Imagine dying in an old mansion, then “waking” to discover the walls have turned to blood and sinew, and tortured, agonised faces scream from beneath the fleshy floorboards.
That’s absolutely not what happens in Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife and it’s all the better for it. Not because I’m particularly faint of heart (though I’ve yet to conquer Five Nights at Freddy’s) but because the mogul’s mansion that serves as your ghostly prison is already food for horrifying thought upon horrifying thought.
Even before any of the game’s spectral antagonists turn up, you’ll be mulling over the horrors of “Hollywood Decadence”, as the game calls it. Think recent revelations were disturbing? Imagine what movie producers were getting away with in the 1950s. Your death is more recent; your photographer protagonist expires after a séance and it’s up to you to unravel not just the events of that fateful evening but the more human evils that took place at Howard Barclay’s Hollywood home.
You don’t need to have played the World of Darkness tabletop role-playing game that Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is based on to get a kick out of it. The mansion, or at least the version of it you inhabit, is devoid of the living, so there’s no running around spooking people. What you can do is piece together the clues and unlock new powers that grant you access to other parts of the mansion. They, in turn, deliver new scares and new revelations.
Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is one of those games that actually deserves to be VR. Even though monster encounters are using sparingly, you’ll find yourself peeking around every corner, just in case. Hearing a noise and then turning around in time to catch a door opening gave me the chills every time.
Yes, you’ll bump into Spectres at certain scripted points, but it’s the audio design and faintly-off aesthetic that dials up the fear. Nine out ten times there’s nothing actually there, but without the safety of being able to step away from the screen – though I ended up yanking off my headset more than once – you’re nearly always on edge.
Then there’s the story scraps you uncover as you explore; Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife‘s story of betrayal, greed and the sheer fear of there being nothing after death is hugely riveting. Yes, you’re trying to escape the mansion and uncover the relevance of your own role, but the whole tale comes together so well. Aside from being a great story in its own right, it also elevates your encounters with the spectres.
Some of the spectres are genuinely scary, warped in some distressing ways and some will actually change their patrol patterns, to further put you on edge. I’m going to warn you right now: if hanging is one of your triggers, there’s a particularly horrifying scene right at the start of the game.
But my “favourite” spectre by far is the one you run into in the garden; you catch bits of her speech as she mumbles about how cold she is, which would be off-putting at the best of times. However, what makes her so upsetting to observe, to the point where you actually want to give her a hug, is that you know who she is. You’ve seen the ghostly images of her arriving at the mansion, and seeing her in her spectral state is just heart-breaking.
There are some very basic puzzles to solve, mostly involving deciding which object needs to be taken to which location. Making progress in these sections often involves remembering where you saw magical barrier B, now you’ve got the necessary tool to remote that kind of barrier.
My biggest gripe with Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife, though, relates to its more mundane barriers: doors. It insists on making you manually open them, but it can be frustratingly fiddly. Instead of striding purposefully though, you flail around with the handle, then push your body in, at which point the door half falls back on you.
It’s a mercy my character was a ghost because I’d have died of embarrassment if anyone saw me. It’s extra infuriating when you’re trying to open a door before a spectre sees you or, worse case scenario, when you’re tying to flee before they catch you. At least the doors stay open, unlike some games where they close automagically, but that’s the worst thing about an otherwise excellent game. It’s not some flash-in-the-pan survival horror either; it’ll take a good ten hours or so before your story reaches its conclusion.
There’s so much more I could add about Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife but I’m not about to risk spoiling the experience. Or, more selfishly, I’m not going to say anything that could dial back its fear factor; if you’re going to play this, you’re going to be as scared as me, dammit. Gloomy, unsettling and engrossing in equal measure, you’ll regret not stepping into Wraith‘s distressing world.
Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife Review: GameSpew’s Score