It all begins with a portrait of a small girl known only as Patient 13, with the ominous words underneath…
There was a little girl, who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good.
And when she was bad, she was horrid…
Possession 1881 is a traditional point-and-click game set in the backdrop of the Victorian age of scientific discovery and the human thirst for knowledge which saw many practicing alchemy and various occult experiments. It was created by the indie developer End of the Line Studios and released on June 5. A review copy of the game was supplied by End of the Line Studios. As stated in my preview of the game last weekend, specific words like ‘art’ ‘puzzles’ ‘Victorian Age’ and ‘Occult’ had me sold on this pretty quickly.
Point-and-click games feature the distinct difference to other genres as they require a different mindset and approach than something like a platformer or shooter, while moving at a slower pace to allow the player to absorb the game’s story, setting and atmosphere. Where a game like Layers of Fear functioned in cyclical patterns as you roamed from room-to-room, in Possession 1881 you are confined to a specific room or area deciphering the cryptic clues left behind. The former focused on themes of obsession and insanity, while the latter offers a depiction of the lengths humans will go in the search for truth, such as alchemy or sorcery. Initially, I made comparisons to Bloober Team’s psychadelic horror game with its wonderfully eerie vibes, though Layers of Fear is more “sanity-depraved artist” to Possession 1881’s allusions to individuals like Aleister Crowley. The game’s story of forbidden knowledge and the occult also brings back the feelings of an unknown evil similar to those felt in Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem; an all-time favorite of mine. Possession 1881 will appeal to anyone familiar with either H.P. Lovecraft or Mr. Crowley.
The game provides you with a torch and nothing else as you examine the area for clues and items to aid in your passage to the next area. The first thing to look for are lanterns and candles to allow yourself to search the area as your torch will briefly illuminate a small space around you, but lasting only a few moments. Each area consists of several puzzles you must solve before you can proceed, many of which prompted me to keep a pen nearby so I could write some of the clues down to work out the arrangement of certain objects or symbols to match with other items.
What was genuinely impressive about Possession 1881 was the puzzles; I really appreciated the feeling that an effort was spent in crafting riddles and puzzles requiring a different method of thinking than many of the games I’ve played recently. Many games features puzzles that many times will not be much more than quickly scanning the area for a dropped item or key, others being more of a mini-game than puzzle such as hacking computer terminals or picking locks. One level requires you to re-create a melody from a music box by striking the same notes on a xylophone. In another level, you will need to reference a nearby periodic table as you combine elements to create a corrosive compound…my teenage self would have never believed I would actually be using anything from the periodic table of elements in a video game. The story also culminates with you studying alchemical symbols and re-creating the broken summoning circle in the middle of the room, much to my amusement and surprise.
Another thing I really appreciated about the game was the way it presented the setting and storyline. You are thrown into a dark, eerie manor featuring some very nice lighting and ambient effects. Part of what made my trek through the manor so unsettling is the fact there’s no music but just the sound of rain hitting against the foggy windows and occasional thunderclap as a storm rages outside. There are no jump scares in the game, instead relying purely on the creepy aura of questionable scientific pursuits and occult practices; the silence is only broken by the echoes from your interactions with objects in empty space. The story gives details about a young girl known only as Patient 13, who must piece together the information left behind to determine what has happened.
What I appreciated about the story is the way you are following the trail of breadcrumbs as you progress throughout the ominous manor. You will come across notes that were hastily scribbled in a state of fear and panic as those working within the various departments pursue Patient 13, who has demonstrated overwhelming supernatural powers and has escaped from the room holding her. The game does a great job of creating a sense of foreboding as you discover the fate of the researchers and creates a haunting atmosphere completely free of the jump scares thrown into other games.
Admittedly, I don’t have much for experience with games of this genre as console gamers have historically had scant few choices in the way of point-and-click adventures and real-time-strategy games. I really enjoyed the experience provided by the game. My only criticisms of Possession 1881 are rather minor quibbles such as the occasional visual hiccup such as an item getting “stuck” in the object viewer after selecting a different item. I also would have appreciated an option to adjust the mouse sensitivity, though it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the game. The game took me roughly 4 hours, including an extended period of time where I was pretty well stumped, looking around for clues hinting at the way out of the parlor area.
Possession 1881 does achieve what it sets out to do in providing an eerie experience filled with intuitive puzzles and a sinister atmosphere with lovely visuals and impressive lighting without trying to steal cheap jump scares out of you. I found myself noting how satisfying it felt upon finally discovering the solution to the riddle preventing me from accessing the next area. For fans of traditional point-and-click puzzles or anyone looking to solve puzzles while even learning a thing or two about Roman history or alchemical symbols, it is currently available on Steam right here.