Masochisia: Sophisticated Uncanny Experience of Insanity

Masochisia can totally be called an indie horror masterpiece. An experience of enjoying horrible things and questioning your sanity, the game keeps the player exploring through exploiting that childlike curiosity for things that are scary, unpleasant or gross. A Halloween must-play.

Review: Masochisia

A moderately creepy indie horror experience with a solid storyline” was what was billed to me by Jon Oldblood in a message about Masochisia. This was all true, except for the “moderately creepy” part, as I discovered at 3 AM on the day when decided to play. Luckily, the scares lasted for less than 30 minutes, but this horrorific vibe is so real you probably could have heard me even if you aren’t my neighbor in Ukraine!

Masochisia has been around for some time, but I only now got a chance to try it out, and to check whether it passes the pre-Halloween creepiness test!  It’s is a game that is hard not to spoil, so if we accidentally do, please don’t deliver us a message like Hamilton from the game did to his Father.

Title: Masochisia
Developer: Jon Oldblood
Platform: PC, Mac,
Game Version: Finale
Review Copy: Steam code provided by developer.
Interface: Keyboard/Mouse
Available on Steam.

A young man discovers through a series of hallucinations that he will grow up to become a violent psychopath. How will he respond to these revelations? Can he change his fate? Can you even… change fate…

“Masochisia is an experimental take on psychological horror games as a narrative. Individuals struggling with depression, abuse or mental illness may be uncomfortable with some of the themes. The experience is intended for mature audiences.” Thus says the developer’s note on the game’s Steam page, which proves the point that this is a more-than-just-a-game experience. The still images  of the game really don’t do it justice: they only show what the visual style is like, and don’t delve into the game’s depth.

Masochisia is full of examples of creative ways of introducing the idea of “creepy” in a horror game: the overall design of the game plays with the subconscious human reactions to certain things, seen as uncanny by most, therefore setting a perfect, creepy vibe.

It’s the little things that really do it in Masochisia: instead of bringing the extremes of emotion, the game triggers those subtle reactions, thoughts and responses, sometimes rewarding the player’s jump scare expectations with an occasional still scare. Believe me, THAT is a hundred times creepier.  The momment when I realized that I was being stared at the whole time…*shudder*.

You start out in a creepy dark shed (what can be less classic for a horror game?)
There is a code lock, which you don’t know the code for, and a locked door that is begging to be opened: You need to get outside! And of course, much sooner than you might expect, the Grey Man is there.

What was outside this shed seemed to be more skin to something out of a puzzle adventure game: a tranquil pastel-colored landscape and music that feels nothing like the usually is in horror games. You’re given the opportunity to just chill and explore around. As I headed toward the looming mansion, I thought that home should be a safe place to go, despite its grim appearance. But this wasn’t the case…

Starting from the portraits on the walls, with empty eyes and grimaced faces, and ending with family members that you meet as you — playing as the main character Hamilton — explore around, the whole mansion is dripping in creepiness.  The family members come across as some kind of bipolar, with their emotions towards Hamilton ranging from ass-kissing love to utter hate, playing the “blame game” as if he’s the reason of all their misfortunes.

You experience varying levels of their insanity and what I’d call “f***ed up-ness” of the family and the whole situation. For one example: Hamilton’s brother Walter once stabbed his leg with a fork and didn’t make a noise, and so their Father beat him hard after this. Then Hamilton finished his dinner…with that same bloody fork his brother stabbed himself with.

As you engage in more conversations, the messed up reality unfolds: the sons compete for their father’s attention, as it often happens between siblings,  but in this case it is not the attention a sane person would even imagine as worth fighting for. It also becomes clear why the game is called Masochisia: sometimes I couldn’t wrap my mind around the levels of how fucked up the whole family situation is here — but this same feeling kept me playing, wondering what happens next.

The game does a fantastic job of evoking that sick, kids’ curiosity, when something is obviously scary, dangerous or unpleasant, but so interesting that you just keep going.

The psychologist that shows up in a scene you don’t really expect in a certain moment of the game is worth a separate mention. It is then when you start understanding what is possibly going on, who you are and who you’re talking to when no other characters are around. Also: don’t forget to take your meds when things around get wobbly: I realized I should have tried not taking them, just to see what happens, but I’ll leave that for next time.

In the game, you often have to wander around to find items or talk to others, get information and come back to where you’ve already been. This doesn’t feel to much like unnecessary back tracking, as interaction with characters change, and you can get them to share more information you need. I enjoyed the exploration aspect of the game, and the slightly confusing paths you have to wander, but it sometimes got frustrating when I was looking for something specific and just wanted to figure out where to head, for f***’s sake! (Maybe this is simply my non-existent sense of direction?)

As you progress, the initial confusion logically merges into the story and overall vibe, and the uncanny creepiness morphs into “so what’s next” – and the game turns into a Life Is Strange-level of story-based addictiveness, almost opposite to the initial uncomfortable feeling up to the point of quitting.

You navigate around the game either with standard keyboard controls, or by moving the hexagon-shaped cursor. Having discovered the latter, I stuck to it since that adds to the game vibe, while keyboard controls are handy when I need to move faster: for instance, if exploring an area for something specific, or I’ve already been there and don’t feel like exploring and enjoying.

I have to point out the clever way the game restricts access to specific locations. When I tried to go to the woods before I was prompted, a message popped up saying that one can’t go there without a purpose, and that I need to find one. Later, when I was told to go in the woods to meet the Friends, I could already enter the location. This is not the only place in the game with a message that hints to the fact that there’s more to explore in the scene and story, but I don’t want to spoil the others for you…

I did run into some sense-of-direction issues when trying to figuring out where to move during the game’s red-flashing panic/fear instances. It’s a bit harder for me to catch visual hints (in this case, the arrows pointing where to go to leave a scene) due to an eyesight issue, but this was a bit frustrating. On the other hand, there isn’t anything that relies on speed or reaction — so it just took me longer to figure those moments out. Overall, the game did a great job with keeping it creepy while not adding an “I can’t beat this level” layer of anxiety to it.

Masochisia is surely a game + art combo, not just visually, but as an experience. I would totally recommend it to horror game lovers ready for some uncommon, trigger-based emotional masochism, a sophisticated and intense uncanny experience: AKA A game ready to creep the living sh*t out of you this Halloween!

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