Dreams in the Witch House is very cunning. On the surface, it looks like a retro point and click adventure, but under the hood, there’s a ticking time bomb that H.P. Lovecraft would be proud of. Let’s root for the protagonist destined for cosmic doom.
As an adventure gamer, this indie by Atom Brain Games and published by Bonus Stage Publishing was always on the radar, but having played it, it has to be said that this is not your conventional game. Don’t expect a walkthrough anytime soon either – this has a unique difficulty system (including an Ironman Mode with zero saves) that changes the way the gameplay handles. Also, it has a real-time engine that affects your well-being. Quite literally.
Based on the short story The Dreams in the Witch House by Lovecraft, and nothing like the recent Netflix ‘interpretation’, you play as Walter Gilman – a hopeful maths student recently enrolled at the notorious Mikatonic University. Partly funded by his aunt, who posts him a weekly budget (this is 1929), he rents an apartment with an… ominous… history. Undeterred, he uses it as his base for studying for exams but is disturbed by noises in the walls and attic. Cue witches, chimaeras, the Elders, and lots and lots of textbooks.
Dreams In The Witch House Review
Whether Walter studies for his exams or not is up to you. You could study the occult if you wish. Heck – he’s already got a thesis idea, so it makes sense to make the most of the university’s archives. Dreams in a Witch House lets you do as you please, but think fast: there’s a time cycle – morning, day and night, there are exams that take place, as well as other events, plus Walter is vulnerable to a number of factors. This is both the most challenging element of the game (besides the mathematical theories), but also one of the most engaging aspects.
That real-time engine relates to the time of day, his hunger levels, tiredness, whether he’s warm or not (getting caught in the rain or stuck indoors without heating can lead to fevers), and general health. And, as this is a Lovecraft tale, you’ll have to monitor his sanity levels, too. Yes, there are point and click elements to the game, but managing Walter’s well-being is paramount. Then there’s deciding whether you should study for your exams, invest in other skills, or just wait for time to pass for the inevitable showdown.
The budget that your aunt provides won’t go far, and holding out for Monday when her weekly deposit comes through won’t work. The landlord will pay you to do odd jobs, at the sacrifice of a day’s work – meaning no studying. Money goes towards rations, coffee to keep you awake, investing in inventory to make the ordeal slightly more manageable, and stocking up on meds to keep you sleeping at night. Those damn rats! In many ways, Dreams in the Witch House is overwhelming, and it’s easy to lose sight of things and start again, but bear with it – it’ll all pay off.
Do Mathematicians Dream Of Geometric Sheep
The original text is a bit divisive, and I would have to say I’m on the fence with this one. Developer Antti Laakso was a fan of the short story and has managed to elevate it to a more positive experience. Again, this is nothing like the Netflix story and is close to the source, but the interactive element makes it so much more compelling. Aside from a few moments when gameplay stops for an animation or two, the clock is always ticking and another leak in the boat that needs patching.
Micro-managing your character can seem problematic, but it’s doable. For me, the challenge was the mathematical theories, overthinking like watching Aronofky’s Pi again – aargh! There are mini-games of sorts, including Simon-like sequences, and exams (multiple choice options, but also affected by Walter’s tiredness, hunger, et al.), plus there are events that can boost his skills, such as occult and maths abilities.
Seriously though, it’s Lovecraft, so don’t expect a Ghibli experience. It can be hard going in places, but that makes it all worthwhile, and with the multiple endings, you’ll be here for some time as the game takes over two months. Events often change – especially with the difficulty levels, so stick with the normal mode and work your way up. Just remember to study (the subject is up to you).
Yet again, I have to say that Dreams in the Witch House isn’t a typical point and click adventure, and more so a management game with some RPG elements. The delivery complements the source material, with some excellent pacing, a fantastic score, and plenty of opportunities to defy fate. Highly recommended for Lovecraft fans.