First-person narrative-driven horror games thrive most when the player is able to completely immerse themselves in the world. It’s important to make the player feel like they’re in the head of the main protagonist. Any heavy amount of separation from the player and the character could lead to a reduced level of immersion. No horror game is perfect in this sense, as there will always be loading screens and the idea that you’re still playing a game. But there are those few games that find a good balance and are able to pull off the perfect scare. This is what developer Super Sexy Software and publisher Deck13 imagined in their development of The Shattering.
Keep reading to learn more regarding how we felt about the psychological horror and if it really lives up to its genre. Be mindful there are spoilers ahead. This game also contains sensitive topics related to mental and emotional wellness that some players may find distressing.
Slow Burn Plot
An issue that can come into play with games that rely heavily on a story is that it isn’t interesting enough to compel the player to continue. The Shattering thankfully doesn’t have that issue. The story follows the main protagonist John Evans. Following an accident, he has forgotten the events leading up to the game’s present time. The player will be responsible for guiding John through his memories. But John’s mind isn’t ready to remember and the fake memories created to protect him are just as terrifying as the truth.
The story behind The Shattering covers many layers of John’s mental health. We’re guided through his childhood up to just days before the accident. Each level is like breaking through the walls built to protect John’s fragile world and it’s extremely satisfying. Because the player will be guided through fake memories and the truth, it’s almost impossible to know exactly where the story will be going next and in turn keeps it interesting until the end.
Guided Through a World of Black and White
My calling to The Shattering laid in the beauty that can be found in the trailer and screenshots. The world the player explores through the memories of John are strictly in black and white and only use color to make important visual things pop. This makes perfect sense – the worlds we see aren’t real, but are what’s conjured from John’s memories during his regression therapy. We are able to interact with things he’s created. Some things may be true and others could be a part of the lie he’s created to protect himself.
One of the only issues I had with the game was the art style. The mix of the color scheme and motion blur created whenever moving about in the world made me motion sick. I typically like to play story-driven games in one sitting if absolutely possible. This helps to remember exactly what’s going on in the story as well as keeping up with the immersion. I just couldn’t do that with The Shattering. After about 30 to 35 minutes of gameplay I had to get up and walk away. The less of an issue you have with motion sickness, the more you’re going to enjoy playing this game.
Simplistic Gameplay that Still Requires Some Thought
The game’s heavy focus relies on the player’s connection to the story. But that doesn’t mean the gameplay aspect took a back seat in this case. The Shattering works as a walking simulator that allows the player to interact with objects in the world to complete puzzles. This could be as simple as finding and collecting all of the objects in John’s hotel room before he can start working on his writing. Each object that’s available for the player to click provides them with information, making everyone a possible clue. It was satisfying watching the things I interacted with changed the world around me.
However, this is the same mechanic that broke immersion at times. The heavy reminder that this is a game came into play when I was frustrated about not being able to find a key item in the world. Added to the fact that because of the motion sickness I could only play for short bits at a time, this frustration felt worse. Thankfully, the progression was normally quite smooth which makes these frustrating times few and far between.
Does The Shattering meet up to our expectations of a narrative-driven horror game? I’d say so. The story is compelling and forces the player to really think about what’s happening around them. Tie that in with the beautiful world they’ve created for you to explore and it only makes it better. I do suggest if you are not susceptible to motion sickness, play this game through in one seating. However, if you’re like me, even playing it over multiple days is completely worth it. The ending provides the feeling of completion and gives you a new outlook on the idea of blocking away memories.