by Sorin Annuar
reviewed on PC
A bleak tale
Masochisia is the debut game from indie game developer Jon Oldblood. Apparently based on a true story, it presents you with the unusual video game narrative of playing a character in a ‘horror’ game that isn’t simply a victim trying to escape the predicament they find themselves in. It’s hard to explain what happens without spoiling the story for those wishing to play the game. The tagline for the game, ‘If you knew that you would grow up to be a killer, what would you do?’ neatly summarises the tone of what’s to come. There is next to no light in this cold and bleak tale.
Your character is a medicated masochist, and after a certain point fairly early on in the story, you will have the options, depending on the circumstances, of either swallowing some pills or sticking needles in your palm to deal with the assault on your senses and sanity. Other narrative points it hits in its stride show that the game isn’t afraid to overstep a few boundaries.
Protagonist or antagonist?
Played entirely from the point of view of the protagonist (or the antagonist, depending on your point of view), the game presents its environments as largely static screens that pan left and right, with only a handful of objects and characters that can be interacted with. Controls are simple and self-explanatory, and whilst you do have an inventory at the bottom of the screen, this isn’t the kind of game where you’ll be clicking everything on anything to try and solve a puzzle.
Graphically, the game has an almost storybook look to it; the backgrounds bring to mind the soft roundedness and muted colours of the artwork found in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, only with smatterings of blood, and character art that wouldn’t look too out of place in the pages of Garth Ennis’ horrific Crossed series of comics. Music is sparse but well done, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
A sense of unease
There is a constant, permeating sense of unease that runs through the game. Not of fear, or dread, -but the Silent Hill-esque sense that everything around you feels just a little bit… off. From the ghastly portraits that hang on the wall of the family home to the way the screen seems to pulse, as if your character is having some kind of nightmarish seizure, everything here is familiar yet warped. The closest comparisons in terms of feeling from playing the game is that of Harvester Games’ The Cat Lady or even the ‘90s adventure game I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Only far less verbose, and leaving you to piece together or make assumptions in the narrative as you go.
Of course the game is far from perfect; whilst there aren’t that many environments in the game, the fixed perspective of the way the locations are presented mean that you’re facing the exit you just came in from. It’s a minor niggle, but does hamper the pace of the game when you really just want to get from point A to point B to see what happens next. And whilst you get used to the speed at which the screen scrolls, it never quite seems fast enough (and a lot of screen space is dead space, with just background art, so many a time you’ll find yourself scrolling over only to have to scroll all the way back to actually find something to interact with). Again, these are just minor issues, and shouldn’t put you off playing the game.
An experience like no other
It is not necessarily the game’s intent to create a necessarily relatable main character. This is a bold move that may put some off. The dialogue choices you are given aren’t the usual binary good/bad responses we are used to from recent years. This isn’t Mass Effect or The Walking Dead, where the morality was clear cut. It’s even debatable whether there is any morality here; sometimes you are only presented with two different shades of ‘bad’. At times it is also unclear as to what the intent of your character is. As a result, the experience boils down to being more of an observer to see where the path this character treads ultimately leads, than ever feeling like you are really in direct control. This is fine, as the game has a story it wants to tell and doesn’t feel the need to pander to what we’ve come to expect from narrative in games.
Masochisia is therefore less of a game and more of an experience, and most likely unlike anything you’ve played before. The game itself is not extremely long, and can be completed in one or two sittings; there is also a surprising fourth-wall break which had gone unnoticed until I looked a bit closer at my computer’s desktop. I won’t spoil it for you. Just go play this game, because it deserves a look, and it will be interesting to see what Jon Oldblood’s mind gives us in the future.
Wonderfully grim, unlike anything else you’ve played.
Is more of a visual novel than an adventure game, is quite short.