SPEK.TAKL: Banned Edition Review – So, You Like to Watch?
Developed and Published by Somewhat Games
Available on PC
SPEK.TAKL (stylized as \SPEK.TAKL\) hit me out of nowhere. I received an email with a link to the game and a bit of backstory. This edition of \SPEK. TAKL\ was banned from Steam for being just too damn horny. I say that as a joke, but it was banned for the softcore erotica and psycho-sexual over, and under, tones. With this in mind, I started the game. You’re dropped into an apartment. It’s your first night there. There is a to-do list on the kitchen counter, and the unmistakable glow and background noise of a ceaselessly chattering TV in the living room.
The programming on the TVs in \SPEK.TAKL\ was made by remixing public domain footage. The old public service announcements, extolling the dangers of masturbation and drugs, along with showing some cool bug footage, are absolutely stand-out moments. I could plop my character on the couch – there is a button to do that – and just take in the shows. The developers could have just let the atmospheric TV watching aspect of this game be all there was. The old shows getting darker and more degraded as you continue to view them.
If you start exploring around the apartment, you’ll eventually hear a clunk from the front door. Someone has left a videotape. In all things horror, if you find a creepy blank videotape, you have to watch it. Slot that bad boy into the VCR and you’re greeted with some very dark footage…of the apartment you’re currently in. The tapes begin to warp the apartment around you. There is suddenly a meaty growth on the bedroom wall, the fridge is full of weird meat and an X-ray slide, and someone has fucked your bed. There’s grainy PS1-style footage of a faceless marauder absolutely going to town on your presumably new sheets.
The apartment itself, in the beginning, is quaint. It’s made more unsettling by applying a thick coat of PS1 jank. Vertexes shudder at a glance, and occasionally doors and walls clip into each other, creating a cacophony of odd angles. As the game goes on, the glitches become more prominent, lending the environment a sense of life. The story was different each of the three times I played \SPEK.TAKL\. I don’t know if picking up key items in certain orders changes the story, but I think that’s probably it. The first time I ran through, I experienced a story about sexual anxiety and masochism. Something akin to Hellraiser-lite. Pain and pleasure, and all things in-between.
I’m not stuffy, but I can see why this is the banned edition. The undertones become about as overt as you could make them as the game implores you to enter an… opening in the wall. The two options I found were to force it with a knife or coax it with a bottle of lubricant you can find. Yeah, that’s a thing. I then entered a sort of backrooms-like area overlooking the apartment I had been in previously. Traversing around, I eventually found some large, cylindrical… pistons in a room. The on-screen prompt advised me to “stroke”, and stroke I did. What happened after that led to one of the game’s 4 endings.
All of this overt psycho-sexual weirdness was buffeted by a walk through an art museum filled with old-timey smut, and a reminder that all pleasure comes with pain. It was Videodrome by way of Hellraiser and it was great. My next playthrough took a completely different route. It seemed to focus on the disconnect created by cities and television. The windows opened up to large, concrete vistas that encapsulated a sense of loneliness. That is kind of the thing with big cities, right? You are surrounded, but you are alone. Better watch TV about it. \SPEK.TAKL\ is kind of a Rorschach test in a lot of ways. My interpretations will probably not be your interpretations.
It will certainly get people talking. Horror fans will find themselves treading unfamiliar ground. I haven’t played a horror game quite like this. It’s an almost blank slate that provides you with just enough substance to come to your own conclusions regarding what’s happening. And it does this 4 times. You may never find the super sexually charged ending that I did. You might quit after the “the surveillance state is killing people” run. Once again: You will take out of this something completely different from me. That’s the beauty of \SPEK.TAKL\. I feel like it will be different for everyone who plays it.
I just finished my third playthrough and I want to go back. A full playthrough takes about 30-45 minutes depending on how much time you spend sitting on the in-game couch and watching the absolutely bonkers programming the devs have made. It smacks of something like Local 58, with interstitial upcoming programming screens and ominous programming. Entering the world of SPEK.TAKL might just leave you trapped there; forever flipping through channels, trying to figure out what it all means. It’s appropriate that SPEK.TAKL‘s start sees you unpacking boxes because you’ll have a lot to unpack with this game.