Doorways hands-on preview

Joe Donnelly August 15, 2013 - 12:47 pm

Doorways is a survival horror game by Argentinian indie developer Saibot Studios. Saibot openly admits it was inspired by Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but is Doorways set to be a classic example of survival horror, or a nightmare best forgotten?

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I like survival horror. If I had to choose a favourite gaming genre, survival horror would most likely be it. I like getting scared, I’m a bit weird that way.

But when was the last time a game genuinely scared you? And I don’t mean the last time a game merely startled you, like when an enemy suddenly appeared from behind a previously concealed position, I mean actually scared you? Hard to say, isn’t it?

The Last of Us – for all it is a terrific game – stressed me out more than it actually scared me, with its repetition and constant backs-to-the-wall battling. For me, the last game which genuinely unsettled me was Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It was the first game of its kind to render the player weaponless and thus, completely vulnerable. More games seem to be adopting this approach, one of which is Red Barrels’ upcoming asylum explorer Outlast. Another is Saibot Studios’ Doorways.

“[Our] inspiration comes from one of the best horror games in the last ten years – Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I love that game,” said Doorways director Tobias Rusjan when BeefJack caught up with the Argentinian indie outfit at this year’s E3.

This influence echoes throughout Doorways, however that is not to say it is merely an Amnesia clone. Yes, there are at times stark similarities, but Doorways has more than its share of unique features to make it stand alone.

Doorways to nightmares

First off, the ‘Doorways’ team is a special branch of investigators tasked with solving murder crimes no one else can break. Pulling from special powers, activated by interacting with the crime scene, Doorways agents are able to re-imagine the brutal acts of the psychopaths they pursue, and thus are better able to solve each murder.

The pre-beta demo begins with the player being introduced to protagonist Detective Thomas Forest, a member of Doorways. In an Amnesia-inspired opening, Forest finds himself amongst a strange, ancient catacomb setting. He suggests he feels familiar with his surroundings, but can’t quite place, nor remember, why (Alexander from Amnesia provides Forest’s voice acting for good comparative measure) this is the case.

Here, Forest must locate his notebook, item bag and relic box, by clambering through cave tunnels, or traversing stone pillars, all the while allowing the game to introduce its inventory systems and movement mechanics.

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Chapter one, “The Forest of Stakes”, begins shortly after, as Forest stumbles across his first case file. Professor Jake Gibbs is the man at large, alleged to have kidnapped 17 people. From here, our Doorways agent must fumble his way through the pitch-dark forest with nothing but a flaming torch as company. Well, that is unless you linger too long in the darkness.

The torch won’t burn for long, so quick and nimble footwork is essential, and as the torch burns out Forest must slalom his way through the trees to flame-lit intervals where he can relight his fire. Without spoiling, I’ll say one thing about lingering too long in the darkness: don’t linger too long in the darkness.

I’ll be honest, at first I thought this heavy use of darkness was a little over-bearing. It felt a bit forced; perhaps a little lazy in the way of level design. But it wasn’t long before I completely reversed my initial opinion. Without realising, I had become completely terrified of being stranded in the dark for too long. I was hunched over my screen, barely perched on the edge of my chair, and If I stumbled into a dead end, or lost my way early on between the aforementioned intervals, I’d hurriedly – frantically – scramble my way back to where I had started.

I’d then take a couple of seconds to calm myself, and reluctantly try again. Unlike Amnesia – where Alexander begins to lose sanity in the shadows – Doorways’ use of darkness is far less forgiving, and thus is much scarier.

Once out of the woods, Forest stumbles across a chamber laden with deadly mechanisms, and begins to suffer horrendous apparitions from what appears to be either the past or another world. Flashes of bodies hanging from ceilings or impaled upon spikes torment Forest as he tries to navigate his way through the trap-infested space. The puzzles found here mostly consist of weight-activated floor tiles which, if stepped on in the wrong order, shoot spikes upwards from their foundations. This section is by far the weakest of the demo, as it isn’t particularly interesting, taxing, nor scary.

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Another brilliantly terrifying excursion into the dark follows this area, however, which leads Forest to Professor Gibbs’ house. After a bit of pissing about in the back garden (for what detective doesn’t enjoy a bit of haphazard trespassing), Forest finds his way to the entrance of Gibbs’ basement.

Without much exploration, it becomes abundantly clear that this is no ordinary storage space, workout area or ‘den,’ as our US counterparts might refer to it. Gibbs’ basement is a torture dungeon. Linked by narrow, dimly-lit corridors, each room boasts a different piece of torture equipment; each more harrowing than the last. And, as they have lights suspended above them, each machine becomes the centre piece of each room.

From here, Forest must explore the dungeon, locating missing parts key to the torture mechanism’s operation. Once installed, Forest suffers yet more hallucinations, this time in the form of Gibbs killing his victims, before the light above goes out, plunging the room into darkness. Once all of the torture scenes have been re-imagined, Forest takes a service elevator further down again, prompting the end of the demo.

Saibot Studios has created something special in Doorways. Visually, it is as accomplished as many AAA titles and, as reluctant as I am to make constant comparisons to Amnesia, Doorways in fact looks much better than its older cousin. The audio is as creepy as you’d expect, however certain sound effects – such as when jumping – will no doubt be tweaked to sound more realistic before the game’s final version.

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Above all, Doorways key feature is what you see, or rather, what you don’t. Forest’s ability to recreate the scene of the crime is no doubt very disturbing, not to mention the twisted hallucinations from the other world, but the true extent of Doorways’ terror lies in the shadows.

I’ve probably waxed lyrical about ‘the good old days’ of survival horror too often in the past, so I want to keep this simple: if Amnesia was a step in the right direction, Doorways is a leap into the darkness.

Doorways, by Saibot Studios, is due some stage in 2013 (pre-order August 15), for PC, Mac and Linux.

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