Dean Forge Studios’ methodically-paced, unsettling horror game Lumber Island is one of those well made indie games that’s great and effectively creepy as it puts you through its paces, but it’s hard to see it not being so as soon as you fire it up.
The first moments where the game credits play out (as if you’re watching a film) as your character makes his way slooowly up a dark pathway on the island he drifts to in that small boat set an appropriately chilling mood, so play this at night for best results. As you cautiously make your way around with that flashlight you’re fortunately equipped with, the beautiful Unity engine visuals pull you in even further to the madness about to ensue…
Without spoiling too much, you play as some poor soul who ends up on the titular island with the last thing you remember being having fun on a yacht, partying with some friends. How you ended up being set adrift (bad breath? getting drunk and grabby with someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend or both? Running around naked with a lampshade over your head pretending to be Gillgan while yelling “Skipper! Skipper!!”?) isn’t explained, but as you wander and stumble upon a few clues, then a particularly freaky menace, you’ll want to curl up in a corner somewhere with a blanket and a warm pet on your head to keep you safe.
This one DEFINITELY isn’t for those who need everything explained to them, as the game is a throwback to the old days of PC adventures where you needed to use your brain, eye and ears in order to progress. There’s not whiff of a hint on where to go or what to do, which will make casual players and Slenderman fanatics who think those games are scary cry in their soda pop. That said, if you’re PAYING ATTENTION and not whining about the lack of hand-holding here, you’ll find the game a marvel of simple but effective design that reveals its secrets once you actually look and think at what’s on that monitor.
Cryptic scrawled text in darkened areas and certain objects you’ll come across clue you in (and deepen the mystery), while items you come across in your wandering about are picked up and used as needed, so exploration is crucial (as is a certain sense of fearlessness). Movement is slow and almost dreamlike to a fault, setting a perfect and constant atmosphere for fear. That said, not being able to hoof it the hell out of harm’s way when it appears will make some more used to that reflex if they were in a similar situation scream at their keyboards as well as the screen. You may want to crank the sound up or pop on a decent pair of headphones, but be prepared to fly out of your chair a few times.
Clearly, Forge wants players to experience this one as he’s made it and at the end of the day, that’s quite a respectable choice, as once you get used to the pacing it really gets under your skin. That said, some sort of run mechanic based on realistically limited stamina might be a nice “Director’s Cut” addition after the final chapter is released (whenever that is). As it is, between the stunning visuals (you’ll LOVE those skies and the way the trees sway in the breeze, but don’t stare at them for too long… or else!) and haunting sound effects, this one is short, sweet and scary as hell once it sinks its hooks into you.
As for where this is all going, Forge plans a new chapter in about a month or so, so we’ll be checking that out when it’s released. If you read the back-story he’s set up about the island, you can kind of predict a few hows and whys about certain elements of this chapter. That said, hold out for more, as trying to guess what’s coming and how the entire game will end is a bad, bad thing as any decent horror fans worth their salt should know. The first chapter is out NOW on Desura or Game Jolt and comes HIGHLY recommended, so go get it (it’s FREE), lock the doors, turn out the lights and maybe keep a change of underwear handy…