Review: Blameless

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There are plenty of ways to make a short game work, and Blameless takes one of my favorite routes. It’s a game centered around a single payoff, and everything within it serves only to make that payoff even sweeter. Games of such limited scope usually don’t work on larger scales, and many fail to make the buildup or payoff all that they can be. Blameless threads that needle though, giving you a dark and moody house to creep through before up-ending everything on you.

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You play a freelance architect, summoned to a remote house in the dead of night. The fellow showing you around wallops you one over the head, and you wake up in an unfinished section of the property. Using tools and construction materials lying around, you must escape your makeshift prison and escape the house before… well, before things get any worse. In your search you’re sure to turn up just how much worse things can (and will) get for you, giving you all the more reason to puzzle your way out.

There’s not a lot to do in Blameless besides wander the incomplete halls of the construction site and piece together tools and clues, but these interactions provide more variety and immersion than a lot of indie horror joints manage. Right from the initial room you’re dropped in, you’ll find a wide assortment of items laying around with all the construction accouterments. There’s a vice you can open and close, pliers in a nearby drawer, a hammer, a pipe, and other makeshift tools that will help facilitate escape. Throughout the house there will be more items secreted away just by their natural placement, and used to further your escape and explain just what the hell is going on.

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Blameless is a short game but can prove pretty challenging simply because of how detailed it is, and how well the key items blend in with those details. The graphics are remarkable for a free title, with just about every room filled with unique bits of brick, rebar, piping, and mud. Immersion plays a big part here, and I couldn’t help remembering that feeling of wandering around the construction sites of new houses in my neighborhood when I was a kid. Poking through those incomplete shells was always thrilling and unsettling, since you didn’t know how much was complete or safe.

Here, that sense of insecurity helps build the atmosphere of horror from mundane foundations. The house in Blameless is spookier than many crypts or ruins I’ve played through because of how expertly the lighting and sound design give it sinister overtones. Lights will flicker and go out right when you think you’re about to find something. Creaks and door clicks will happen when you feel most exposed. And the climax of the game will make all of those little mounting fears explode into full-blown terror. It seems odd that such a short, grounded title could evoke a powerful reaction but perhaps it helps that the pacing is tight and the tale feels like something that could be happening in the world right now.

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It’s not a perfect package by any means, of course. As detailed as the items and interactions are, it’s not always clear what solution is intended by the developers. There are a few non-intuitive ones as well, like having to physically retrieve a key from a lock to be used a second time on an unrelated lock. And then there’s the voice acting, which treads dangerously close to being worse than no voice acting at all. In contrast to how effective the scares are and how immersive the rest of the game is, these are but minor quibbles. Blameless nails that key feature of horror, the threatening environment, and builds a tight and engaging tale atop this solid foundation.

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