We were recently offered a review copy of Dreams in the Witch House from Atomic Brain Games, and when I saw the first screenshot, I jumped at the opportunity to play. It looked like everything I love in a game: a spooky setting, creepy story, minimal jumpscares, and a retro art style.
I absolutely got everything I wanted and more from this game. Though I have a couple of minor gripes, I’m more than happy to rave to you about this neat little indie gem.
Following H. P. Lovecraft's original short story fairly well, we play as Walter Gilman, a university student in Arkham, Massachusetts. Walter rents a room so he can study close to the school, and the room is dirt cheap... for unpleasant reasons.
Walter tries to focus on his thesis (a report on the connection between advanced mathematical principles and the occult) and his schoolwork, but is frequently interrupted by strange happenings. There are noises in his walls, a rat problem that simply won’t go away, and worst of all, he’s plagued by strange and terrible dreams of humanoid rats, an unimaginable dimension, terrible creatures, and a wizened crone who uses him for her nefarious magics.
Then he gets a real rat bite and a local child goes missing, and Walter's dreams become far too real.
Dreams in the Witch House is a classic eldritch horror story with all the right elements. Its setting is dark and dismal with constant rain, and the atmospheric soundscape is ridiculously immersive. The pacing is a bit slow, but I like that about it; we’re allowed to sink into and focus on Walter’s life so that, when strange things happen, they’re jarring and unnerving, which is sort of the point of the genre.
Style and Gameplay
This game is in a style that I absolutely adore; the visual design is what attracted me to it in the first place. It's a point-and-click pixel art game that reminds me heavily of DOS games like early installments of Hero's Quest and especially the original computer game for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The graphics are updated and beautiful, and the game runs like a dream, but everything from the opening splash screens for the developers to the in-game menu and the text fonts used absolutely scream "classic point-and-click gaming". It feels retro without feeling outdated.
The gameplay itself is similar to these classic titles as well. Your main objective is twofold: help Walter pass his exams and keep him alive while strange things happen around him. That being said, this doesn’t feel limiting. You can completely forgo studying to focus on investigating the strangeness, or you can try to ignore the strangeness and focus solely on getting Walter good grades. You can also take a middling route (which is what I ended up doing) and explore a bit between study sessions.
I will say the most annoying thing about this game is balancing your wallet. I never seem to have enough money to actually get sufficient food for the week and get what I need to sleep well and complete quest objectives. I suppose that’s kind of the point — resource management is a big part of the game — but I’d like to have a little more wiggle room to make mistakes, especially early on.
This game is delightfully unnerving. The atmosphere is thick enough to cut with a knife without being hokey or overdone. The gameplay is intriguing and very detailed, making this a game well worth spending time exploring even after your first run is complete. I’m thrilled to recommend this game to anyone who likes retro styles and especially anyone who enjoys atmospheric horror (with minimal light bulb-based jumpscares — that sound effect got me way too often).
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