When you think of games in the horror genre, you may think of franchises such as Resident Evil – games that lend themselves more to the gory, violent side of the genre. Whispering Willows, from Night Light Interactive, takes on the other side of the spectrum, a puzzle-adventure title with a focus on building suspense.
You play as Elena Elkhorn, a young girl who is searching for her missing father amidst a haunted manor, equipped with a magical amulet that allows her to enter the spirit realm through astral projection. This gives Elena the ability to speak to ghosts, reach areas that she otherwise couldn’t and move objects. It’s just unfortunate that the game’s selling point is so under-utilised.
With the power of astral projection, the limits of the physical body are removed and you can see the world from a new perspective. Or at least that’s what you’d think. For the most part, you use your spirit to flick a switch to open a door or talk to ghosts. And that’s it.
There is little in the way of imagination and nothing innovative to your power. The power of astral projection is an interesting mechanic and more could have been done – puzzles purely based in the spirit world or duels with other spirits, for example. Instead, you’re left to flick switches every now and then and it becomes tedious very quickly. At times it feels tacked on like Night Light Interactive realised you haven’t needed to use it for a little while so add another locked door to force you to have to astral project to the switch. It’s infuriating.
So this means that the rest of the gameplay makes up for it right? RIGHT? Unfortunately not. When in physical form, you spend the majority of the game walking around the manor going room to room in search of your father. You can’t run while you’re indoors and there is a lot of passing through rooms multiple times. The pacing is far too slow for it to be exciting and only those with the patience of a saint will make it to the end of the story.
It’s not all doom and gloom here though. What Night Light Interactive did get right is the aesthetic and feel of the game. The soundtrack carries the game, it makes Whispering Willows feel like a scary game even though there is very little to be scared of. There aren’t any moments that actually scare you but thanks to the brilliant soundtrack, you are always on edge waiting for that jump.
The environment also gives off a haunting vibe with it’s sombre aesthetic and eerie shadows. You can only see the room that you are currently in, with the rest in complete darkness until you enter which adds to the foreboding. The loading screens kill this tension somewhat by appearing often, it’s particularly annoying when you are passing through a lot of rooms at once.
Whispering Willows had the potential to be an interesting title but a lack of imagination from the developer sinks the game from the start. For the completionist, that alone will be enough to push yourself through the game but for the majority, the lack of engagement or twists are enough for us to leave Elena’s father lost forever. Sorry Mr Elkhorn, I have better things to do with my time.