GAME REVIEW: Paranormal

Found-footage horror abounds on the cinema screen. We’ve watched snot-bubbles popping on a scared girl in the woods, a giant creature crashing the most boring party in New York ever and many tales of naughty demons or ghosts adding some Feng-shui to someone’s home. Utilising a video camera in games is less common, which is a shame as there is a great feeling of vulnerability to be felt with no weapon to hand.

Paranormal is a game in this vein. The player takes control of Mattel Clark, an artist who has decided to film the strange events happening in his house. You can walk or sprint around looking at things, interact with certain objects such as sheets of paper with notes on them, and you can turn the flash light of your camera on and off. That is about as much control as you have. When your camera battery runs low, you can go to bed and put it on charge. The game then progresses a day and triggers new manifestations which can be seen on the CCTV set up around Mattel’s house.

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The first thing you will notice about the game is the look. The house you walk around is pretty basic but what is there has a nice fidelity to it. This is aided in a massive way by the lens effects added to the camera. Everything has a nice pixelation and distortion to it which really buff up the visuals into something greater than the sum of its parts. The camera being hand-held also benefits from camera shake and motion blur, which when added to the ghostly manifestations, really gives them some kick.

The poltergeist activity is done really well. Sound seems to be the most common manifestation, with running footsteps behind you, thumps in the attic or a door slamming in some other part of the house. The visual scares are very effective when they appear. Apparitions appear and vanish, objects get hurled across the room and mannequins move. Oh yes, the mannequins. If you ever think your house is haunted, it might be a great idea to get rid of anything that could be set-up to freak you out. If I had a bust of the Predator on my shelf, the first time I got up and it was blinking at me it would find itself in the bin. Mattel has a host of mannequins around the house, ones that like to move when you aren’t looking.

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On one playthrough, I was about to come down the stairs when I noticed some mannequins clustered around the bottom. I walked towards them and couldn’t get past. I turned around and one was standing at the top of the stairs behind me. I walked towards it and couldn’t get past this one either. I turned back to look down the stairs and the one behind me fell over and came crashing down the stairs. I ran down in fright and the bottom ones fell over with a bang too. Simple but effective and it gave me the thing that I judge all horror media on: an icy feeling in my gut. Not many films or games trigger that in me but on said playthrough, I think I felt it three times in five minutes. The latter instigating event was a strange manifestation that gave a burst of static in my ears and screwed the camera up.

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The hauntings themselves are dynamic, meaning no two playthroughs should be the same. This adds a great level of longevity to the game, but I still wouldn’t recommend watching too many YouTube videos or you will reduce the possible shock value when you experience them yourself. The game is set-up for surround sound as well so if you have them, break out the big headphones and secure them to your ears. Nothing beats the sound of footsteps rushing behind you.

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Paranormal is on Steam in its Early Access section. As such, the game is an ongoing project and new additions and more polishing happens with each update. An update to DirectX 11 will come eventually, and from the Paranormal website, Matt has published some great teaser videos of what Paranormal will look like on the new Unreal Engine 4.

So should you purchase Paranormal now? I would say yes. In the state it is now, it is worth the low asking price of £6.99 in my opinion. Some people might argue that you are missing out by seeing the game before it reaches maturity but the game is set to have so many free updates, adding new locations, scenarios and scares that this doesn’t seem too much of a risk.

Paranormal is available for PC and Mac on Steam and Desura. The Paranormal website is here.

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Casey Douglass

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