Tooting your own horn in marketing is an obvious necessity, and spreading the right amount of hype to grease up your game’s entry onto the scene is key to reaching the largest audience. The catch here, however, is that a big bark needs to be followed by a strong bite, lest developers come off sounding masturbatory in their collectively expressed confidence, and nothing is sure to anger fans more than empty hype. Baring this in mind, The Emptiness promised to be a “psychological adventure game unlike anything you’ve ever seen before,” and “people with an unhealthy state of mind, nervous disorders, or heart disease” should stay away. Well, they got at least one thing right, because the voices in my head are now telling me to seek the developer’s blood as recompense for time wasted.
Haunted Houses 101
The Emptiness starts players off in the living room of a seemingly ramshackle home. Two women (who may or may not have been the same, minus a costume change) appear in short, live-action clips to let players know they’re stuck in their own conscious, or somebody else’s conscious, or the consciousness of their pet Shih tzu, and it’s imperative that they trod around each room to discover a dictionary’s worth of Harry Potter words that will help them escape. Piecing together each magical word allows players to enter a new room of the house or complete a separate puzzle or challenge, and it soon becomes apparent that there was not a single coherent thought in the story writer’s head during the final proofreading of the plot. Is the evil witch the antagonist, or is it the disembodied voice of Satan I should be fearing? Will this jigsaw puzzle unlock the master bedroom, and if so, how? Questions without answers began to flow from me in droves as I went about each room clicking on every nook and cranny
A Schizophrenic’s Toybox
It’s hard to put my finger on the type of game this really is, and my final conclusion is that the developers don’t quite know either. The bulk of The Emptiness centers around searching for hidden objects or combining things by rubbing them together with your mouse in typical point-and-click fashion, but players can also stumble across a myriad of mind-bogglingly obtuse puzzles to take a break from the monotonous I-Spy. While the searching aspect is fairly straightforward, offering timed clues and somewhat interesting solutions, the puzzles in the game are all over the map.
In one instance, players must corral an evil spirit by shooting balls of light at her in a maze of hallways. A few minutes later, the same tragic fools must put together a jigsaw puzzle (after finding exactly twice the required number of pieces) or decorate a toy doll with gaping eye pits and pink shoes. There’s even a “Spot-The-Difference” mini-game, you know, the kind you see in Highlights magazine for kids? I’m not saying these graphically malnourished enigmas are easy – they most certainly are anything but that – but I am saying they lack thematic consistency and bring the already sluggish pace of the game to a grinding halt.
When the game cautioned (both in its advertisements and intro sequence) that players with weak hearts and minds should probably pass, they basically signed an agreement to be the scariest thing since The Ring. It’s a pity, then, that the only time I jumped was after dozing off at my chair and jerking awake. The game’s only scare tactics revolve around predictable jump scares and bleeding walls. Yes, I did expect something to pop out at me when I looked at the spooky painting. Yes, I figured there’d be something hiding behind the curtain before I yanked it back. The laughably textbook horror set pieces really only undermined the game, and the end result looks like the developers used a grab bag to determine which scares should be put into the game. A grim reaper here, a spiderweb there, that bleeding text on the wall down there. Hell, there was even a COMPLETELY unrelated Indiana Jones-esque temple at some point, compete with bloody body parts and dragon skulls.
As if the hodgepodge horror elements weren’t enough, the game tries to spin the whole thing off as some deep psychological experience. Cringeworthy dialogue prattles on about the human condition, and some puzzles ask you to weigh the likes of good and evil against one another. To be fair, the game is so far up its own ass that it probably can see its brain, so I suppose that’s at least one element of psychological introspection. Otherwise, there’s nothing deeper than a handful of jump scares and some red paint.
At Least It Turns On
Graphically, the game itself is run-of-the-mill decent. 2D Casual adventure games obviously don’t require the best of the best when it comes to visuals, and The Emptiness sure isn’t taking home any awards for theirs, but the live-action cutscenes and jump scares didn’t offend me as strongly as they usually do. The audio portion of the game’s atmosphere, on the other hand, proved to be a repetitive mess of groans, creaks, and hackish laughs (see textbook horror examples above). The only truly positive thing I can say about The Emptiness is that it ran smoothly and never once quit on me…though come to think of it, a break in the game would have spared me a handful of wasted hours.
You can check out a handful of screenshots below. There would have been a let’s play, but I’m contractually obligated to not bore my readers to death.