Developed by Danish students and loosely based on the story of Nellie Bly, the pen name of an American journalist who faked insanity to go undercover inside the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (nowadays known as Roosevelt Island in New York).
She would go on to discover the cruel conditions that subjects were made to go through and eventually exposed the asylum for what it was. I have always been someone who during horror games will not be scared so much for the monsters which you get in certain games but people. Yes people. You know what people are capable of, how scary and what horrors some people are capable of and Blackwell does a good job of making you terrified even at the sight of one.
But let’s get to the beginning. You start the game already captive as some terrifying looking characters restrain you as one of them injects you with something, stating you should be used to it by now. You’ll next wake up in your room and this is where the game now pulls off a couple of interesting mechanics.
You’ll navigate these hallways as you try to escape while constantly under the influence of drugs. This means that the world takes on a dark greenish colour, indeed intractable objects are highlighted as a bright green, constantly warping and moving, zooming in and out and as you do try to escape, the drugs will play tricks on you and make the experience that more real and dangerous.
So yes, you won’t be able to defend yourself, instead you’ll have to hide using the environment but here is where the drug induced state is actually a great tool for you. You’ll be able to detect sound waves, the bigger they are the closer one of the wardens are, even from the other side of another room, giving you time to run or hide. Besides this, turning on lights will blind you in this state and overall this is an interesting concept that works and makes the escape that much more stressful as you deal with the effects of the drugging.
Now if running from the wardens and hiding wasn’t frightening enough, another mechanic comes into play while hiding in the same room as your pursuers. You’ll hear Nellie start to breath deeply and start to panic, her vision darkening and it is up to you, to press space bar when a blue ring flashes to keep yourself from exposing yourself. It’s a good mechanic which makes hiding not a process where you can relax back and watch your pursuer aimlessly look for you. Which I should also add, hiding in one area in a room doesn’t mean they won’t stop to look at it, which is alarming as even though you think you’ve hidden yourself, you’ll be dragged out and drugged once more. This is to blamed on faulty mechanics and is quite annoying when you have clearly hidden well only to have that taken from you.
Also if your caught your returned to the closest room, though the drugs will take stronger effect, with the walls and doors warping and morphing, it can get tricky playing as you’ll start to probably feel dizzy yourself.
Now seeing as you’re playing a woman in these old times, the developers made an extra job of even controlling her stressful. Her movements are slow, each step you hear the dragging of her robes against the floor, creep option makes you tip toe without making a sound and the running sounds realistic as the shoes bang on the floor with each step.
Further control options allow you to peak round the corners and when you hear those dreaded footsteps, you’ll want to without a second thought hide for your life. Also leaving doors open can help divert your pursuers, so players will have a hard time in having to choose whether to leave a door right behind them wide open or shut. Such mechanics make the experience of escape that much more exhilarating but obviously that much more frightening.
I also have to praise the graphics and the effect of the shadows and darkness. A game that is run on the unity engine and is free to play, surprisingly this comes off quite well polished with barely any glitches, great sound and noise effects and you’re definitely getting a lot in the quality department as the hospital actually feels real as opposed to other indie games where the abandoned hospital or the likes don’t come to life as believeably as this Asylum.
Blackwell ultimately needs you to reach a room with an open window to escape, though the first time you see this possible escape through a barred window, once you turn back round, you’ll question whether you were always inside a room and not a hallway instead. You’ll think your going crazy, well, after all, we are in an Asylum, maybe you are actually meant to stay…
Pros – Great feeling of escape and wanting to avoid the authority figure, drug induced state interesting, makes you careful and wary.
Cons – Some glitches, character models weak, hiding places may glitch or not always work, life count unclear, lightening speed wardens, a little on the short side, ending unsatisfying.
Fear – You do fear for your safety and the footsteps of the warden sound like funeral bells.
Sound – The music when the wardens spot you is downright spine tingling and the tense music throughout will make you lean around corners more than you would with other titles
Horror – Escaping from a place isn’t anything new though the women’s asylum and fact that we play as a woman (not very often if you’ll realise in horror games) make it more interesting.
World – The sedative filled state make the world even scarier and the wardens, accomplice their character models and themselves, are pursuers which work. Overall it works though the graphics aren’t the best.
Though not the most revolutionary title, Aslyum takes inspiration from a relatively unknown story and puts its own twist on it, adding the sedatives to your vision and the footsteps wave as well as the blue ring to maintain your sanity are interesting mechanics. While these works other areas don’t and what we’re left with is a short game which while there is no need for it to be a masterpiece, at times feels broken, unpolished and doesn’t live up to the fullest of its potential.
It’s strange cause while playing and once finished Asylum feels like much more than a small and short first person horror survival and could have been a little more expanded and longer, though I have since discovered that the game was made in six weeks and sent in as a demo for Level Up 2011. Whether we will see more of this title or whether any further development is planned, is unknown and remains to be seen but until then Asylum is the complete package.
Either way I suggest playing Asylum as it tries something different and ultimately is enjoyable to play.