Moody wall sconces illuminating corridor walls with weird geometries of light, forlorn mansions, and spectral visions of little girls in tattered night gowns are a solid foundation for a horror game. But at a time when all these venerable tropes have been explored to the grave, Rocwise Entertainment, developer of upcoming horror game Curse of Anabelle, knows it needs to go a step further. How do you reinstill fear into a familiar formula, taking on its best ideas while reimagining it as something new?
Curse of Anabelle is, on the face of it, a classic first-person horror game, set in a decaying mansion where the body of a nine-year-old girl called Anabelle - your girlfriend’s sister - was recently discovered. So, sensing the opportunity for some high-risk relationship brownie points (and probably to give your grieving girlfriend some closure), you head into the mansion to investigate.
But where the game really starts getting weird-in-the-right-way is its occult story and mechanics, which see you harnessing the arcane, malevolent powers contained in the legendary grimoire, the Key of Solomon. This book, specifically the Ars Goetia section, was supposedly used by King Solomon of Israel to summon and control hell’s demons, and contains a glossary of 72 hellspawn, detailing their appearances, stories, and place in hell’s hierarchy (look it up - it’s fascinating).
With the book in your hands, you too will be able to wield occult powers, using ingredients scattered throughout the mansion to craft seals that will unlock new parts of the mansion, and cleansing rituals that are the only way to trap the demons and return them to the netherworld.
Essentially, you become a modern-day wielder of forgotten magic; an apprentice of the occult who needs to bring these unfathomable powers under their control lest they destroy you and consign the spirit of Anabelle to purgatory.
Just because you have these powers in your hands, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you can flail your spells around like a middle-aged man who never quite grew out of Harry Potter. This is a brooding, story-led game in which you spend much of your time exploring the Ramsey Mansion, snooping for clues about what transpired there, and solving puzzles that pull you deeper into its recesses and dark past.
It’s a game of meticulous details, of tomes inscribed with richly detailed demonic drawings, foreboding sound design, and animal pelts ominously hanging on walls, looking as if they might drop at your feet and scurry up your leg at any moment.
So much great horror is predicated on the uncanny, on taking the familiar and twisting just enough for it to feel - if not exactly unfamiliar - unsettling and off-key. In that spirit, Curse of Anabelle is playing with the familiar by taking us through the well-trodden corridors of a haunted mansion. But it’s also learned from hit horror games like Resident Evil 7 that subversion and experimentation within that mansion space can make for a unique and engaging horror experience.
With an occult theme and the kind of tome-based magic that would make Aleister Crowley smile in his garden grave, Curse of Anabelle is looking to add another twist to the haunted house trope - a dark new path waiting to beset us with uncharted horrors.
Curse of Anabelle is currently running a Kickstarter campaign (60% funded at the time of writing). Becoming a backer not only gets you a copy of the game on Steam, but also physical replicas of in-game items like metallic demon seals. Bigger backers can even get themselves a hand-crafted copy of the Key of Solomon grimoire. The game will be released in Q1 2020, but you can already play the demo or add it to your wishlist on Steam.