Stumble and fall
When it comes to saving sexy teens caught in terrifying supernatural situations I’ll be honest, my reputation isn’t exactly stellar. I’ve worked my way through a few survival horror situations courtesy of Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn and Man of Medan and in all fairness if you want an omelette with good entertainment value, then you’ve got to be prepared to crack a few teens…
Generally my failures in saving these delightful creatures can be attributed to QTE blunders where my brain fully fails to remember the button layout, or in some cases morbid curiosity over what’s the worst that could happen?!
Thankfully in Re:Turn – One Way Trip from Red Ego Games and Green Man Gaming, there’s very little in the way of QTE action. In actuality, there’s very little action full-stop. As far as survival horror games go, this is more of an interactive novel with puzzles that’s set on a spooky train.
Like many of its horror contemporaries, Re:Turn demands the full auditory experience and asks that you plug in your headphones and sit in the dark for a truly immersive experience. This is an odd move for a 2D side-scroller, as for my money the headphones and lights out tactics are more effective from a first-person or over the shoulder view, where the jump scares are thrown directly into your eyeballs.
When Mr. Oogie Boogie says.
The occasional ghosts that you do see are merely a pale blue version of the alive character models and the “big bad”, a sort of black and purple pixelated Oogie Boogie which stutters into view, reminded me more of games like Ghosts n Goblins. This combined with the simplistic nature of the puzzles meant that I often forgot that this was a mature-rated game, so the occasional F-bombs and grim anime cutscenes felt a little incongruous at times.
The puzzles very rarely deviated from anything more than basic fetch quests, as you hunt down the necessary item to unlock a thing or free another key item from tangled up curtains or a blood-filled toilet bowl… nice. There is some variation with the addition of other well-worn activities such as playing the correct notes on a keyboard or finding the correct combination for locks, which usually amounts to a significant year on a photo. Not exactly mind-blowing stuff.
Maybe the simplicity of the puzzles is deliberate so you can really immerse yourself in the story? Well the story is not unlike the haunted train on which it is set. Rusty and full of holes.
Re:Turn begins with one of the most hilariously bad excuses for an argument ever. We open with our fabulous five, Saki, Yuuta, Sen, Kanae and Kazuki, on a post-graduation camping trip musing over the horrors of adulthood and whether their friendship will last the test of time. The last question is answered when on a hunt for firewood Saki finds a romantic haiku addressed to her. Her walking red-flag of a fiancé flips his lid and accuses literally everyone of trying to steal his “babe”. This naturally leads to everyone splitting up as one of the party goes on a sulk run into the woods.
Waking up alone in her tent later on, our plucky heroine Saki must now scour the woods and the wreck of a once opulent train to find and rescue her friends from a murderous spookening.
Fleshing out the Story.
In one sense, the use of a train as the game setting is an effective way of re-using the same assets and environments. Also aside from Resident Evil 0, I’m struggling to think of any other game that uses a train instead of the standard abandoned school, asylum, mansion trope. Some aspects of Re:Turn’s story are genuinely interesting as the train is not just haunted, it’s also timey-wimey, and you get launched between the present and the past to uncover more about the history of the train and solve puzzles.
These time hops add a bit more interest to the game as you can take items from the past to solve something in the present and vice-versa. You also get a brief reprieve from Saki as at one point you step into the shoes of Eiji, the son of a wealthy train magnate and owner of the ill-fated haunted transport you are currently on. A link between these two protagonists is formed, transcending space and time. Weirdly though, this link is then not addressed again until the very end of the game. This felt like an opportunity missed to explore more of the character backgrounds and potential parallels and flesh out the story.
While the game is not a marathon it does suffer from poor pacing. The constant back and forth through the same environments is not a new thing in horror. There are many instances in the genre where you find yourself traipsing around the same set of rooms hunting down keys, fuses or chess pieces for overly intricate locks, but at least in these games the characters are more rounded and the plot more developed.
Towards the end of Re:Turn, the lack of environmental changes and a very elongated treasure hunt puzzle, turns a relatively fun experience into an exceptionally tedious one. The final mission robs the game of any real momentum, the “twists” for many horror and tragedy connoisseurs will be fully expected, and the final “revelation” is a bit of a damp squib. Many of the themes raised in this game are well-trodden in this genre, but instead of attempting anything new or different the game handles them in a lazy, tropey, and naff way. There’s also a specific end of chapter achievement which is unbelievably crass.
I love the Japanese setting and there has obviously been some thought and research into the folklore and supernatural culture, but it never really adds anything to the overall story of relationship melodrama. Instead it sits in the background as little more than set dressing.
In honesty, the most terrifying aspect of the game is the near-constant vibration it forces on your controller. This happens frequently and is a function that you apparently cannot turn off in any of the game settings. While 10 – 30 seconds doesn’t necessarily sound like a long time, in reality these regular rumble sessions can get a bit unpleasant on the hands.
Run Saki, Run!
The run controls, which for some reason are only introduced halfway through the game as Saki finally discovers she has legs, are very broken. There are only a couple of chase sequences where you actively need to use run, but the controls are infuriating to the point of being game-breaking. In these moments instead of being able to run after exiting dialogue, Saki just stands there staring at the horror that will very quickly consume her.
I did persevere and eventually hit upon on the correct combination of buttons to make Saki run, but this was after many, many failed attempts and my patience was definitely worn down at this point.
One of the best things about this game is the sound design, so it is fully worth getting the headphones out to experience the contrast between the dank and creaky soundscape of the haunted train and the cheery, classical melodies of the past which would feel at home in a Studio Ghibli film.
Re:Turn is a side-scrolling, interactive novel with point and click fetch quests. There’s nothing really ground-breaking about this game and for something described as a horror game there’s very little in the way of scares or thought-provoking psychological moments. If it wasn’t for the occasional naughty word and vaguely grim anime cutscenes you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a Young Adult fiction storyline. One for the Twilight fans maybe!!
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 09/11/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Puzzle
Developer: Red Ego Games
Publisher: GMG Publishing
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop