Witching Hour Key Art

Preview

Witching Hour is a Bewitching Experience

February 28, 2022

By: Jackson Wery

 
 

Witching Hour released a special demo for the Steam Next Fest, an event running from February 21-28 showcasing upcoming games. Developed by Vincent Lade with Unity, it releases this April on Steam. The first-person horror adventure features a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving and exploration with a supernatural "witchy" vibe to it.

Recent transplants to the town of Hollow Hills, Rose Weatherby and her sister, Emma, explore a dilapidated part of town called the "Eastern Village" one rainy afternoon. Emma insists they play hide and seek, and Rose obliges. Her younger sister promptly vanishes, forcing Rose to explore the gloomy neighborhood in search of her. Rose quickly uncovers something sinister going on in the little town, possibly involving a coven of witches committing blood sacrifices.

 

Witching Hour's Got Good Things Brewing

Witching Hour Mannequin Puzzle
The little red light turns green once the player solves a puzzle, which is a handy indicator to move on. Here, we match mannequins inscribed with symbols for Mercury, Saturn, and Earth.

That's the strength in Witching Hour, its vibes are immaculately creepy. Its atmosphere is oppressive and gloomy, with bleak, gray visuals. Even the air itself felt heavy navigating the various rooms and houses present in the demo. The sound effects and music were appropriate, though the voices occasionally got lost in audio mixing. Three people voice the demo characters, making the cast quite small. While it isn't a AAA production, for the most part the cast does a good job of differentiating and portraying their characters. Rose does exhibit a lack of reaction to some of the scares at times, but throwing in a gasp or two might solve that problem.

Gameplay in Witching Hour is pretty straightforward. It's in first person, and there aren't any surprises when it comes to the controls. The puzzles are varied and frequently use details in the environment to help give the player clues. It's very The Secret World in that regard, using environmental clues to find solutions. Sometimes, it's simply taking what you find and mirroring it on a display. Other puzzles use logic, such as the Tarot cards shortly thereafter. I got out my mini whiteboard to take notes and visualize them outside of the game, which in my opinion is always a good sign. The Tarot cards were probably my favorite puzzle, with the right balance of difficulty and time invested. I attempted to sequence-break on a second run, and managed to bypass the first doll puzzle and most of the Historical Society. I'm not sure if the Witching Hour team plans to randomize puzzle solutions or prevent sequence-breaking at a later point, but I always like finding little tricks like that.

 
 

Witching Hour's Warts

Witching Hour Fountain
The reflection in the water is very distracting. It's a small landmark but it stands out amid the rest of the parts of Eastern Village.

Speaking of later plans, I feel that Witching Hour would benefit immensely from just a touch more polish. The unnatural, unmoving water reflection in the fountain during the day (shown above) was very immersion-breaking. When encountering a "supernatural" presence the visuals distorted, but it messed pretty seriously with the camera instead of instituting a filter, which I didn't care for. Raindrops would fall on invisible surfaces, presumably due to collision boxes. Sometimes the lighting otherwise felt off. I also encountered performance issues on the highest setting which seemed to be caused by foliage. I couldn't determine if this was to do with my graphics card or a quirk of the Unity engine, but it ran fine once I disabled ambient occlusion. The character models are a little dated, but it's sort of charming in their own way.

Witching Hour releases in April in a few weeks, but you can check out Lade's other works on the Steam Store in the meantime. These other games include Deathbloom (with two chapters), The Swine, and Harthorn. They all share a visual style, but The Swine seems closest in gameplay to the Witching Hour demo. Indie horror projects like this have a very special place in my heart and I can recommend keeping an eye on Witching Hour if you're looking for a short horror-puzzle experience.

 
 

TechRaptor previewed Witching Hour on PC using a copy freely downloaded during the Steam Next Fest.