Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
Good scares in horror games take talent to arrange, which makes them all the more thrilling when they happen. Intelligent combinations of oppressive sound effects, stark lighting, and fleeting monsters in exactly the right places can make any experience terrifying. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see games like EW/WE, short indie titles that know just how to ramp the horror up in effective ways. And that’s why it’s so crushing when games like EW/WE drop the ball so hard it shatters the very foundations it worked so hard to make.
EW/WE is described only as a bad dream, one that sees you trapped in your walk-in closet of an apartment. Waking in the middle of the night, you find that your room is not the familiar haven you need it to be. Matters go from bad to horrific as you drift in and out of sleep, and you are helpless to ride out the tide and hopefully surface on the other side. Through the entire experience you’ll see your room change in strange and awful ways, with only nightmare logic to guide you through.
I won’t spoil any of the scares you’ll experience, but they won’t take long to start cropping up and it won’t take long for you to lose your composure. The scares here are the most effective kind, simple ones that violate your sense of safety and strike when you’re at your weakest. The simple visuals leave plenty of space for your imagination to work, and when it’s being bombarded by intense aural dissonance it puts you in the perfect place for a scare. I literally shouted out loud twice in the 45 minutes it took to beat the game, and both of those exclamations were well-earned.
In the midst of everything going to hell, you’re free to wander your tiny domain and check things. Left-click lets you examine your desk, your window, your closet, and fall back asleep when you’re drowsy enough. You won’t get much in the way of enlightenment from the text, though, and that goes double for the text that invades the screen more and more as the game rolls on. Particularly intense moments tend to be accompanied by stream-of-consciousness rambling and one-word flashes that add little to the experience and nothing to the story that may or may not exist. Honestly by the end of the game I was no closer to understanding the hows and whys of why anything was happening, which would be fine if not for how the experience itself violently unraveled.
There’s a section smack in the middle of the game, after some excellent tension-building and scares, where you are wandering in the dark. Things that you’ve only glimpsed before are down there with you, and you’ll probably want to avoid them. Probably, because in the 15 minutes this section lasts I never figured out what I was supposed to do. Sometimes I would run from the things, sometimes I would touch them, sometimes I would head in one direction, sometimes I would wander aimlessly. Every time I “died” to a thing that was far more terrifying when it wasn’t floating towards me lazily like the .jpg it is, and every time I “died” I got bombarded with more and more useless text. Eventually the game let me move on, and I still have no idea if that was what’s supposed to happen or not.
The ending section of the game hits some of the high points of the opening, but really by that point I was just angry. I was angry that a game I had been enjoying so much and been so impressed with had turned on me so hard. I was angry those intelligent scares and oppressive atmosphere had given way to aimless wandering in the dark and playing tag with a static image. And I was angry that it had wasted my time with something I never got to understand. It’s a huge shame, given the glimpses of genius here, but EW/WE can’t maintain that genius at all. The bad parts are so much worse than the good, I can only hope the developer learns from this experience and puts out a more consistent attempt in the future.