When I was an adolescent, I was fascinated by late night television. A public television station in Australia, SBS, would show all sorts of unusual content—foreign films with flashes of nudity, jokes about frozen testicles and a surprising level of gore, short films about an old lady seducing the handyman or a couple incorporating sitting on a bird into foreplay, and music videos with odd psychedelic visuals. In the pre-internet world, it felt like looking into another universe, a disturbing glimpse into the grown-up world I did not quite understand yet. \SPEK.TAKL.\ uses public domain footage to recreate that feeling of peeking into the forbidden. If you’d like to play it yourself before reading on, the game can be picked up here on developer Somewhat’s itch.io page. The content includes nudity, laboratory experiments, and some offensive terms in the public domain footage, but the television displaying the films can be avoided if something unappealing comes up.
\SPEK.TAKL\ opens with the protagonist awakening in a darkened apartment. The quiet hum of the television draws the player into the living room. A documentary on sexual deviancy is playing, a black and white moral-panic film condemning the scantily-clad ladies it lovingly splays across the screen. Unable to sleep, the protagonist sets about organising the apartment, which is cluttered with boxes to unpack and half-painted walls. As they go about their tidying, a VHS tape is dropped through the mail slot. The video contains footage of someone going through the house, with them entering a strange room behind a bolted-down bookcase. Finding a way to enter the room is the goal of the game, but the horrors within make for a terrifying prize.
Gameplay is fairly simple in \SPEK.TAKL\, with the player exploring the house to find items to use with other objects. The to-do list in the kitchen gives some guidance—the protagonist wants to straighten the paintings, and doing so will cause one to drop a key, allowing the player to enter a locked room. Periodically, another VHS tape will be dropped through the mail slot, which when viewed depicts disturbing fleshy creatures thrashing in various parts of the house. Upon visiting the pictured room the player will find masses of blood, but also a new item. Player guidance is done well, giving direction without being obtrusive.
The real star of the show is the presentation. The low-polygon style has a colourful blur around the edges of objects, reminiscent of an old VHS tape. Footage shown on the television has been carefully curated, with jumping and repetition adding to the vaguely menacing content of the shows. Along with the sexual deviancy film, moral panic propaganda, laboratory experiments, a documentary on insects, and a safety advertisement for not drinking poison appear. This imagery links back to the visuals of the secret room itself, entered through a wall-length vulva and full of pulsating flesh. A great disgust appears to be associated with the sexual elements, with the game ending as the player stabs a phallic object over and over. The game hints that the main character recently went off an antipsychotic medication—notes about brain zaps, no appetite, waking up at odd hours—but it is pleasingly subtle, leaving it open to interpretation whether or not the game’s events are actually occurring.
A few small bugs were encountered during my time with \SPEK.TAKL\. The first is a common one with Unity games, where if a controller is plugged in to the computer, the viewpoint will spin and face the ceiling. Unplugging the controller will fix this issue. The other had the game get stuck on the pause screen, necessitating a reset. Restarting the game was a bummer, but since it is a short experience, not a lot of progress was lost.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with \SPEK.TAKL\. The title creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere, where I was jumping at the sound of my own footsteps. Discord user Dismount That Dinosaur also found the game interesting. Response has been lightly edited for clarity.
“It’s not bad. There is a lot of classic survival horror elements and it reminds me of both Resident Evil and Silent Hill 4. The things I favoured most is its lack of handholding, the slow atmosphere and the tackling of mature subjects. The game needs a sequel with better graphics, more gameplay obstacles, enemy variety, and a more relatable protagonist. The game is a good first try and it feels like a ’90s era horror game for the most part.”
Next week, we will be taking a look at the prototype of Tether, a first-person adventure taking place in a dilapidated space station. The game can be downloaded from the Itch.io page here. For discussions, check out the Discord server or you can email me here.