Developed by Konsordo
Available on Steam
Suitable for ages 12+
It’s vague how much “talent” actually factors into the success of a micro-budget horror game. There are about a million renditions of the “walk through a place while something chases you” game, and as the fans of the genre age and tastes change it becomes harder and harder to put out a hit. This is a natural evolution, where things must always become stale before devs are forced to evolve. As someone who has always disliked these games, feeling like they are pointless jump scare engines with no substance, this slow crawl towards a broader scope is a welcome one. Rake is not a huge leap, but it also isn’t a weary sidestep in an attempt to get out of a puddle of subway urine.
It’s odd that I kind of like this game, since it is most definitely yet another attempt to ape off of the success of “Creepypasta.” Similar to Homestuck and elaborate fan-fiction, I’m always a bit surprised when a grown adult is excited about their extensive Creepypasta involvement. As a young adult, we all love to indulge in alternate realities, pretending with just a little too much earnestness that the gruesome tales and hyperbolic romances are real. As we grow, we find satisfaction in our own lives, and the fantasies that defined us become reflected in the people we become. Or, we never give them up, and become those weird old people who wonder why everyone stops laughing when they walk into a room.
So when a game like this comes out, I tend to assume it was either made by hacks or children. Given the developer Konsordo’s other games, we are either dealing with Uwe Boll level hackery or extremely amateur devs. You know exactly what you are in store for with the ever so creatively titled “Lost in a Forest” and “The House.” They don’t try to hide their obvious trend-following, as Lost in a Forest is described as being a “parody” of Slender: The Eight Pages by allowing you to fight back. Hilarious!
Of their three all Unity engine titles, Rake is the only one that doesn’t have a negative Steam rating. Steam is notoriously easy to earn a positive rating on, being the wet T-shirt contests of the internet. You need to have some pretty atrocious titties and a pair of freshly shit pants for people to not at least appreciatively give you a thumbs up. So while I don’t take the 85% approval rating of the slurring drunken masses super seriously, I do take note of that kind of turnaround.
Even for a $5 title, Rake has a simple concept. As a hunter of cryptids, you must track down the Rake, a pale woodland monster who has been terrorizing a patch of land for some time. During the day, the Rake is somewhat dormant, attacking only when the opportunity is best and mostly trying to keep hidden. At night, it becomes much more aggressive, actively seeking prey. Nowhere is safe, as even your trailer can become a target for the hungry monstrosity. It dies after just a couple solid shots, but what it lacks in durability it makes up for in speed and cunning. It will lie in wait next to crucial supply stores, in trees above cameras, and corner you into claustrophobic choke points.
Despite the variety, the creature isn’t terribly smart. While its patterns are designed to deliver maximum thrills, it’s hard to determine if there is a real logic to it. Engaging it in open areas is far more advantageous, so a lot of the game will come down to the luck of where you happen to encounter it. The daytime Rake serves more as a jump scare, ambushing you when you explore buildings or dense areas. It hops down, gives you a playful little slap, and runs away. These deal minimal damage, so daytime is mostly spent scavenging for supplies and setting up for the night.
Your inventory consists of cameras, animal feed, med-packs, snare traps, two kinds of guns, binoculars, and a map. You start with the shotgun, but the snipe rifle can be quickly found randomly in one of several locations. Traps must also be scavenged from the camps of hunters, but can also be found randomly set up in the wild, so be sure to look out for them. There’s enough nooks and crannies to explore to keep it interesting for a bit, but after a few play throughs the map is familiar enough that you can get everything you need in the first day.
Of course, many of the game’s intricacies are not explained to you at first. There is a tutorial section, but it is oddly unhelpful. It tells you to not waste your limited ammo shooting all animals and “other people,” but I didn’t find a single person in my playthroughs. You are supposed to be able to lead animals to a trap that allows you to put cameras on them, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get those cameras to work. There was something about being invisible in hunting towers, but after spending 30 minutes just sitting on one and waiting, I couldn’t resist the urge to turn my limited ammo on the wildlife to alleviate the boredom.
Unless I am missing something, what it boils down to is setting up cameras in strategic areas so that you can catch the creature when it is most vulnerable, chase it down, and shoot it. You can only have five cameras set up at a time, so there is some thought that has to be put into placement. I’m sure there is some complexity to traps and baiting, but I didn’t find it necessary to complete the game.
For one of the most integral components, planting cameras sure is shit. You can only plant cameras at set locations, which from a programming standpoint I understand. It’s way easier to make a set 15 locations look spooky and be relevant than have every single tree be a potential plant point. People would just plant them willy nilly, and you might not have programmed the Rake to ever go there. This way, you can at least be sure that the Rake will be caught by a camera at some point. That is, if the cameras could actually see anything. They have this incredibly cheap “found footage film during a really scary part” grainy skipping quality that makes the image jump and break every five seconds. The effect is nauseating. I seriously got sick playing this game and had to stop.
This aesthetic is par for the course, since the game is really fucking ugly. I don’t expect much from micro-budget Ukrainian Unity projects, but good lord if not every tree in this game is not the ugly tree that your mother hit every branch of when she fell out of it. Textures pop in at alarmingly close proximity, patterns repeat ad nauseum, animals glide along the ground with little regard to the speed of their gait, and not a rounded edge is to be found. I was shocked when I planted a trap and it just… fell. There was no opening it animation, no quick glueing to the ground, no placement reticle. I just clicked and dropped it like I was passive aggressively serving my ex dinner. It just… plopped, bounced a bit, and sat there. I get that the game was put together with two pieces of dental floss and dreams, but it honestly distracted me from the tense horror atmosphere.
I will say, however, that the game looked much better at night. The game seems unable to handle the intensity of its own hideousness, so prefers to be basked in the cooling shroud of darkness. The nightvision, flashlight, and ambient lighting all worked very well. The fuzziness that night provided made the visuals much more forgiving, but I can understand the necessity of the daytime sections. Props to them for valuing gameplay over visuals.
One element I will never experience is the diary. You spend three days in the territory, and I’ve been told (read: saw something on YouTube) that every day your diary elaborates your progress. I have played the game twice now, and both times killed the Rake on the first night. I’m sure there is a lovely YouTube video that you can find that shows you what every night says. I for one will not be putting those hours in. It’s a pretty cool way to tell a story if it actually responds to what happened, but I can’t really speak to that effect.
So its simple, ugly, and a bit pandering, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. It’s part of a proposed series of games focusing on hunting supernatural creatures, and I find myself looking forward to see what’s next. A simple concept that won’t get you more than a couple hours of entertainment, Rake still dares to do try something a bit different. On the hacks vs amateurs scale, they are definitely amateurs. There is nothing cynical to this game, just an earnest desire to make scary games without any funding or experience. The upward climb in quality is promising, and even if they aren’t there yet, these small projects are the perfect place for a growing developer to cut their teeth. As a critic, I can’t really recommend this as a must buy, even at $5. As a supporter of indie teams that want to grow and improve, it is a $5 I’d gladly spend again.