and off-putting atmosphere at times. The forest is a foggy, otherworldly place and the quiet, digitised murmuring on the soundtrack does create a vague paranoia. The best part of the game may be a spot in the undergrowth where you can hear something else scrambling around in the darkness, but it’s not quite clear what. It’s never enough though, and a lot of the attempts the game makes to look spooky create a muddy, graphical mess. It’s hard to see unless you’re playing full-screen, but the lighting in the game comes to take the form of large, discoloured blobs, almost like the effect you get when you turn your brightness up way too high. To be clear, I know my brightness wasn’t up too high because A. The current brightness of my monitor is fine for every other game I own, and B. Brightness is just one the many settings missing from the game. In fact, you can only change the settings via the main menu which means that if you want to make any graphical tweaks you have to quit the game (remembering save points are only at specific locations), make your adjustment on the menu, enter the game to see if it worked, and repeat these steps until everything looks as okay as it can.
Haunted Memories is the perfect example of a title that borrows ideas from a more popular piece of media without understanding what made those ideas work in another context. It’s a game about walking around and nothing happening, and yes, Slender had a lot of walking around, but in that game you had a clear objective, there wasn’t as much time between finding things, the enemy was scarier because it was more understated and could actually make you lose, you weren’t funneled down the same few paths ad nauseum for two hours, it wasn’t rife with technical issues, and it had an impeccable increase in its pace as it went on instead of just staying at the kind of limp, lifeless, crawl Haunted Memories does. The best things I can say about this game are that it’s free and it’s a bit creepy. There are apparently six planned episodes of Haunted Memories, although judging by current output who knows if or when they will arrive. The second episode was up on the Steam store for a while before the developers pulled it, citing the poor quality of the product. I don’t get the sense these people are exactly masters of QA.