I have a very iffy relationship with walking simulators. I like the focus on a tight narrative experience where you explore a realised world, but I find that so many of them are tediously slow and often involve puzzles that require you to look for easily missable things. Some, like The Stanley Parable, work great – but many prove to be frustratingly boring.
Horror games are another genre that’s difficult to do well. Typically many opt for providing jump scares and having environments so dark that you can’t really see anything. Again, more or often that not, games in this genre tend to be pretty crappy rather than good.
So here we are with Horror Tales: The Wine. A horror walking simulator. You can imagine how much enthusiasm I had for this one going in.
Many thanks to @EndOfLevelB0ss for the review code.
HEY BROTHER, POUR THE WINE
After his loved ones are stricken with Devil’s Fever, our protagonist sets off to a remote Mediterranean Island in search of a bottle of Banydebosc Red Wine – a drink that supposedly offers a cure to this ailment. Upon arriving, all the bottles appear to be empty or smashed, so you need to delve further into the mysterious vineyard in search of any remaining bottles. With a hatted man and a headless man getting in your way, finding a bottle may prove more difficult than originally anticipated.
As a walking simulator, the story is mainly told through the environment and notes you find along your way (how come everyone in these types of games write so many detailed notes?). Intermittently you will have some additional story told to you via a loading screen in between chapters, but this doesn’t happen very often. For the most part, it works quite well as reading all the notes are not a requirement to follow the narrative – although it’s certainly recommended so you can appreciate everything that is going on.
QUIT YOUR WINING
Considering the game is made by one person, the first thing that stood out to me was how beautiful everything looks. Rather than coming across as a cheap amateur project, the game has an impressive level of detail that rivals many AAA titles on the Switch. In the distance you will see clusters of houses fixed into the mountain, and it leaves a lasting impression. Despite focusing on one island, predominantly the vineyard area, there’s an impressive variety of locations on offer. From a bridge that crosses a cascading waterfall, to garden mazes, and even otherworldly realms. The latter of which prove to be particularly impressive, since you wander into these areas when you least expect it. You could be halfway through a puzzle when a corridor suddenly leads you to to a glacier floating on a sea of red wine. As you work your way though, you’ll find yourself back to where you started and the area where you came from suddenly ceases to be. These sections occur at various moments in the game as the world transforms around you, but it’s used sparingly in order to ensure that it remains a surprise each time.
As you’d expect from the genre, there’s no real action as you are exploring the world in first person and solving some straightforward puzzles along the way. Most of the puzzles revolve around finding lock combinations to open doors (which can get a little old by the end), but there’s a good mix of other puzzles thrown in too – including one that offers a nod to an iconic puzzle in Half-Life 2, but with a slight twist as to how it plays out. Despite being a horror title too, darkness is kept to a minimum, with only a couple of sections requiring the use of a flashlight that you temporarily acquire. Unlike most games in the genre, the flashlight actually lights up pretty much all of the room – however it does overheat, meaning there’s some degree of management. Whilst the overheating mechanic worried me at first, the dark areas are short enough for it not to be much of a concern. As for enemies, the aforementioned hunter and headless sprinting guy will occasionally impede your progress, but they appear relatively infrequently. You’re not able to defend yourself from these fiends, so you need to avoid them or just run away. It’s not like Outlast where you need to hide and wait for them to pass; in The Wine it focuses on trying to escape your pursuer. It’s a much more welcome alternative to the forced stealth that you usually find in horror games that have no way of fighting back. The horror sequences are done surprisingly well too, as they pop up when you aren’t expecting them – including during the middle of a puzzle. They’re not hugely difficult, but they’re challenging enough to create a sense of danger.
For a solo project, Horror Tales: The Wine does an excellent job at achieving what it sets out to do. It’s graphically impressive, and everything feels restrained enough to make it work. Even the audio is mostly silence to give a sense of tranquility until the tension arises. It may be short, and it could have done with a few less door code puzzles, but I certainly enjoyed my time with it. I look forward to checking out the next game in the Horror Tales trilogy!