Wick (Video Game)
Developed by Hellbent Games
Available on PC through Steam
suitable for ages 13+
I don’t think that anyone would play Slender if it came out today. The craze of indie micro-budget chasing simulators has grown stale, the market too saturated for even quality titles to stand out. Despite my distaste for Slender‘s lack of gameplay and YouTube-bait scares, I can appreciate it for being a fun little title made by fans with more enthusiasm than game design experience.
It spawned a genre, but Slender‘s style lacks legs. You can debate about the respective spookiness of whichever specter or boogyman is chasing you through this week’s forest/abandoned park/haunted house. As far as gameplay goes, it’s not terribly hard to replicate “walk around and hunt for items while being spooked.” Improving on this formula is simple, as any interaction and/or variety is new.
Wick is Hellbent game’s most recent attempt to evolve the genre. Normally, I wouldn’t have interest in such a title. There are countless new Slender permutation every year, and I can’t go through them all for sake of my time and sanity. They tend to be games I play when I have absolutely nothing else to do, and fall to the farthest back burner on my to-do list.
Still, I’m nothing if not a hopeful, cheery chap, and every once in awhile one of these titles catches my eye. For reason’s I can’t quite pinpoint, the Steam page for Wick proved such an occasion. Maybe it was the slightly more cartoonish art style? Hell, it’s likely that I was just overcome with holiday cheer/dead time boredom. Whatever the reasons may be, I decided to go into Wick without the usual cynicism I have for Slender-likes. Yes, the Slender clone is a tired genre, but I can’t exactly hold that over every similar title’s head forever, can I? At some point, shooters had to stop being considered all Doom clones.
Wick goes for a minimalist approach to direction. Dropping into the game, you play a nameless blindfolded teen being led to the area where you will play a game called “Wick”. It’s a permutation of the teenage game where friends go into the woods, leave a fried behind with only a single light source, and retrieve them in the morning. Presumably, spooks of some kind or another occur in the interim. I refer to this as a “plot device” game, since no person I know has ever felt the need to willingly get lost in the woods and fuck with ghosts. Maybe people were more desperate for entertainment before the invention of the computer.
Of course, just standing there and waiting for the morning would make for a boring game. Your only light source at the start is a set of matches, but candles spread throughout the forest serve as more lasting illumination. Light can be transferred from candle to candle, and distant candles can be seen as sparkling dots on the horizon. It isn’t terribly hard to keep yourself perpetually lit, so it serves more as a trail to keep you on track to interesting landmarks than a real restriction. Personally, I kind of like this. Resource management definitely has a place in horror, but the more narrative style of Wick lends itself well to this less stressful approach.
Running out of light is suitably dangerous and spooky, spawning all sorts of terrible noises and making you a target for the various fiends. That’s not to say that you are perfectly safe in the light. Certain triggers will cause more persistent enemies to spawn, which must be fled from to survive. As the night goes on, different enemies will pursue you, each with their visual style and method of assault. The variety it offers is refreshing, and while we don’t see anything truly revolutionary, it’s enough to require you to mix up your play style and learn through trial and error.
The meat of the game comes from discovering a large assortment of collectibles. Notes, documents, and items all serve to flesh out the game world through little snippets of story. The notes are generally drawings, and serve as hints/instructions while also building some spooky tension. Items are all suitably unsettling, and come with a little snippet of audio narration to further up the creepiness factor. The documents stand out as the most unique part of the package, and add a dual layer to the narrative. A series of police interviews with the group of friends that left you in the woods allude to the fact that something went wrong during tonight’s game of Wick. It reveals that there’s something special about your experience, and this isn’t just something that all the other kids have done and inexplicably got through just fine. It colors the events of the game in a more questionable light, and what you see might not be what actually is happening.
Alas, that’s all there is to talk about with Wick. It’s a scavenger hunt Slender clone with more variety and legs. Sure, it innovates, but all that can be said about the title is still doable in just a couple paragraphs. It’s an inherent weakness to the genre, and one that prevents me from really getting fully into it. Some visual bugs and awkward spawns will take you out of the experience. The jump scares are also a bit too frequent, with almost every turn or new location prompting some kind of screaming child or demonic arm to dart out. It’s too rapid-fire, which makes the roughness of the seams more glaring.
Still, none of the bugs ruined the experience for me. What is there is good, delivering scares in a unique environment. I had fun figuring out how to survive, and really enjoyed piecing the story together. All said and done, there just isn’t enough here to really love this game. The narrow scope makes the flaws more pressing, since I don’t have any mitigating factors to judge the game by.
It’s the perfect example of an average game that I find enjoyable. This isn’t a big budget title pulled down into mediocrity by a clipped production cycle or inexplicable design choices. This is a small game that does a single thing pretty well. People that like this kind of thing will like Wick. If you absolutely adore Slender, you’ll find Wick to be a familiar experience with some innovations. It’s an indie game total worth checking out, but hard to recommend.