The premise of working the night shift at a mortuary might just be perfect for a horror game. That’s the main idea for The Mortuary Assistant, a newly released indie horror mystery game by Darkstone Digital.
After a brief introduction to our protagonist – Rebecca – and her grandmother, alluding to some mystery in Rebecca’s past, we step into the titular Mortuary.
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This initial introduction serves as a tutorial for what will become the main game mechanic, embalming the cadavers of the recently deceased.
Although I will admit, I found the controls a little finicky and tricky to get the hang of at first, a number of the controls when using the mouse were very selective and felt sluggish, but once I knew what I was doing, the embalming process became second nature, and any previous issues were quickly resolved.
A career as the Mortuary Assistant
The initial ‘tutorial’ embalming cadaver lays out all the tools you need, later you need to find it all yourself which I spent a while trying to find. Although nothing was overtly signposted – which I would prefer over any handholding – I did find myself frustrated that the various fluids to make the Embalming fluid were scattered, rather than all in one place. In contrast, the smaller tools were all fitted together in one place.
It felt strangely like padding, prolonging the embalming process to prolong the overall game and experience. Shortly after this initial tutorial and introduction, the player learns about the demonic influence in this mortuary. And that one of the bodies is currently hosting a demon from Hell and attempting to possess Rebecca. It’s at this point the horror elements unravel, and as you go through the checklist to embalm the body, you now need to be on the lookout for supernatural events.
Deduction is key
The game becomes a deductive puzzle solver at this point, where you must identify which body is currently possessed out of three and which demon is currently possessing it. To uncover this, you need to be observant and look out for the various clues laid out before you that’ll help you deduce which body you need to burn and the name of the current demon in your vicinity, and only then will you be saved from possession.
The game has a total of five endings, I was able to get four out of these five in my 9 hours of playing. I would say I am not the type who is easily frightened by horror games – in fact, there were a lot of moments in the game that didn’t scare me, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. Seeing the Shadow Man out of the corner of your eye or the Mimic always caught me off guard, but rather than scare me, I was strangely excited.
I actively looked for them to see how the game was trying to scare me. Granted, I know that these particular scares would spook the easily frightened. But what made them better was that they weren’t overt jumpscares; in some cases, you can even miss spotting these supernatural monsters watching over you.
However, it has to be said that there were some instances where the jumpscares or body horror looked far too rag-dolly to be scary and took me out of it a little. These instances were very few and far between but when they happened, they earned a small snort rather than a jolt.
Drugs and Demons
While I played, I didn’t expect the game to be quite as story-rich as it was. I enjoyed watching Rebecca’s past as an addict slowly unravel.
It seems apt that she – now a recovering addict – now works beside bodies. Even in the game’s introduction, we learn Rebecca doesn’t have all that much fear of death.
Furthermore, the process of embalming a body required a lot of needles, fluids, and foreign chemicals to be pumped into the body. It all comes easily to Rebecca because of her past with it.
Even more, the themes of demonic possession could easily be related to her past heroin abuse. ‘LET ME IN’ is a common motif across the game. The demons – and drugs – want to be let in, and it would be so easy to do so. It requires a tremendous amount of willpower and strength to fight them back and eventually deny them this entry.
One thing I enjoyed, in particular, was the puzzle-solving aspect of the game, discovering who exactly is the demon you’re dealing with. But all the while you’re trying to seek them out, the demons will toy with you, induce hallucinations to torment you.
In one particular case, they took me somewhere strange and frightening, but here is what I found a series of unconnected numbers. I got my notebook out and started recording these numbers, and after a few hours of not needing them, I forgot about their existence altogether.
That was until I found a random keypad that prompted me for a code, at which point I felt a tremendous amount of satisfaction and excitement when the code I’d recorded hours ago had had a solution in front of me this whole time. Unlocking that keypad unveiled a new part of the story that I’d missed altogether, leading to more questions.
It was a genuine moment of excitement and curiosity, particularly because nothing – other than a single note in a cupboard – in the game had so much as mentioned anything about this secret code. It was a nice moment where I felt my play-through and attention rewarded.
As with any indie game, I did encounter a number of bugs. Some of which broke my immersion and one that soft locked the game, but thankfully the game autosaves at opportune moments, so even if I needed to restart the game, I was never frustrated or annoyed that I needed to do a new shift altogether and could start where I left off.
The game’s premise is fun and the themes around it are compelling. And while I did find the embalming process tedious the more I played – considering I wanted to get all of the fice endings – it did feel highly repetitive.
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However, it was a fun and genuinely good game to play that had me jotting things down and back-checking all the notes I’d taken thus far; therefore, the game had me engaged and wanted to learn more. I recommend it to horror fans and those who enjoy problem-solving and puzzle deduction, if you don’t mind the scares!