“Just a city girl livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere. Just a city boy born and raised in a lonely world, he took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.”
Unlike in the song from Journey, these two travelers are not going just anywhere, they are going to Augur Island in The Charnel House Trilogy, an indie game released during April 2015 on Steam and developed by Owl Cave and published by Mastertronic. As a game that spans three episodes in its initial offering, the trilogy leaves room to grow and by the time the end arrives you will most assuredly want more from this interesting tale that will come in the next series of stories to be released from Owl Cave to follow these.
From the very beginning, the mysterious nature of the game is evident in the title screen. There are three tomes for the chapters titled Inhale, Sepulchre, and Exhale, which are surrounded by the eerie burning of an oil lamp and a musical selection to set the mood. This entrance leads to more intrigue as the story unfolds.
The first chapter follows a seemingly normal everyday woman named Alex Davenport who finds herself crossing paths with a man named Harold Lang, both on their way to the aforementioned Augur Island. Departing on the mystery antique train, they are led through the next two episodes of unsettling encounters and revealing truths that lead to a powerful ending. These truths left me uncomfortable at the thought of the reality behind what was actually occurring, like it was something out of an episode of The Twilight Zone or a Stephen King film featuring a creepy porter manning the train and oddities everywhere.
Players unveil the story by using traditional point-and-click play mechanics to operate environments and pick up items to use them later. Gameplay is standard when it comes to this mechanic, however, the game uses this base style to build on an overall genuine gameplay encounter that is made possible through an excellent narrative and pacing.
The narrative and gameplay are not only creepy, but also touch on the topics of insanity, isolation, despair, and foreboding loss to name a few. The use of symbolism for depth is done well in the episodes, as it is evident that the designers placed everything with intent to provide players with a better experience. The flow of the game is also done well between low and high points of intensity to keep interest peaked.
Playing the game was a fun experience because I grew up on many point-and-click adventures and thoroughly enjoy the mix of this along with horror and thriller themes. I also love pixel art in its many forms, and this game offers up a more realistic pixel art style that boosts immersion and connection to the story and world.
In order to not give too much away, I will just say go buy the game for the low ticket price of $6 on Steam and enjoy a ride on the midnight train to the island of Augur.
Benjamin Pope is a Game Design and Art/Animation student at the University of Advancing Technology working in his studio, Live in the Game, LLC, toward giving something back to the gaming industry through great, deep and addictive game titles. Here is a link to his blog.