Saibot Studios’ Doorways: The Underworld is the third instalment in a series of games that perpetuate the trend of horror titles that strip the protagonist of any heroism and unleash them into some twisted world with nary so much as a, “Good luck, sucker.” There is as much a sense of foreboding in Doorways as there is in other games in the genre, so it’s a familiar concept from the offset, leaving one with an equal feeling of excitement and abject dread. If there’s one thing indie developers know, it’s how to craft an intriguing nightmare-fuelled concept.
The game opens with the vocal talents of Sam A. Mowry setting the scene, who some of you will recognize as the voice of Alexander from Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent. From here the tone is immediate. Playing as special agent-cum-Christopher Lee impersonator, Thomas Foster, you must track down a missing psychopathic scientist who has been experimenting on people, as psychopathic scientists are wont to do. Plunged into the depths of a coal mine-esque series of corridors, the hunt is on and in true psychological horror fashion, progress is made by finding keys, turning valves and running or hiding from danger.
It’s pretty bog standard stuff, but that’s not to say it can’t dole out the scares. There are some genuinely tense moments, though it’s less hide-and-seek and more cat-and-mouse as unearthly monstrosities stalk the levels and always right where you need to progress. While it’s not as petrifying as other games, it did cause enough anxiety in me to keep me pinned in one place.
This, I believe, is the essence of good horror. When you hesitate to push forward through fear of what lies beyond, you know you’re onto a good thing. Sound also helps up the ante of the more tense parts of the game. While the ambience is more soundtrack than atmosphere, footsteps and growls keep your ears pricked up as creatures move through cramped corridors and tunnels.
Pacing is set by the game automatically (i.e. you won’t be able to run until the game decides you need to). When Doorways: The Underworld is ready to scare you, there is no foreplay involved. But the quieter moments can still usher in a few surprises, be they threats or little heart-stoppers. It’s a shame though that there is no way to peer around corners as this would tweak immersion to its advantage. Instead you find yourself side stepping out of hiding places which is still tense, but more in an inconvenienced way.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the graphics. It’s not always a necessary part of a review with the exception of games that are either stunningly beautifully or shockingly bland. That being said, Doorways looks fine for an indie horror game. It’s kind of reminiscent of earlier 2000 titles such as Penumbra (are we sensing a theme here?) and it does a pretty good job of creating a rather lonely, claustrophobic setting with all the trademarks gamers have come to expect in the genre.
General gameplay tips the scales between avoiding the lurking dangers and solving puzzles. The story is also unveiled largely through discarded notes scattered throughout, leaving the player to pick up the pieces. While it promises “ingenious puzzles,” I wouldn’t say they were massively taxing. A little planning and thinking is required for some of them, but overall they’re fairly typical and there’s more of a fetch quest feel to them rather than puzzle solving. Most gamers probably won’t come across anything too perplexing, which is not necessarily a bad thing as Doorways isn’t a puzzle game. We want our scares, damn it!
At the time of writing, Doorways: The Underworld is on a discounted offer on Steam. At £6.29 (around $10) – 10% the regular asking price – this is a neat horror game that offers a good, scary experience. You won’t find AAA visuals or genre-defining characteristics, but it honestly doesn’t need them. However, if you’re particularly keen on an in-depth story, it may be an idea to play the previous chapters first. While it’s not apparently necessary to have all the backstory, I have only experienced this instalment and felt a little out of the loop, like there were parts of the narrative I just wasn’t getting. But then again, do we really play horror games for the story?
This PC exclusive was provided to us for review purposes.
With enough scares to keep you on edge, Doorways: The Underworld is a fine example of why indie horror games are still very much in vogue.