Go axe murderer mode as a Victorian waif in this PS2 throwback horror game

cursed little girl stands amidst pile of corpses
(Image credit: Moonless Formless)

I thought I was hot shit for clearing Withering Rooms' first floor. The tutorial covers the basics of hiding under tables to avoid flesh monsters, but I was having more fun with the back and forth of its melee combat, doing an impressive turn as a bloodthirsty axe murder despite playing as a forsaken Victorian child.

Then I descend into the basement of the manor, lantern in hand. The cozy interiors give way to a dank cellar where I only have a few feet of visibility. After an illuminating conversation with a Sigmund Freud lookalike at the center of the mystery, my exploration is brought to a swift and grizzly end by a gangly Silent Hill abomination patrolling the halls. She's way too fast and aggressive for me to outmaneuver. I get got, caught mid-dodge and beaten to a pulp, and wake up back in my first floor bedroom. Time to give it another go.

Withering Rooms is a distinctly PS2-era throwback, calling to mind Japanese survival horror like the Resident Evil Remake or Clock Tower 3. It nails the melancholy, washed out look of a PS2 horror game, and evokes the slow paced intensity of tank control combat despite its novel (for the genre) 2.5D presentation. Withering Rooms' Resident Evil-style menu sounds really seal the deal for me on the homage, while its Thief-y sound design, baroque sitting rooms, and harpsichord-forward soundtrack contribute to a great sense of atmosphere.

You take control of a little girl committed to a Welsh asylum in the 19th century, only she's done and gotten herself trapped in a dream version of the repurposed manor house, waking back up to the nightmare every time she's killed by the revenant of a cholera patient or cursed groundskeeper. Salvation seems to lie in uncovering the history of the manor, as well as divining the nefarious ends of the shifty psychiatrist and witches' coven running things.

There's a slight roguelite element to your exploration of the manor. Its main hallways stay in the same configuration, but their rooms (and the hazards and power-ups within) are subject to change. On death you wake up on the first floor, having lost most items save some permanent fixtures like the lantern, or tools you spend currency to "remember" night to night.

Our protagonist is quite capable. In addition to sneaking about and ducking under tables, she can dish out melee damage, dodge, cast magic spells, and craft consumable weapons like jars of acid. Withering Rooms is much less about pure stealth horror, and instead embodies that Resident Evil style of accumulating tools and cleverly deploying your resources. I really enjoyed the process of acclimating to its combat system, and Withering Rooms offers similar nerve-wracking thrills to juking zombies with Resident Evil's tank controls.

Clearly I've got room for improvement though. The warrior spirit that compelled me to spend an hour and a half going toe-to-toe with the Tree Sentinel first thing in Elden Ring took over with that basement abomination I mentioned earlier. I've tried going pure melee (failure), whittling it down with crafted throwables (I missed all my shots), and luring it into a doorway-mounted trap (I sprung it myself). I might have to opt for stealth until I find the right tools for the job.

And I will be coming back to Withering Rooms, not only to master its mechanics, but also to enjoy more of that killer, nostalgic atmosphere. Withering Rooms is launching into Early Access on October 4, and you can wishlist it on Steam

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.