Sue me, I have a soft spot for indie horror. Horror Story: Hallowseed is a first-person horror adventure developed by Jeff Winner. Currently in Early Access, it tells the story of three people who go camping in the woods. Things go wrong, and protagonist Michael must rescue his friends from a grisly fate.
Horror Story: Hallowseed opens with three people telling a scary story. One, a woman named Anna, freaks out and claims that the area around them is "damned." The two guys rib her for a moment, but the story is interrupted by something attacking them in the night. Michael wakes up in the woods wondering what happened. He searches for his friends, but they're nowhere to be found at the campsite, nor are they hanging out by their car. Wandering around in search of them, he stumbles upon a dilapidated house in the woods. That would be the end of it, but he hears Anna screaming for help inside. Ever the chivalrous gentleman, we are obligated to break in and rescue our friends. Unfortunately, it turns out the creepy house in the middle of the woods is wicked evil.
Starting off, the atmosphere is great. Most of the models and textures look very pretty, though some of the human and monster models are a little iffy. After finishing my playthrough, I tried to find other videos from Early Access. Some of the scares were either changed from older versions or randomized, which is a nice touch. The house looks to be in considerable disrepair, with debris and furniture strewn every which way. Corridors and rooms feel cramped, but walking through the house still takes a long while due to the slow walking speed. I wish more had taken place outdoors since it was a literal breath of fresh air to have room to move around.
To try and banish the demon haunting the house, the player must find several pages out of a bible in an underground area. As you recover them, you're attacked by the demon as it physically manifests. Though I tried, I never managed to find the fourth page. Instead, I accidentally soft-locked because I couldn't jump back over some rocks near the third page. It was rather frustrating to be wandering around down there since a lot of the underground areas look the same. This is in addition to the rather ridiculous way of evading the demon: simply run to a door and close it behind you. He's thoughtful enough to respect your privacy, walking away and giving you space. When I asked who was on the other end of the Ouija board and got "Nobody," I found myself humming that song by Mitski. Sure, it ruined the creepy factor, but I was enjoying myself regardless.
Sound is crucial in horror games. For the most part, it works in Horror Story: Hallowseed. Many of the "micro-scares" in the game were audio-based, often taking place out of sight and leaving the player's imagination to cook up an explanation. This includes things like rattling chains, screaming, breaking glass, hushed voices, and footsteps. Perhaps my favorite touch comes from manually saving the game. Michael walks up to a piano, and the player can play a jaunty tune (or a cacophonous mess) on their keyboard as it saves. It's very clever and creative. One memorable scare had the monster start poorly playing the piano upstairs. In response to having my haunting bit stolen, I power-walked up there and mashed keys on the piano myself out of spite.
Right now, Horror Story: Hallowseed is a bit of a walking simulator, but the Early Access notes suggest that there may be additional mechanics popping up in the future. Outside of the nightmare and underground sequences, there wasn't any real danger or sense of urgency, just creepiness. A lot of times, it had the Silent Hill 3 problem of trying every door until you can progress. Things you need to pick up can be very hard to spot even under the flashlight, turning it into a pixel hunt. I looked around forever for a key before realizing it was on the kitchen table blending in with the silverware, for instance. Some of the hitboxes for opening things like cupboards or picking up items are also on the finicky side.
All said, Horror Story: Hallowseed shows a lot of promise. It's currently in Early Access on Steam, and is expected to come out later this year. If demonic possession and a steady, spooky atmosphere call out to you in the night, take a look. Or, if you want to portray yourself as a beleaguered paranormal home inspector instead, you'll have a great time. The story and premise are a little hokey, but Horror Story: Hallowseed was still immersive and a fun ride while it lasted. Definitely keep an eye on it, since it looks to be a good Halloween night pick.
TechRaptor played Horror Story: Hallowseed on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game has a tentative August 2021 release window.