Haunted House: Cryptic Graves is Atari’s latest attempt at resurrecting the classic survival horror franchise Haunted House. Instead of the 2D design sported by the original title, way back in 1982, Cryptic Grave is a first-person horror adventure game with 3D graphics and new characters and story – one of those reboots we see so much of lately. Were Atari and developer Dreampainters Software successful in bringing this ancient IP back to life? Unfortunately not. Haunted House: Cryptic Graves is a bad game. There’s just no way around it, and not enough sugar in the world to sweeten this particular pill. It is a bad, boring and broken game, and no one should play it.

In case you are still reading, here’s a little bit about Cryptic Graves’ story: you play as a young woman called Anya as she investigates an old house together with her partner. The two are apparently respected paranormal researchers, and the house in question is rumored to be haunted, since no one is able to stay the night without bad things happening. Coincidentally, Anya is also the sole heir of the entire estate, under the condition she spends the night there. A few minutes after the duo enters the house, the screen starts shaking and Anya passes out, only to wake up in a locked room with her partner Stan nowhere to be seen. From this point on, you’ll learn more about the story from reading notes scattered around the house, and little by little uncover its secrets.

If you’re head is already spinning from all the clichés, you might want to rest a bit before continuing, because I have one more for you, and it’s a big one: Anya posses the mystical power to “peer beyond the veil”, which is a fancy way of saying she can highlight important objects in the room, while everything else turns blue. It’s a useful ability since it also serves as a sort of night-vision in the unjustifiably dark environments.

And as you wander through these dark environments, comprised of similarly looking rooms, you’ll find recipes and components for magic spells, those you can craft in a bare-boned crafting system. It works just fine, but feels a little unnecessary and tacked on. All you do is click the name of the spell you want to craft, and if you collected the right components then the spell is added to your arsenal. I’ve only encountered one spell in the time I’ve been playing, which leads us to another unnecessary and tacked-on mechanic – the stealth.

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You see, Haunted House: Cryptic Graves isn’t just a horror adventure title. It also tries to incorporate stealth elements, and fails miserably. Around the house roam these creatures called Stalkers, and they don’t like Anya. In fact, just seeing her throws them into a fit of rage they can only quell by killing her immediately. But alas, Anya can’t see them without them seeing her as well, so once you enter a room with one – you’re pretty much done for. The Stalker will find you no matter what, and there’s no real way to fight it off, or even run away. The game hands out a seemingly useful tip – use an illumination spell to help you spot the Stalker with ease and avoid it. The problem is the Stalker will be able to see you much better as well, and kill you instantly. More than anything else, it is the stealth that makes Cryptic Graves completely unplayable.

However, you might not even reach the part where the stealth utterly ruins the game. To get there you have to first suffer through Cryptic Graves’ atrocious visuals and voice acting. From the very beginning you can tell the developers were struggling a little with the new Unreal 4 engine. While the textures, once they bother to load, are detailed and sharp, the character models look just awful. Anya’s partner Stan, when viewed from up close, looks like a hybrid between a robot and a puppet with unnatural facial features and stiff movement. His voice acting isn’t any better. He sounds like someone programmed a computer to speak in a human voice and read a script out loud. Anya’s voice is slightly better, but she tends to mispronounce words, which also makes me suspect she isn’t voiced by a real live human.

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The thought of a sentient machine voicing characters in a bad horror game may be scary, but that’s as close as Cryptic Graves gets to real horror. There’s no real atmosphere to speak of, and the presence of the dark imp-like Stalkers isn’t enough to terrify. The game does try to get you to jump in your seat by occasionally manifesting what can only be described as an asthmatic mummy around corners or doors, but its more laughable than scary. Later the game does start moving towards more traditional horror elements, but they too are just too cheesy to be considered frightening.

At its current state, Haunted House: Cryptic Graves is barely even playable, not to mention enjoyable. The story is a mess of overdone clichés and the gameplay is so broken and dull you probably won’t last the first 30 minutes without groaning in frustration. The only cryptic thing about Cryptic Graves is how in the world the game was even released.


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