I am deeply in love with 90's point and click adventure style games. The fact that I gave Grim Fandango: Remastered a great score despite it being bugged up the ass should be testament to that. When I heard Owl Cave were releasing The Charnel House Trilogy - a narrative based, horror point-and-click - the feel and the look reminded me of the original Gabriel Knight classics, and that is never a bad thing.
Of course, what gave The Charnel House Trilogy such notoriety in a sea of indie games on Steam was the sheer amount of gaming celebrities who were involved. Most famous is probably Jim Sterling of Jimquisition fame, but includes other notable names like journalist Cara Ellison, winner of Peter Molyneux's Curiosity Bryan Henderson, and a cameo by Borderlands 2 and Attack on Titan voice actress Ashley Burch.
The game centers on two characters: Alex, a girl on a personal pilgrimage to see her friend and visit the setting of her favorite novels, and Dr Harold Lang, a man who claims to be visiting the same island on an archaeological dig. I don't wish to give too much of the story away as this is what The Charnel House Trilogy does best, but I will note that it does an excellent job of setting up questions for you to eventually discover for yourself. You unravel more of the character's stories, histories and backgrounds in a fantastic show-don't-tell manner, where plot twists are held until just the right moment. The Charnel House Trilogy still leaves the player with unanswered questions but teases that these will be answered in the sequel. One of the final and most dramatic plot twists gave me terrified thoughts for hours.
In a story based game the writing has to be on point and for me it mostly is. Speech seems realistic and yet written well to add intrigue. Some of the more prosaic sections in particular are exquisite and help capture the atmosphere. There are some parts which stuck out as odd. One character's crazy ranting leaves very little to the players imagination, and Alex's love of the f word above all other swears makes the game feel like it lacks creativity.
Creativity in fact is where the game is let down. The puzzles (and I don't really wish to call them that) are as simply as going somewhere and looking at everything until the next area opens. Characters straight up tell you where to go next and some things seem deliberately obtuse, like one wallet you have to inspect to get the money from and another which tells it has money in but which you can't open. A game like this would have excelled with a number of possible endings but unfortunately you feel like you have to stick to its predetermined path in order to continue.
While I understand the desire to have recognizable names on the roster, I will say that The Charnel House Trilogy gives me a whole new respect for voice actors. Their job is obviously not as easy as it seems, as the gaming celebs give their slow and painful delivery of the lines. I was not at all surprised when looking up the name of the actor of one of the actually good performances in the game it was Abe Goldfarb, one of limited professional voice actors on the roster. Still it is pleasant to hear recognizable voices like Jim Sterling's, even if he has decided to give his character a strange, country accent.,
There is one area where the game stands out. The music in particular for the opening and closing chapters Inhale and Exhale are pretty perfectly pulled off and add to the edgy atmosphere of the game. I was delighted when I read that it was in fact Bryan Henderson and his partner that worked so well on this aspect and found solace that at least one recognizable name was hired on talent. While the character sprites and animations are a little off for my taste, I do think the backgrounds are a work of genius. Pixel art is of course incredibly over done, but the way this art works to make it seem like it's not pixel art at all is pretty sublime.
While I may have some bad things to say about The Charnel House Trilogy, overall it is a good game which is worth your time if you are a fan of the genre. Those who like challenging point and click puzzlers won't be satisfied here, but there is an extraordinary narrative which is built into the story which leaves you wanting more, eagerly awaiting the sequel. While you will only get 2 hours on content, for $6 I do think you get value for money even if most of that value is in the awesome soundtrack.
I received my copy courtesy of the developers. You can get yours on Steam.
What do you think of The Charnel House Trilogy?
The story, music and background art are stand out winners even if the lack of puzzles and voice acting get a little painful