Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
Why aren’t there more ghost hunting games? It’s been a popular profession since at least the Ghostbusters, and the gaming world has always been quick to add weapons and combat to things that don’t need them. But no, typically ghosts in indie horror games are content to run past open doorways, break vases, and generally be dicks until they get to kill you in the ending cutscene. Not so in Apparition, though, where you’ll be combing the woods for unnatural sorts, committing them to film, and then ideally escaping with your life. It’s a neat idea for a game, and if it could stick to that concept and flesh it out instead of… whatever it’s doing, it might even be fun.
Honestly, I’ve already pretty much run down the plot for you. You’re a paranormal investigator who pays the bills by filming their discoveries (and apparently sells to the Sun or something, since no one seems to care you’re capturing GHOSTS on FILM). There’s a particularly haunted stretch of woods where people keep disappearing (again, that only you seem to care about), the perfect place to farm pics assuming you’ve got the right equipment. You can leave at any time by retreating to your car, and you’ll earn cash for whatever you’ve recorded which can be spent on new recording tools or other items that let you interact with the area. You’ll find a cabin and a few campsites in the area too, which may contain clues to the creatures you’re liable to run into.
Just so we’re clear, there’s one map in the game. Everything you do is going to be on this one plot of dark forest, which takes less than a minute to cross. It’s entirely static aside from the notes you can find, including sketches of the monsters with bits about their behavior, and questions you can ask them. The questions are used with a Ouiji board you carry with you and can set near the main camp, allowing you to speak to and identify the critters that are going to come and murder you. This is probably the neatest part of the game, because you get some genuinely creepy responses and can even type in your own questions which the spirits will respond to.
Once you’re done communing, it’s time to wander the woods in search of one of the game’s creatures. Creeping through the underbrush is definitely a tense experience, and spotting a knife-wielding ghost or thing without a face can be quite the rush, I admit. However, to get to that point you’ll need to do quite a bit of wandering, during which you’ll be subject to a screamer jumpscare about every five minutes or so. This thing is completely harmless and absolutely inexplicable, because it’s not something you can film, banish, or interact with in any way. It’s the very definition of a cheap jumpscare, and ruins the tension of stalking things that have every intention of stalking you.
Eventually you’ll suffer through that to the point of finding a monster, record what you can, and get the hell out of there. And… that’s pretty much it. You’ll upgrade your stuff eventually by doing the same song and dance over and over, on the same map, hunting for the same monsters. It’s like the supernatural version of theHunter: Call of the Wild, except with a fraction of the content so small you could blink and miss it. In my hour-plus of wandering the woods I had one exciting encounter where I risked it all to film a murderous ghost and barely got back to my car before she ended me. My reward for that was not enough of anything to unlock new stuff, and I wasn’t about to endure another 20 minutes of hunting and pecking for the chance of another satisfying emergent encounter.
The other thing I want to point out is that Apparition has been in Early Access for about a year. I tried it when it first launched, and I tried it ten months later, and there’s been essentially no change in the experience. It’s missed its planned release back in July, and the developer hasn’t posted about it in months. Instead, the Steam announcements are full of advertisements for other games from the publisher and occasional deep discounts on this one. I don’t normally examine the actual state of Early Access for games I review, but I also don’t normally review ones that are acting this shady. Apparition definitely isn’t a complete or even satisfying experience now, and significant doubts that it ever will be make it impossible to recommend.