Saturnalia is an Orienteering Nightmare

Saturnalia 1

Inspired by the folklore of Sardinia, Italy, Saturnalia is a unique survival horror game in which you take control of four characters.

Trapped in a labyrinthine village, each has a reason why they’ve been drawn to the accursed place. It’s up to you to lead them to the answers they seek and, ultimately, escape. But it’s not going to be easy. Like most survival horror games, Saturnalia has puzzles to be solved and monstrous creatures to be avoided. Yet it also has its own unique twist: if all characters die, the village will be reconfigured, forcing you to relearn where key landmarks are.

It’s safe to say that orienteering plays a large role in Saturnalia. With numerous locations to visit – and you’ll need to explore the majority of them if you’re to see the journey through to its end – there’s plenty of legwork to be done. The trouble is, the streets are tight, the building are all pretty similar, and for the most part, it’s pitch black. Getting lost is all too easy, and it can soon become frustrating.

Granted, there are tools at your disposal that make navigating the sprawling environment a little more manageable. You can light matches, for example, giving you a little bit of light. You can bring bonfires spread throughout the village to life with your matches, too, allowing you to keep track of places you’ve visited. And if you keep an eye out, you’ll sometimes find a village map on a notice board: interact with it, and you can select a location to memorise. For a short while after, pressing a button will then point you in the right direction.

Saturnalia

Still, even with these aids, getting from A to B in Saturnalia is never easy. If it’s not the darkness and samey scenery causing you trouble, then it might perhaps be the mysterious beasts waiting for you in the shadows. Get yourself caught by one and your current character is out for the count. Lose all your characters and it’s not quite game over, but hello a newly laid-out village. Thankfully you can rescue characters. And there are also customisable difficulty settings so you can make the village stay as it is if you want. Or go the other way and enable permadeath, making Saturnalia even more tense.

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What should be one of Saturnalia strengths unfortunately compounds its shortcomings. You only have to take a look at a screenshot to see that it has a very unique art style, but it’s one that only serves to make finding items and navigating environments more troublesome. And then you’ve got the game’s characters, which animate at a reduced rate. It gives them a creepy look, sure, but it’s also rather distracting.

Saturnalia

Ultimately though, what sucks the most fun out of Saturnalia, on PS5 at least, is the game’s camera. Perhaps it’s because of the art style, or maybe because many of the game’s environments are tight, but it feels like it’s constantly hitching and getting stuck on things. Needless to say, it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience.

There’s a good game in Saturnalia, but you have to struggle to find it. Its story is intriguing, the puzzles you encounter are rewarding, and its non-linear structure and roguelike elements keep you on your toes. It has some very good ideas. Between the camera, the distracting art style and the painstaking task of navigating its village, however, only those with steely determination and patience are likely to see Saturnalia through to its end.

Saturnalia is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.