‘The Charnel House Trilogy’ is a point and click genre game that will please fans of eerie atmosphere and casual gameplay, but will likely fall flat for others.
The Charnel House Trilogy is proof that horror games don’t need fancy realistic graphics and in-your-face gore to be spooky—this point and click game relies on atmosphere and tone to frighten players. While ghosts and other horror elements do play their part, it’s more about the choices and regrets that haunt us. Available now for PC, Owl Cave’s The Charnel House Trilogy is a flawed but intriguing little game perfect for fans of the genre but with little to offer those looking for big-time scares.
The Story Satisfies, but Atmosphere Impresses in The Charnel House Trilogy
Where The Charnel House Trilogy excels is in creating an atmosphere. In its opening chapter, “Inhale,” we’re introduced to the character of Alex, a modern, troubled woman with a strong interest in video games. By setting her up with that personality, it’s easier to identify with her—we’re also probably snarky on occasion, love video games, and avoid our problems. When things start to get a little weird (flashes of a strange figure, a missing package, a strange baggage handler on a train), it’s just enough to tell us the game is horror without making us hide under the covers. Something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is; by the time you figure it out, it already has you.
As the game goes on, the atmosphere gets stranger. Suitcases that twitch suspiciously, closed doors on a passenger train, an empty dining car. There are some genuinely eerie sights—without spoiling too much, a character called Grub lurks around and groans at your character—but overall, the atmosphere is about knowing something is wrong and being unable to put your finger on precisely what it is. Even when confronted directly with something like Grub, the characters seem inclined to dismiss it as an everyday oddity. It’s the kind of thing that gets frustrating in horror movies, but, trapped on a moving train in the dead of night with nobody but a groaning, gray figure in a cloak, a strange ticket man, and a bartender who knows too much, wouldn’t you like to pretend everything is okay, too?
By act three, “Exhale,” the story begins incorporating horror beyond the supernatural into the story, to mixed effect. While it is genuinely creepy, it’s hard to balance supernatural horror with thriller elements without one lagging behind. While the game doesn’t necessarily fail at using both, laying on the gory details does distract from the subtle nature of the more weird fiction inspired otherworldliness of the middle act, “Sepulchre.”
The Charnel House Trilogy does sometimes rely on creepy staples rather than scaring you with original ideas, such as the all-knowing barman and spooky figures that only show up in lightning flashes, but there’s some potential justification for that. The issue is that The Charnel House Trilogy doesn’t spoonfeed you answers—you’ll need to replay it again to flesh out your understanding, making connections and drawing your own conclusions about what’s really at work. That means that a lot of interpretation is filling in the holes with your own perspective—an interesting approach for a game, but not one that many people will enjoy. A longer accompaniment to The Charnel House Trilogy, called Augur Peak is currently in development by Owl Cave, and will hopefully answer some of the mysteries left after this game’s conclusion.
The Charnel House Trilogy Sometimes Gets Stuck in Tropes and Jokes
While its atmosphere and story are intriguing, that doesn’t mean The Charnel House Trilogy is without flaws. If you’re not a fan of the point and click genre, you won’t find a lot to enjoy here—the story is linear, and while you can meander around and click objects to your heart’s content, there’s not really much to be done beyond advancing the story. The puzzles are pretty simple with only one easy-to-find solution. If you mess up on a speech choice, that’s fine—you’ll get another chance with no repercussions other than that you’ll have to play the game over again for an achievement.
Another consideration is the voice acting. It’s not bad, necessarily, though some of the actors are better than others, but the voice cast is comprised of people like critics Jim Sterling and Cara Ellison. In the case of the former, who’s known for his gaming videos, it’s difficult to separate the familiar voice from the character. And while it’s possible that this is the developer’s intention—there’s something to be said for Alex’s interest in games, the book The Charnel House Burial, and the common threads that make it feel like a meta-narrative—it’s frequently distracting.
Great for Fans of the Point and Click Genre, Disappointing for Others
For fans of horror, what you find in The Charnel House Trilogy may not be enough. It’s creepy and atmospheric, but the lack of answers may be frustrating—there’s no real conclusion, just a promise of more to come.
That being said, this point and click game does instill a great sense of dread. The pixel art is nice, and despite the totally linear nature of the gameplay, it’s not hard to get invested. For fans of point and click games or subtle horror, The Charnel House Trilogy is a pretty quick and interesting engagement. For everyone else, it’s probably not worth it.
The Charnel House Trilogy is available now from Steam for $5.99