Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival to Saturn held during the winter solstice, represents the birth of a new sun. The death of the past. It eventually formed the spiritual center of what we call Christmas. My time with the game of the same name did not feature merry elves, bright candles, and cheerfully wrapped gifts, however. Instead I crawled around a dreamlike maze of an imaginary Italian town called Gravoi, evading a horrible monster and trying to solve a mystery.
The upcoming horror adventure game is a bit homegrown in that sense: it comes from Italian indie developer Santa Ragione. Saturnalia puts you in the shoes of a quartet of survivors—people brought together by happenstance, each with their own story to tell. You spend much of your time exploring the narrow, confusing streets of Gravoi attempting to find tools, explore clues, and meet other people who can shed some light on what’s happening. All the while a shadowy creature hunts you, and if it catches all of your characters, the town resets procedurally, destroying your hard-earned knowledge of where things are.
This destruction of what you think you know pervades the game in every way—control flashes back and forth to the past, things you thought you knew are different when you go back. I found myself on multiple occasions running shrieking from a monster only to find myself in a familiar place, but to have it change on me.
As disjointed as it made me feel at first, the place grows on you. Lovingly crafted with influences ranging from Sardinian architecture to Impressionist art to classic Italian horror films, Saturnalia pulls you in and makes you want to keep exploring. Keep digging. And keep trying to find a damn wrench.
It’s not without fault—my first big scare in the game fell flat when I literally didn’t see the monster due to a funny camera angle, it can be hard to parse what’s going on with your inventory, and the multiple character system could use some tuning. It wasn’t clear to me what bringing multiple characters at a time meant, what the phones did, or how to use Paul’s camera.
Hopefully by the time it releases (exclusively on the Epic Store) later this year, that stuff will have been polished. In the meantime I’m gonna go looking for a way to get this monorail working. In this creepy mine. Nothing could go wrong, right? Right?