Impressions: Sepulchre

SepulchreEver since Thirty Flights of Loving popped in for a quick but memorable chat, I’ve been yearning for more bite-sized, story-driven games. Some ideas just don’t work when they’re stretched to cover a ten hour playing period, so it only makes sense to let them run for the length of a coffee break. Much ado has been made about the “proper” price for these shorter experiences, but Owl Cave’s Sepulchre has sidestepped the tiresome subject with an interesting proposition: pay $3 for the game, a collection of short stories and other goodies, or simply download the game for free, with no strings attached.

It may seem daft to expect many sales when the game is freely available, but this model is a great fit for Owl Cave’s vignette. Only those truly desperate for a confrontation would complain about the “dollar to hour” ratio for a free game, and if players were satisfied, it only takes the price of a bagel to support the creators. It’s too early to say whether they’ll turn a profit using such an audacious business method, but in one fell swoop they’ve assured that players will focus on the content rather than the entry fee.

In fact, Sepulchre’s biggest hurdle just might be its biggest strength: The game only lasts thirty minutes, but it makes every one of those minutes count. Consequently, it’s almost impossible to discuss this tiny horror-adventure in detail without diving into serious spoilers. “You wake up on a train, and you’re thirsty” is the safest thing I can say about the plot, and even then, I’ve probably gone and spoiled the secret for some eagle-eyed reader (If I spoiled the game for you, let me know by contacting @SixTwoSixFour on Twitter)!

Sepulchre tosses the cheap bag of parlor tricks, opting for fear that chills spines over reflexive, knee-jerk scares that fill most horror games. By hiding the gore and letting the mind speak for itself, players will concoct their own nightmarish forces of evil, and it will be far more terrifying for them than anything Owl Cave or any other creative artist could draw off the top of their heads. They also put a great deal of faith in the common player’s level of intelligence, for the plot leaves enough seemingly-consequential open for the readers to connect their own darts.

Even if you aren’t the type to spring for horror titles, it’s worth keeping an eye on Sepulchre. Their setup is pretty risky for a niche game, but if successful, it might compel other developers to experiment with smaller games and see what happens. After all, who needs 20+ hours of horror when you can be unnerved, frightened and enlightened in less than an hour, with a slightly better story?