The small town Painscreek is a place where several murders took place in the nineties. You are a reporter with the task to find out what happened. That sounds easy at first. But it clearly is not as you'll find out soon.
Lots of people are involved in the story and you'll have to find a lot of clues, read a huge number of texts - mostly diaries but also letters and handwritten notes. Though that sounds boring, it is in fact not boring very often because with everything you read you get closer to unraveling the mystery that surrounds the town of Painscreek in New Jersey.
« Despite what happened in Painscreek, there were moments when we were all happy. I will hold onto those memories. »
The Painscreek Killings has been released at the end of September 2017 on Steam and adds new useful and logical features to the walking simulator genre like a camera which allows you to take photos anytime which you can watch later and is very helpful as you don't have to go back to many places if you took photos. In addition, you can also find several maps of certain important places that help you in your quest.Get tips & hints for the game here
Interestingly for a story like this the weather is quite sunny and you hear a lot of birds and hear and see the wind in the trees. This does not reduce the atmosphere you feel greatly though it might probably a bit better to have some bad weather or night in the scenes. Yes, you read that correctly: the whole games takes place on a seemingly single day (even if you play for almost 24 hours as I did) so there's no night at all, but there are some dark corners where you have to use the flashlight to see anything.
However, the diaries you find in the game explain what happened a bit further, but often also raise new questions and lead you to doubt your own conclusions on what really happened and who murdered whom. The moment you find out early in the game that most of the people are already dead only intensifies the suspense.
« At around 6:50am, a jogger happened to see a body lying motionless on the side of the road, behind the bush while doing his morning run. He stopped to check of the person needed help, only top notice that the body was covered in blood. »
I felt quite uneasy in the hospital and felt like I had to leave it as soon as possible especially when the power went out. I thought I was alone.
All in all the atmosphere is quite intense but I think it could have been better by adding night scenes or stormy weather in some situations or places. Also, the music - though fitting to the scenes - repeats endlessly per scene as there is only one music per scene (type). It didn't find it annoying, though.
Most walking simulators (I bet you like the term "narrative exploration games" more) can be played with a controller. The Painscreek Killings is not one of those games which means that you have to use the keyboard and mouse to play the game. Though you can use a software like XPadder this is something that I didn't like at the beginning. Although I own XPadder I didn't use it after I started playing the game as I got used to it so fast. However, this is definitely something that should be implemented as soon as possible as people get used to it playing these kinds of games and somewhat expect it.
Whenever you enter a separate area of the game like the mayor's mansion or the hospital it takes very long to load, sometimes several minutes (really!). Also, in those scenes probably due to the fact that these are all rendered in a single 3D world (no loading when you enter rooms in the mansion for example) this is why it takes so long. Depending on your graphics card and overall PC performance the frame rate can drop in some scenes to less than 20 fps which is very noticeable but it didn't ruin the experience for me.
The graphics in general are quite pretty as the game uses the Unity game engine though they definitely are not top-notch graphics.
Actually you walk around from point a to point B most of the time between several places trying to find hints and items which lead you to more hints and items and drive the story further and deeper. This sounds extremely boring at first but I was actually wondering why it was not as boring wandering around time and again to the same places as I assumed it to be. The game manages to make you a part of the story and it actually feels like you're really there. After a few hours you get to know the places and streets and can wander around easily.
Of course it would have been helpful to have the ability to jump from one place to the other on the map instead of having to actually "walk" there but on the other end this would not be as "real" as it is right now. In real life you'd really have to walk there - well, or go by car or bike but unfortunately you can't get your car in there as there is a huge gate at the entrance to the town where you can only walk through which might "explain" why you really have to walk.
What's a bit misleading is that you seem to be able to open all of the doors you find as almost all of them show an "Open" interaction text when you hover over them when nearby though you quickly learn that this only seems to be possible at all if an "Unlock" text is shown as well though there might be some doors in the game that cannot be opened at all despite showing the "Unlock" interaction.
The game manages to point you in the right direction very often, e.g. by explanatory texts in the inventory which often hint slightly at where or how a certain item could be used. In addition you are not restricted to a linear gameplay as you get several hints most of the time which allow you to solve the mystery in a completely different order as another player might do which is really somewhat cool.
I also had it happen quite often that I didn't see several items and hints at the first time although they were sometimes in plain sight - something that would also happen in real life as there wouldn't be any hints. You find codes for locks and hints for numeric locks in several texts and there are sometimes many ways to get that info - also by reading and thinking about what that specific character might have used as a lock code.
The game itself only offers English as a language currently with even no subtitles available for other languages. As most of the content is text anyway which you have to read on your own this should be quite easy to implement and open the game for a broader audience worldwide. But if English is fine for you than just go ahead and grab it!
Compared to Other Games...
It reminded me a lot of Scratches (which is currently unavailable for purchase) though it didn't have such a deep horror element as Scratches does - and way better real-time graphics than Scratches anyway.
I liked it way more than Everybody`s Gone to the Rapture because there wandering around the town was a bit more annoying to me and it wasn't always as easy to know what to do next as it was playing The Painscreek Killings.
The story was as captivating for me as FireWatch though compared to The Painscreek Killings FireWatch is really quite short.
The atmosphere is somewhat like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter but instead of having a linear gameplay The Painscreek Killings offers more alternatives and feels more like real life as you don't see any "ghostly remains" as in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
In comparison to What Remains Of Edith Finch which I also really like this one once again feels more real because the story isn't as linear as What Remains Of Edith Finch.
The average time on Steam is around 15 hours which is enormous for a relatively small indie game from a small indie team. I didn't expect it to be as long at the beginning. Though it has some inconveniences like the controls and the music I really liked the game as it was so suspenseful that I wanted to know how it finally worked out and what happened in that small town. This combined with the atmosphere and the feeling that your are actually there and have to act as such is something I have not experienced often in games. Given the useful tools like the camera, multiple maps you can find, the helpful tips in the inventory and the overall story with many twists and turns I highly recommend this game.
Watch The Trailer
Normal Price: 19.99 EUR*
Steam Rating: Very Positive (82% positive reviews based on 82 ratings)*
- Genres: Adventure, Indie
- Platforms: Windows
- Release Date: 27.09.2018
- Developer: EQ Studios
- Achievements: 33 achievements
- Age Restriction: none