It’s one of the safest, yet most continually-successful horror story gimmicks around. The haunted house is a cornerstone of the genre and it’s something that adapts to every medium. Not to mention there are many ways to tweak and refresh the idea. James Wan and Leigh Whannel made a lucrative horror franchise about just that thing for instance. Games are no different, and the path of history is littered with spooky house-based titles. From the psychological (Fatal Frame) to the loveably daft (Luigi’s Mansion) and the psychedelic head trip (Layers of Fear). The Conjuring House by Rym Games is the latest in that lineage and it’s an sometimes effective haunted house adventure tied to some story substance. Is that enough though for such a crowded market?
Set during the early part of the 20th Century, The Conjuring House tasks you, a journalist, with investigating the mysterious death of the owner of Atkinson House. You arrive at the homestead and soon discover that you’re not going to be allowed to leave. A demonic woman holds power over the property and is a tad too insistent about haunting and hunting you. So you attempt to destroy a selection of occult artifacts in order to break her spectral grip.
Oh, and there are signs of occult rituals having taken place here. Y’know…for good measure. So it’s rather standard fare plotwise. An angry ghost, a need to escape, and a mystery to solve. You can probably see where this tale is going already, I’m not going to spoil it, but you’re probably right (albeit with more than a hint of Lovecraft thrown in).
The Conjuring House cherry-picks from other first-person horror titles and the wider world of haunted house tales. It then smushes it into a rather pretty (y’know, pretty for a demon-afflicted house) package. That’s not so much a criticism as an observation. Even something as novel as PT (which definitely served as a partial template for The Conjuring House) relied on mixing up some established ideas. Here, the result is a safe narrative with some expected plot beats, and that’s perfectly fine.
However, with a largely predictable by-the-numbers plot, The Conjuring House needs to deliver on the scares. Here again, it suffers somewhat from taking its notes from the rest of the class. The opening does a great job of building tension by toying with you. You’re vulnerable and relatively helpless against attack so hiding and running take up most of your time between puzzles. That earns the game a sense of almost constant unease, meaning you’re not sure when the respite will end and the pursuit will begin anew.
At its best, The Conjuring House utilizes this to good effect. The creaking of the house, the movement of furniture, and the game’s favorite trick, letting you see things out of the corner of your eye line are just some of the ways you’ll be pushed and prodded into dread. The ‘did I just see…?’ moments show enough that you’re not sure if you saw a demonic entity or just a shadowy headfuck. That’s usually played in a one-two with an actual appearance by Our Lady Demonica or some other monstrosity, lunging at you, shrieking with piercing intensity.
These moments definitely cause a reaction in you, but the build to them is not all that consistent. Sometimes the events that lead up to the jump scare will be almost a masterclass in pacing. Plenty of misdirects, fleeting glimpses, and escalation that reaches a deafening crescendo before collapsing into silence and nothingness. Then BAM, the sucker punch jump scare finally hits you and it is well earned.
Then there are the other times. Particularly as the game runs out of ideas towards the final act, where The Conjuring House may as well just have the wretched demon bang pots together at regular intervals for all the subtlety and nuance it has. Every scare trick is well worn before you even begin The Conjuring House. Thanks to better pacing in the opening hour or so, it isn’t too much of a sin. It’s towards the end, where things feel rushed and repetitive rather than bubbling to a natural manic conclusion, that it becomes something of an annoyance.
The demonic lady is the main antagonist but is not the only threat thankfully. Other strange horrors appear throughout and give you something new to be chased by. You are still just being chased though. So while there’s enemy design variety, it all boils down to the same routine of hiding/running/solving a puzzle.
On the upside, The Conjuring House definitely looks the part. The sprawling household is as gorgeous as it is haunting. The lighting, in particular, is excellent at showcasing the classic architecture of the building. The glow of candles, the flash of lighting and the gloomy glow of moonlight drive home the feeling of unpleasant solitude in a world of horrors. While the story and scares fade out of importance towards the end, the places within the house only get more interesting.
The design of the antagonistic demon (and the lesser monsters) is impressive, disgusting to view without relying on anything gory. That’s true of the whole game, to be honest. This is a largely bloodless tale of horror and is absolutely better for it. Yes, The Conjuring House may dry up on fresh scares in the latter part of the game, but Rym Games should be applauded for showing how to craft terror, tension, and dread without resorting to graphic viscera.
Rym Games has created a solid horror title for its debut. It’s perhaps a bit too safe and lacking in innovation towards the end, but one thing is for sure, it never gets boring being hounded by an angry demonic entity.
Review Code provided by the publisher
The Conjuring House is out now on Steam.