Exclusive Hands-On With The Horror-Filled Indie Game, Doorways
If you recall back at the beginning of February, we had an in-depth interview with Saibot Studios, the creators of indie horror game, Doorways. Personally, I was quite interested in the project, over and above my usual love of good horror, because this game seemed to have something that many other entries in the genre lack, and that’s genuine creativity, and an emphasis on actual gameplay and puzzle solving rather than only scares. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that approach, but in a very saturated indie horror genre, I felt we needed more unique showings like Doorways.
I spoke to Saibot Studios’ game director Tobias Rusjan for quite some time, and he was very kind to provide me with early access to the game to see what they’ve got going on. I was really excited, and so I sat one night in the early hours of the morning and experienced Doorways. Before I get into all of that, let me get a few things out of the way first. The build I played of the game was it in almost its completed state, but not quite there yet as it was lacking a few fixes and features, such as an introduction, epilogue, possible voice acting for the notes you find and perhaps an extra scenario at the end. Naturally it made the story a little bit harder to follow, but I experienced the gameplay in its entirety, so I can talk about that freely. I should also bring it to your attention that the build I played was of chapter one, and Saibot wishes to continue developing the game in order to finish it. The game’s Steam Greenlight campaign could use a bit of a boost, and because of this the developers are thinking about possibly releasing chapter one for free download in April. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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Doorways puts you into a dark, nightmarish tomb where you don’t really know a whole lot of what’s going on. The game’s story is pretty subtle, and your easiest link to it is through the notes you’ll find scattered around from those who seemingly occupied the world before. If fearing the unknown is something you enjoy, then Doorways has you covered because you’ll never have a clear picture of what’s going on. What you will have, are fragments of the story. Visions you encounter in the game will give you small ideas of what’s happening, and it will be up to you to form some kind of picture in your mind of what’s going on. At least, that’s how the first chapter does it, and perhaps there will be a greater context when the full version adds the introduction and epilogue. Personally, this way of doing it has its ups and downs. On the one hand, I love piecing together the story for myself and getting it in fragments, as it really keeps the mystery up, but on the other it’s a bit too ambiguous, and Doorways can be such an interesting game that you’ll want to find out more of the story, but don’t get to.
With its gameplay, Doorways is old-school in all the ways that I like. It’s got puzzle solving, platforming and you can die, which is an element a lot of modern horror games omit in favour of atmosphere. Fortunately, Doorways has plenty of that in addition to satisfying gameplay, and a good word to use to describe the game’s feeling is oppressive. There are plenty of moments for jump scares and genuinely freaky stuff, sure, but getting you scared isn’t the objective of this game. It’s engaging you in a mystery. It’s giving you a thrill. In many ways, the scares of this game are meticulous, and they’re spread out enough so that it never feels cheap or overdone. Although, this game does indulge in giving you the creeps, and as a huge fan of horror and someone who rarely ever gets scared, I can say that I loved it.
The gameplay itself is pretty simple. You’ll control your character with the standard WASD directional keys, use shift to walk, and space to jump. The game is dominantly about puzzle solving and platforming, and thanks to solid controls and good design, the latter is never an issue even though the game is played from a first person perspective. Puzzle solving is where it gets more interesting. I really don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll say that the easier ones require you to maybe just find an object, which admittedly was a bit difficult once or twice when I played because they were hard to notice in the background. Fortunately, this is something the developers are tweaking. The more complex puzzles, however, are varied, and can include combinations of memory games and platforming and item-searching. While these don’t sound all that exciting, of course context matters most, and Doorways admirably finds great ways to implement these gameplay elements, and keep things varied.
Doorways’ greatest strength is in its creativity. It takes simple objectives and wraps them in intriguing and engaging contexts. For example, your objective may just be to open a door, but the journey to do that will be filled with varied puzzles and interesting back-story. Likewise, you could just be attempting to get from point A to B, but along the way you’re bound to get freaked out a bit or challenged in one way or another. There was just something mysterious about the whole game, and after the dozens of horror games I’ve played in recent history, this one felt unique, different and special. It’s biggest flaw is just that it’s a bit too ambiguous and I really wanted to see more of the story as I mentioned earlier, so hopefully future chapters will emphasise this. However, that said, the first chapter gives you just about enough to be satisfied here, and to keep you curious about what’s to come in later portions. It took me between two or three hours to get through this build of the game, which felt just about right.
With its visuals, Doorways has an interesting perspective with regards to movement. The camera work and sound effects almost make it feel like you’re taking those heavy steps yourself, which works out well for the immersion factor. The game has a cool style about it though, and the atmosphere keeps it engaging. Your surroundings are often pitch black until you draw near, and there’s plenty of eyebrow-raising scenery to raise your curiousity towards the place you’re in. Particularly in the horror moments, the game’s sound effects are really great. The graphics quality is quite high, and as an audio and visual experience, Doorways is really good. On a technical front, I found nothing to complain about, but the developers did make me aware of a bug that has the potential to make the game a bit too dark, but it’s only on some computers using certain screen resolutions, so it’s hard to judge. It can be fought off though by launching the game in windowed mode and then using alt plus enter to go full screen.
Doorways is a compelling game that uses creativity as its main strength. The horror, puzzle solving and atmosphere all feel just right, and fit the game like a glove. It’s an intriguing first chapter, I’ll give it that, with its only downfall being that it’s a bit too ambiguous with its story. That said, it’s well put together, is a high quality experience and is definitely entertaining, and a refreshing change from the horror games that I’ve been playing in recent months. I’m definitely eager to experience the next chapter.