With the spooky season upon us, it’s only right that we sink our teeth into the neck of the latest horror games. I have been trying my hand at the new, retro-inspired horror puzzle game from Spiral Bound Interactive: You Will Die Here Tonight.
This top-down puzzler incorporates the golden age of horror games into its pre-rendered environment and character models. This is combined with a somewhat more modern — and yet still rather dated-looking — 3D shooting minigame. You Will Die Here Tonight expects the repeated complete death of your squad. However, with every playthrough, the game becomes easier.
Try and try again
You Will Die Here Tonight essentially gives you six lives to play with as you make your way through the haunted mansion. Each character can die only once before a new one has to be selected, and progress is continued. Items collected, such as weapons and tools, carry over to the next character, as does progress through the many locked doors and passages.
However, once all six characters have died, it’s back to the beginning to run through each of the puzzles and collect each of the items again. The only thing that carries over are weapons and upgrades.
The game expects you to die. It also expects you to get through all of your lives at least a few times. Each time you have to reset in You Will Die Here Tonight, you will be faced with the same routes to progress through the haunted mansion.
On the small scale, as in when a single character dies, and it’s time to make your way back to your previous progress, it isn’t so bad. Along the way, it is possible to open shortcuts and make things easier for the next character.
This loop is enjoyable and makes the blow of losing one of the characters not all that bad. It’s a necessary evil and even gives the game slightly Soulslike elements. A lot of the time, the characters will be killed by something unexpected that has no warning and is completely unavoidable. This just means the next character needs to try something new. Forewarned is forearmed.
Making the same mistake twice, or running down time on infection, is all down to me making the mistake. So, working my way back to the previous position, although frustrating, is just a lesson learned.
However, this is where one of my major gripes with the game comes in. I am no stranger to a game that punishes me with a full reset every time I make enough mistakes. Rogue-likes/lites are some of my favorite games, and I still take great pleasure in the brutally frustrating gameplay loop.
Usually, with a repetitive gameplay loop, the actual action of the game is fast-paced, immediate, and rewarding. This is not the case with You Will Die Here Tonight. Once you have lost all six characters, it is straight back to the beginning with none of the tools, shortcuts, or enemies defeated. I simply had to start fresh and do the same old puzzles again.
The puzzles offered nothing different or any interesting new challenges. It just felt like I was going through the motions to get back to where I was before. On my first playthrough, I was able to get quite far through the game before dying. On reset, I had to completely start again, running through the same mundane corridors, shooting the same enemies, and completing the same puzzles. The punishment for dying wasn’t a challenge, it was boredom, and it didn’t make me want to keep loading back up.
With a smash hit like Hades, even when you make it miles and miles through the rings of Hell only to die at the last hurdle, there is a reward of some kind. There is always something to keep the game interesting — or at least make your brutal effort worth it. Even the dialogue and characters develop around Zagreus. You Will Die Here Tonight doesn’t create enough of their loop to make it one that makes me feel that “one more game” draw it needs.
A retro throwback
You Will Die Here Tonight opts for a distant third-person view, calling back to the horror games of old. It doesn’t quite have the claustrophobic feel of the fixed camera of Resident Evil 2, but it still adds a spooky element to the whole thing.
Thankfully, You Will Die Here Tonight doesn’t expect you to perform accurate headshots against the various zombie enemies from this perspective. The game switches you into a set minigame as soon as you enter combat. The graphics improve slightly, first-person mode is activated, and it makes clicking heads so much easier.
The game looks great. The inspiration from the early PlayStation 1 era of gaming is clear, and I’ll admit, it made me a little nostalgic. The fixed sets have been nicely put together, and the studio’s use of lighting really adds some atmosphere to the environment.
Retro in more than just appearance
Sadly, the retro feel extends beyond just the surface. There are a number of noticeable bugs in the game, some that just seem like missed animation and others that break the game.
A number of animations that are present for some characters simply aren’t there for others. This is a minor gripe and can be forgiven for the studio’s first game. Not everything is going to be caught in playtesting.
However, one problem I encountered numerous times was with certain enemies swarming the characters. In some situations, there are enemies that are able to sprint, closing the distance between me and them in seconds. This means that if there is more than one of them, they trapped me in an attack loop I couldn’t escape from. There was no chance for survival, and it became incredibly frustrating.
Furthermore, the first-person minigame used for combat becomes remarkably samey very quickly. It can be avoided by simply running around most enemies, but not every time. The minigame is always pretty much the same. Different enemy models will be used, and each has their own attack pattern, but at the core, it is a duck hunt. I didn’t find them enjoyable after the 30th time, especially when they became so buggy.
Variety is the spice of life
Each of the six characters in the game has a different personality and set of skills. These come into play somewhat as the game progresses. Talking to each of the various people in the office before the game begins will reveal more about them, giving clues as to how they can help and interact with the spooky haunted mansion.
The team for You Will Die Here Tonight has done a great job of making the characters not only individual but fun to play with. As I repeatedly killed and replayed each of them, I found myself chuckling at how they independently interacted with the environment. The various personalities each have unique responses to what’s going on, from morbidly fascinated to clearly, uncurably mortified.
Along with their personalities come skill sets. Each of the characters can bring something to the table, be it weapon upgrading or health kit construction. Paying attention to these cues and hints gave me a much better understanding of just what order to play each of the characters. I enjoyed the moments I got it just right or figured out the required parts of the characters’ puzzles.
A puzzler at heart
Of course, the game has the first-person shooter element included, but the real core of it all is the puzzling. Many little challenges, subtle clues, and riddles are hidden around the map. Get some of them wrong, and it could be fatal.
I enjoyed these a lot and think they are by far the strongest element of the game. It was immensely satisfying to read a riddle, remember back to an earlier part of the game, and connect the dots. They are never so hard that you will need to resort to Googling unless you’re incredibly impatient. All the elements are always there, provided you take the time to really delve into the game and its environment.
I would suggest screenshotting clues and puzzles to save having to run back and forth between rooms, though. They are not always right beside each other, and having the various poems and clues on hand makes things a lot easier.
From the very beginning of the game, I was finding puzzles and spending ages looking for the various clues. However, You Will Die Here Tonight isn’t afraid of a good throwback, and some of the first puzzles you find can’t be unlocked until much later. I found my head filling with numbers, locations, and clues as I slowly made my way around the mansion. It gave me real Cluedo vibes, and each new puzzle solved and reward gained made me feel like a super sleuth.
The game certainly has the tropes needed to be considered a horror game, but I wouldn’t really describe it as “horrific.” It’s less the lack of gore and jump scares and more to do with the lack of suspense.
The moans and groans are all there from the zombies, and their models are very charming. But, the pacing and suspense are missing from the gameplay. Even when the game tries to put together a spooky set piece with flashing, lightning-lit rooms and glimpses of horrific zombies, it only comes across as rather kitsch. I appreciate what the team has done, and the callbacks to games of the golden age of PlayStation 1 are certainly there, but if you’re looking for something you won’t play with the lights off, this certainly isn’t it. As I said before, this game is a puzzler through and through. The horror elements just give it a setting and theme rather than the creeping heebie-jeebies.
Is the House of Horrors worth the cost of entry?
If you don’t mind the repetitive gameplay loop and want a quick, slightly spooky puzzle game, then I would recommend getting a copy of You Will Die Here Tonight. For the first production from the indie company, this game shows a lot of promise for their future endeavors.
You Will Die Here Tonight has fun and unique characters that I enjoyed getting to know during my time with them. With a little more work, a slightly bigger team, and a better budget, I think Spiral Bound Interactive could put together something rather great.
The puzzle side of the game, although nothing new, really made me enjoy the time I spent digging through the various points of interest in the haunted mansion. Each discovery, unlock, and clue I picked up made me feel like I had earned it. The satisfaction from piecing things together was rewarding. And this was what kept me coming back, even after a full squad wipe.
However, the pacing is all off. Constantly having to slog back through tunnels and already solved clues wasn’t fun at all. It became tedious very quickly, and I feel that the game could have streamlined the loop much better than it has.
It also didn’t help the sense of tedium that the combat mechanic, when it wasn’t broken, was just a bit dull.
Again, as I mentioned, for a first game, You Will Die Here Tonight has real potential, but there are certain elements that don’t make me want to come back and play yet another loop. I feel they just missed the mark on a game that expects the player to invest a lot of time in replaying the same levels over and over again.