It’s a little rough around the edges, but fans of old-school horror adventure games should take note of Charon’s Staircase.
Charon’s Staircase puts you in control of Desmond, an agent of sorts sent to investigate a mysterious and seemingly abandoned estate known as Oack Grove. The previous occupier of the estate is believed to have been harbouring secrets – rather dark ones – and so it falls to you to go there and explore, uncovering what the estate is hiding along the way. The story isn’t entirely cohesive as there’s a lot to take in, but it’s certainly intriguing, and it’ll keep you pushing ahead to find out more.
Despite a fairly slow start, Charon’s Staircase will eventually get its hooks in you after about 30 minutes or so, when you’re first let loose to explore. It’s clear this is a game that’s taken a leaf out of the books of the classic first person horror games of old: you’re going to need to solve a lot of puzzles to make your way through this adventure.
They’re a mixed bag, truth be told, but for the most part they’re engaging and – always a sign of a good puzzle – kept us reaching for a notebook and pen. Some of them were perhaps a little too obscure and at times we could have done with a helpful nudge in the right direction. But this is 2022. If you’re stuck in a videogame, you’re only a quick Google search away from victory.
You’ll be hunting down lots of keys and combination codes for locked doors, and so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for any clues. Nothing is too hidden, for better or for worse. We’re a little disappointed we couldn’t go rooting through drawers and cupboards to find hidden trinkets. Everything you need is more or less in plain sight. That includes a myriad of documents and letters, all adding to the game’s narrative. They’re worth reading, as they’ll give you a much better understanding of what’s going on.
The events that unfold in Charon’s Staircase take you to two major locations: the manor house and an abandoned hospital. You’ll see a few smaller locations in between but it’s in those places you’ll spend the most time with the game. One of our favourite moments was in the manor’s basement; a dark and eerie area of long corridors and dusty old rooms. It certainly kept us on edge, expecting something to jump out on us at any moment.
The hospital, on the other hand, is more in-your-face. There are horrors plain to see, and if you don’t like being chased in video games, there are a few moments here that will get your heart pumping. It’s a shame that Charon’s Staircase isn’t the best-looking game – its visuals feel rather dated and some models and textures are lacklustre to say the least – but it still manages to create an excellent oppressive atmosphere.
Sadly, there are a few bugs that took us out of the experience. One in particular allowed us to grab a key from a box before we’d even unlocked it, making a supposed key puzzle null and void. A few graphical glitches also spoil the tension at times, but we haven’t encountered anything game-breaking. Just the typical rough edges that you’d expect from a budget game.
Charon’s Staircase doesn’t exactly redefine the horror genre. It looks a bit rough, and its tried-and-tested gameplay doesn’t break any moulds. But the majority of its puzzles will keep you hooked, its story is interesting, and it absolutely nails creating a tense, horrifying atmosphere. That alone makes this a spooky adventure worth stepping into.