Charon’s Staircase Review – A Comforting Old Haunt
Developed by Indigo Studios
Published by SOEDESCO
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch
The setup of Charon’s Staircase is so comfortable as horror games go that it could almost be wrapped in a duvet, wearing its fuzzy slippers, and sipping on a warm cider in front of an open fire. A historic time period. What seems like a heavily narrated psychological ghost story. Poorly-lit old buildings with a sinister past, and head-scratching puzzles. It’s a hearty roast dinner of a horror experience. Tried and tested, fulfilling, but not an exotic meal by any definition.
So what though? I like something daring, but sometimes, a bit of beef, gravy, mashed potato, and Yorkshire pudding hits the spot spectacularly.
It would be so easy to roll your eyes at Charon’s Staircase because of this, and I don’t think it helps the game particularly stand out, but it actually tends to be quite pleasant as this kind of experience goes. It feels just right for the season. That, and it escalates into something far grander.
The mood is set perfectly in Charon’s Staircase‘s opening. The player is told of their character’s job, which is to bury the horrifying past of a vicious government regime by destroying the documents found at an island locale. The country in question is about to join the European Union in the 1970s, so it needs all records of this dark time in its history eradicated before that can happen. So the player, an agent codenamed ‘Desmond’ arrives at Oack Grove and of course, finds that some of these secrets are far worse than anyone could have imagined.
Once in control, we get to amble up a dark forest path and spy the infamous Oack Grove estate across the water. Before we can head over, there’s business to attend to on this side of the shore at a much more humble and destitute building.
This is a smart way to introduce the ins and outs of what Charon’s Staircase can offer on a smaller scale, whilst gently lowering the player into the mysterious narrative waters. There are some ‘sightings’ that occur around the house, and they, unfortunately, don’t tend to be very effective at building atmosphere because they’re structured in a way that lingers way too long on the moment and shows too much.
I was much too busy with the introduction to Charon’s Staircase’s puzzles to dwell on this too long though, and the important takeaway is that things do get a bit better overall on that front later on. The puzzles were intriguing from the off though.
Most of it comes down to finding the right key in the right room, but there’s some good observational puzzles too that tie into the storytelling quite well. Too often puzzles in horror games can feel alien to the environment or story being told, but Charon’s Staircase is a good example of keeping the logical things simple, and making the complex strategies connected to the world they inhabit. No, it’s not a faultless run in this regard, but it’s got a higher hit rate than I might have expected.
When the story does move over to the island, we really start to get a bigger picture of just how fucked up the experiments being hushed up were. We find this out because as we delve deeper into Oack Grove, we get to meet some of them up close and personal. Again, it’s nothing remarkable as horror beats go, but serviceable enough where it matters. All the same, I thoroughly enjoyed peeling back the fleshy onion layers the secrets of Oack Grove offered and that was largely enough for me to keep on keeping on with Charon’s Staircase. to its dark conclusion.
There’s never really what I’d call a dull moment in Charon’s Staircase. Predictable, poorly planned moments, yes, but they still evoke some reaction that isn’t boredom at least. It’s an entertaining story with some neat turns that add a bit of seasoning to the meat and potatoes of everything else. Indigo Studios makes the most of its ingredients and serves up a satisfying, if unspectacular, horror meal. The story of The Ministry and the dark arts they’ve performed is enough to keep things rolling along comfortably, and the atmosphere is an almost cozily classical descent into hell.
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Charon’s Staircase is out now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.