“More tea, Lady Stabbington-Smythe? Oh, you’re going to repeatedly plunge a knife into my face? Well, that’s good too, I suppose.”
Viviette wants to be loved but, like the game’s titular character, it tries a little too hard and risks falling over its own spectral feet. The game’s opening act offers an enjoyable and appropriately creepy helping of retro horror, as you search for your missing sister in a dilapidated mansion. There’s the odd jump scare but, by and large, merely wandering the mansion’s gloomy halls and artefact-packed rooms is enough to give you the chills.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve wandered past that slumped mannequin, each time you’ll be convinced it’s going to leap out and wrap its smooth, wooden paws around your throat. Likewise, the conveniently placed documents you stumble across dial up the fear factor, hinting at the horror that festers at the heart of the house.
Yet perhaps the most effective technique Viviette employs is that it doesn’t make you a prisoner. The area beyond the mansion remains, for the most part, a safe zone; no dogs threaten to tear your throat out if you so much as step outside. There’s an immediate release of tension the moment you pass back out through those entrance doors… and then, your stomach starts to twist as you realise that, sooner or later, you’ll have to go back inside.
However, the moment the game introduces an actual physical threat, the game takes a turn for the worse. Lacking an auto-map, you’re forced to roam the mansion, memorising the locations of rooms or, to in true retro fashion, create an actual pen and paper map. All the while, you’re being pursued by Lady Stabbington-Smythe who can and will murder you if you fail to pound your controller’s buttons with the required amount of gusto.
Turning off your lantern makes it harder for her to locate you, but once she’s entered the room you’re in (she can happily follow you through the mansion) she won’t ever leave. It’s unclear as whether this is intentional or not but the game’s top-down view, combined with the clutter in the various rooms, means it’s quite hard to evade her. She’s initially terrifying but her the frequency of her appearances make her increasingly less so. Half an hour in and you’ll be viewing her not as a horrifying menace but as a mildly irritating, if murderous, door to door salesman, letting her murder you just so you can get on with the serious business of puzzle solving.
Viviette‘s mansion is packed with puzzles, which range from the enjoyable but challenging, through to the bafflingly obtuse. For every puzzle where you smugly depress chess pieces in the correct order, there’s another where transferring blood between two adjacent bathtubs shatters a mirror on the wall. And, in case you’re wondering, the latter isn’t one of those “use a five and three gallon jug to fill a four gallon jug” problems. There’s absolutely no indication you need to do this, nor is there any logical reason why the mirror would spontaneously explode.
Solving puzzles requires you to roam around the mansion collecting items but, when you’re in danger of being murdered by Lady Stabbington-Smythe, of the Winchester Stabbington-Smythes, this can be an onerous task. Unlocking a new room and its disquieting contents, brings with it a real sense of accomplishment joy. But, with no clear indication as to which objects you can and can’t interact with, you have no choice but to click on each item for fear of missing something. Repeat this for each room, while being pursued by a murderous knife-wielding fiend, and you’ve got a recipe for tedium.
At its best, Viviette is an unsettling, atmospheric little escapade, telling a story which, while hitting some familiar horror beats, will make you thoroughly uncomfortable. You’ll spend half of the game wondering why the log you just cut in half is bleeding, or whether you can really trust your character’s testimony. But you’ll also spend a significant amount of time struggling to remember which room had the puppet puzzle in it, cursing Lady Stabbington-Smythe or grumbling that the “small key” won’t actually open the small chest.
Step through Vivette’s doors, by all means, but be prepared for an uneven stay.