Puppet Combo is doing amazing things with low-budget indie horror games, but that scene is pretty big. About a month ago, Amy Davidson looked at the weird late-night-TV-inspired /SPEK.TAKL/, and I’m delving back into the low-poly horror world this week with Veiled. Coming from Regularly Scheduled Programming, the game feels traditional—maybe even a little archaic—thanks to its focus on obtuse puzzles and occult themes. That said, the stripping away of the usual narrative frame is beneficial to the experience, even if it does mean that a sense of the stakes is absent.
“Where the bloody hell am I,” you might think as the game starts. The room is starkly lit, the walls a bleak grey, but covered in hexagrams, pentagrams, glyphs, and all manner of other designs that speak vaguely of satanic symbols and rituals. All you have is a phone reminiscent of the old Nokia 3310 and a sense of disquiet. On inspection, the room offers little of note, but you can push open a door and walk out of—you might have already guessed—a basement. The house you walk into might be homely, if not for more evidence of satanism scratched into the walls and adorning the various flat surfaces. Although it is effective, this combination of the domestic and demonic feels very familiar. Anyone who has watched The Exorcist, Amityville, or Paranormal Activity will know what to expect.
Players will almost inevitably find the grimoire within minutes, and that’s when Veiled becomes interesting. Most horror games have you trying to fight against cultists and the dark forces; here, you appear to be trying to summon them. The grimoire provides instructions delivered in a pastiche of ye olde English that feels faintly silly—a bathroom in this nomenclature is a ‘chamber of cleansing,’ but let’s not get too picky about the vernacular of an ancient evil that (somehow) knows how to use a mobile.
The rituals you have to perform are all simple interaction-based puzzles: visit a room, light a candle, send a message, things like that. However, the language through which the tasks are delivered makes them more difficult than they should be. Therein lies what is probably one of the biggest problems with Veiled. The game wants to confuse the player. In the right context, that approach can work wonders, but Veiled is too slight to pull it off effectively. The atmosphere is too thin (though the whispers in the background are delightfully chilling), so the moment forward progress stops so too does the sense of tension.
On the plus side, the phone gives you the option to freely respond to the unknown entity that keeps sending text messages, which allows you to shift the tone at will. Given that the protagonist has no name, no gender, no identifiable traits at all, you are able to embody them, with all the positives (an implicit mental connection) and negatives (“do I really care about this person?”) that approach brings. Unfortunately, the entity only replies at scripted moments, so your sass counts for nothing.
Taking a step back from its particularities, Veiled is pretty solid. As long as the illusion remains intact (i.e. you don’t get stuck [and the development team has provided a handy walkthrough guide to prevent that, though that raises issues of its own too]) the game feels suitably creepy. Playing as a Satanist—or something like one—is a novel subversion of trope, and the conclusion is just thought-provoking enough to stick.
A bit more clarity would not go amiss, and the central theme might have benefitted from a contemporary splash to give it a bit more impact, but Veiled offers a firm foundation of mechanics and ideas that RPS could polish and repackage for a follow-up project. With some flesh on these old bones and some kind of psychological hook, who knows what the result might be.