I feel sorry for caretakers.
While they may not litter popular culture, and if they did I’m sure they’d clean it up, they are often portrayed as filthy, socially awkward weirdos and are prime candidates for horror antagonists.
I blame Scooby-Doo, as many of the spooks and monsters nearly always turned out to be Old Man Jefferson the crotchety Caretaker or Janitor of the abandoned hotel / theme park / mansion, who was generally trying to commit insurance fraud. Then of course there’s Freddy Krueger, high school janitor and serial killer. Even Ahti, my absolute favourite thing about Control, comes off as a bit freaking creepy to begin with.
So it’s no wonder that the antagonist of Caretaker from PulseTense is a caretaker who allegedly “went nuts” and murdered all of his co-workers before killing himself. Now the caretaker has apparently returned to his factory of death and it’s your job as plucky investigative journalist Joe Salinger to debunk this urban legend.
Unlike our favourite Mystery Incorporated teens, Salinger makes the horror standard stupid decision of investigating on his own. No friends, no back up, no talking dogs in need of severe dietary restrictions. The best time for you to do this investigation is naturally in the middle of the night, so be prepared to wander aimlessly around in dark environments with a weaksauce torch that barely illuminates anything.
Given that there are photos and other random objects you can interact with dotted around the abandoned complex, the darkness combined with the rubbish torch tends to make anything you do pick up illegible. As in often the case in these games I did resort to ramping up the brightness because if I’m going to be jump scared then I’d prefer to be jump scared in high-contrast.
The game can be split into 3 separate acts.
The first third of the game is spent exploring the factory and warehouses to find the necessary items that will get the lift to the basement up and running. Once in the basement the next act revolves entirely around trying to get the hell out of the basement, and the final act is get in the god damn van!
Each act plays out in generally the same way and involves hunting around in the dark for keys. However by act 2 the eponymous Caretaker has been unleashed via a pretty decent jump scare, when you first experience it. The problem with this game is it’s a standard run or die survival horror. Hiding is not an option as it appears Salinger has been skipping out on leg day and has no idea how to crouch. Running away is also fairly hit and miss as the Caretaker can run faster than you. So this second act jump scare got less scary after each death.
As a free bit of advice should you play this game.
You’ll want to trigger the Caretaker by reversing into him so at least you’re pointing in the right direction for legging it. When you do successfully manage to flee the Caretaker in each run or die section you’ll be rewarded with a ghoulish monster scream, and judging by the way your vision becomes obscured by blood splatter, your eyes explode? There were other jump scares and hallucinations, one of which being some sort of haunted bunny, but I missed a few others judging by sound clues as I was looking in completely the wrong direction.
The sound design and the environmental design are the high points of this game and reminded me of the Slender games. This is a game best played with headphones so that you can really immerse yourself in the background noises of the weather and the creaking and groaning of the decrepit buildings. The story is paper-thin and relies on environmental storytelling, otherwise known as you bothering to pick up random bits and bobs that give a hint of what might have been going on.
You will come across a few messages daubed in blood on the walls, all with a recurring theme of a marriage gone wrong. If you get the brightness balance correct you might also be able to make out a few ghoulish photos of brides and grooms and other characters. So from this we can infer that the descent into madness was because of good old “woman trouble”, and if you take the time to fully pick through the debris you’ll also find a somehow still working mobile phone showing a text. It’s probably a Nokia 3310.
Then we move on to the caretaker himself.
As far as horrifying figures go I’ve seen scarier Furbies that will haunt my nightmares. When I did get attacked by him and slapped into oblivion, the only impression I had was of a person whose top half was made of jerky and day-glo yellow disco pants. There might also have been goggles, and I think wrapping your head in chicken wire is definitely an interesting fashion choice but not inherently terrifying.
As far as horror games go, this is a solid meh. The story is unnecessary, the antagonist is hilarious, and stumbling around in the dark looking for things reminded me heavily of the Slender games and the multitude of other copycat games like White Noise and Tattletail – further proof that Furbies are the devil’s work. Caretaker also makes a very bizarre gameplay decision at the start of the third act which PulseTense presumably thought would make it more unsettling, but in fact it totally robs the game of what little atmosphere it did have.
In terms of value for money, Caretaker is not a very long game and you could complete it in around an hour, maybe even less if you stumble on the items you need quicker. There’s no real incentive to replay it either as there’s only one ending and as endings go it’s a bit poor.
Caretaker is a brief exercise in running around in the dark while being chased by a sentient meat snack in high-vis trousers. The story is a tacked-on excuse to explain away the crazy, and while the environments and sound design are the saving grace of this game there’s also not much variation in style and this game is nothing new. I can think of scarier ways of spending £7/$8 of my money and one hour of my time.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 16/07/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Action
Publisher: Playstige Interactive
Download link: eShop