I hate it when horror games insert a generic, pointless monster that hunts you. Tape: Unveil the Memories boasts an impressively written and well-acted story, with strong art direction that can make for some interesting moments. But the game is massively harmed by some truly poor gameplay mechanics and rudimentary hide and seek sections that rank among some of the lamest I’ve seen in the genre. Tape‘s narrative and presentation shine. But the game itself uses elements that rob it of its promise, forcing it to become more of a curiosity.
Tape puts you in control of Iria, a young Spanish woman with a comatose father who, in his prime, was a horror film director. One day, she finds a video tape addressed to her. She pops it into the VCR, only to see a recording of her father, imploring her to help him. The plot urges Iria forward through obvious unreal situations that will relay information about her family. It’s a familiar structure for anyone who plays these horror puzzle games, but there’s a fair amount of skill on display in terms of storytelling.
One thing that truly sets Tape apart from its ilk is that all the dialogue and writing is entirely in Spanish, accompanied by the appropriate subtitles. I honestly appreciated this, as it makes the game that much more genuine. Unfortunately, the translation isn’t great, and sometimes subtitles won’t display as needed when you look at writing in the environment. The game isn’t long at all, taking just about four hours. But the pacing is solid, and the length didn’t feel off to me, so this level of brevity is fine. However, the issue is that you’ll spend a lot of those four hours doing things that are the exact opposite of fun.
Rip it off
The gameplay in Tape is divided into a few elements. There are levels where you have to collect items to open locked doors or solve puzzles that let you progress deeper. The standout aspect of the game is that Iria has a camera that can be used to affect objects. A bar in the UI gets filled or depleted, allowing you to move said objects forward or backward in time. For example, if there’s a shelf in your way, fast-forwarding will knock the shelf over. Rewinding will stand it back up. But many objects just fly along an arbitrary path instead. It’s been done before but, more importantly, it’s done quite badly in Tape.
Having to charge your camera is one obvious misstep. Moving objects opposite to where they need to be adds more power to the battery. However, there are plenty of times where you’ll just be attempting to move an object, only for your camera to run out of juice. You’re then forced to move the objects, such as a rocking horse to recharge the needed polarity. It’s honestly too convoluted to even explain properly. I beat the game, and I’m still not entirely sure how the feature works.
It’s even worse when you need to move something while being hunted. These sections are purely annoying, albeit rarely difficult. The recharging requirement is wholly unnecessary and only serves to damage the gameplay. It would have been far less of a pain if you could just move objects without having to bother with charging.
And things get much worse. There are multiple sections where you have to move objects around in time in order to walk on them. The collision detection between the objects is poor, so these segments are a massive struggle. There aren’t many of these sections, but they’re some of the worst things in the game. The final one has you using tiny objects to slowly move across a room. If you fall, you have to start over again, and the aforementioned awful collision detection only exacerbates the struggle.
Run and hide
And then there’s the monster. You know the drill here: you enter a room and the big lug will appear through a portal and randomly walk around looking for you. If it finds you, it chases you. If it catches you, it kills you instantly, complete with a terrible death animation that is as rubbery as it is laughable. The monster feels horribly overused, as it’ll appear in room after room, requiring you to sneak past it. Sometimes you have to avoid it through multiple rooms to recharge your camera. It’s a whole bag of suck.
If the monster spots you, you can use your camera on it to temporarily freeze it and run away. But you won’t need this too often, because the monster is mostly braindead. Sometimes you can run straight past it without it seeing you. Other times, it will see you and lose you immediately for no reason. It’s also so large that it typically can’t follow you into tighter spaces, so it’s very easy to take advantage of its limitations. These sequences are so perfunctory. They only seem to exist to make the game longer, which just makes for a worse experience.
When you get towards the end of Tape, you can choose two binary options that change up the ending. To the game’s credit, you unlock the Director’s Cut mode after finishing, which allows you to easily see the other endings without a lot of investment. It’s a pretty unique feature that would have been much more appreciated in a better game. At least fewer people will slog through replays to see the endings. That’s a net positive for the game’s prospective victims.
In the end, I walked away with an appreciation for Tape‘s story and art direction, but I was mostly glad it was over. The video tape mechanics are so clumsy and irritating that I never got any enjoyment from them. And the monster is even worse. It adds nothing to the game but an imitation of what better titles have offered. If the premise of Tape: Unveil the Memories intrigues you, I recommend you just watch a playthrough instead. Some solid elements aren’t enough to save Tape from being something that needs to go back to the video store.