What the tales of the great HP Lovecraft are a source of inspiration for many horror-themed products - not only for video games, but also other media - is known to most, but not all of these products really manage to respect (and honor?) the idea that fans have of the writer's works. Between failed experiments and not very popular titles, however, a really interesting project has emerged, which does not distort the Lovecraftian universe, but takes inspiration from it, capturing the most intriguing elements and adapting them to one's own vision. Let's talk about Westmark Manor, an isometric third-person survival horror video game developed by the independent studio Nodbrim Interactive and published by Toadman Interactive.
A mysterious villa
Like the most classic of horror stories, Westmark Manor - as the title suggests - is also set in one large haunted mansion by mysterious presences. The protagonist is the professor of ancient history Theodore Westmark, a man who is trying hard to save his wife from a terrible disease. He then embarks on a journey that brings him back to his old home, where he meets paranormal entities. Could this really be the key to saving your beloved? Theodore will have to face fears and insecurities, crossing a hostile and increasingly threatening territory, in order to find a cure. There plot of the title is therefore rather standard and the narration is carried out, for the first half of the game or so, by a series of flashback, which reveal some background on the past of the protagonist and the villa. The second half shows a decidedly more interesting rhythm, thanks above all to the increasingly large presence of mystical elements, which are used wisely, the introduction of which takes place gradually over the course of history.
However, it is theatmosphere, which turns out to be really attractive. Villa Westmark offers an attractive design and, in certain moments, it gets really terrifying. A gloomy, gloomy air, which fits perfectly with the plot of the game, almost becoming the backbone of the title. If in some ways the plot and the narrative can risk boring you, it will be the atmosphere of the game that will encourage you to continue. The Nodbrim Interactive team has therefore been able to balance the two elements well, creating a perfect balance. If this is not enough to keep you going, know that as mentioned above, the inspiration of Lovecraft's writings is definitely felt. Fans of the author, as well as more generally lovers of horror stories, will certainly not feel dissatisfied, at least from this point of view.
Between keys, seals and puzzles
As regards instead the gameplay of Westmark Manor, the title presents itself as an isometric third-person survival horror, spiced up with elements of crafting and mysteries to solve. What struck us most about the title concerns precisely the play structure, in its solidity and in its own really interesting ideas. Once the game is opened for the first time, the user will have to answer a few questions with which they can customize their experience, a bit like in Supermassive Games' Until Dawn. By completing the questions proposed, you will then change, for example, the capacity of the inventory, or the quantity of points lucidity. The latter are part of what is the most interesting mechanic of the title: the sanity. Clearly this is one of the key points of all the mythology created by the Providence writer, and it is inevitable and compulsory that a mechanic linked to it is present in all games (digital or board) dedicated to the Lovecraft pantheon.
Theodore Westmark is by no means a hero, is a very normal history professor, it is therefore obvious that we will not find ourselves in front of a character capable of facing any danger without the slightest trouble. Man is fragile like many, and like everyone he feels so much fear that he risks going mad. The human brain is not yet ready to welcome such horrors, and it probably never will be. In terms of gameplay, sanity translates into a bar at the top of the screen, which decreases when the protagonist gets scared. Seeing a strange shadow, terrifying figures in a mirror, or spending too much time in a dark and never visited area shortens the health bar, which once it reaches zero inevitably leads to game over (as long as you don't have enough lucidity points available to respawn).
Speaking of dark areas, Theodore will find one kerosene lamp with which it can illuminate even the darkest corners of the villa. This, however, will not have unlimited fuel, and will be fueled with the few resources available inside the mansion. Given their scarce quantity, the player will therefore have to use these fuels sparingly. The game also features a great deal of puzzles, all very complex and which will take a long time to solve. Upon completion of each one you will get one of the keys necessary to open the many seals scattered around the villa, which once unlocked will allow Theodore to escape.
Journey into the occult
Westmark Manor therefore presents very interesting mechanics and all to be discovered, but the experience is unfortunately undermined by gods really uncomfortable controls. This happens both when playing with the keyboard - since the mouse is not required for any of the operations that can be carried out in the game - and with the controller, as some movements and interactions are not very intuitive and do not allow this work to be 100% appreciated. . There are also various small ones bug which prevent you from interacting with some objects. Inventory management too, but more generally of the whole menu which also includes a map, seemed a lot to us confusing.
From the point of view technical we can say we are quite satisfied. Westmark Manor certainly does not excel in terms of visual impact, but it manages, in its small way, to boast a production of very good workmanship. We have already talked about the extraordinary atmosphere that the title is able to create, and this is mainly due to a well-finished level design, as a truly apt stylistic choices. The realization of the characters - protagonist and various creatures - is really very inspired, and despite its nature a little cartoon it will hardly disappoint you. Also good shine he particle effects, too bad only for some animations, especially for those within some cutscene. Also promoted on audio compartment, even if some sound effects are unrealistic. The title is dubbed in English and is completely subtitled in Spanish, but there are some inaccuracies and very small translation errors, which do not however spoil the experience.