|Release Date||October 28, 2021|
I’ve never played a Christian horror game before. There have been one or two games that have come close in themes, such as Those Who Remain. However, there haven’t been any with an explicit Gospel message.
Enter Horror Story: Hallowseed. You play as a man named Michael, who is either non-religious, or only nominally so. A camping trip with two friends goes awry when they are kidnapped by an unknown entity, and Michael is separated from the others. As he looks for them, he experiences a series of strange happenings.
Language: There are only a few instances of h***, a**h***, b***h, b*****d, and p***y. The Lord’s name is taken in vain on a number of occasions. There are at least a couple dozen uses of f***.
Violence: In many areas, you see pools of blood, as well as objects and floors stained with blood. You find a few dead bodies, one of them a man crucified upside-down.
Other negative themes: At one point, the player comes across the body of a woman who died by suicide, next to a note describing her reasoning.
Spiritual content: Horror Story: Hallowseed may be the game most saturated with spiritual themes I’ve played since Those Who Remain.
The background of the house where you spend most of the game involves apostasy and turning to the occult. Spiritual warfare and demonic possession are major themes of the game. Michael spends a great deal of time trying to resist a demon trying to possess him.
As listed in the Violence section of the content guide, you come across the body of a man crucified upside-down. On a podium in front of him are an animal skull, a book with a pentagram on the cover, and a letter written to an “angel” that describes the crucifixion as a sacrifice.
At one point near the end of the game, the player has the option to make a kind of Faustian bargain, where they choose to trust in a demon and ally with him in exchange for the life of a friend. The demon’s goal is to bring Satan back from the darkness, and Michael is standing in the way. The other option is to side with God and continue your journey through faith.
There are several scenes that contain confrontations with demons. Some of these involve a demon manifesting in front of you, and chasing you until you reach a sanctuary. Typically, the sanctuaries are either small rooms or hallways with a door on which hangs a cross. The demons are unable to get to you if the doors are closed. I should also note that in a few scenes, Michael rebukes them in the name of Jesus.
There are a few demon-possessed characters. One is encountered, and others are only discussed in writings.
In a cave, you find a congregating area that looks like a mock church where satanic rituals occurred. In that same area, you find a letter someone wrote that is both a praise of and a prayer to Satan.
After reading a letter detailing the demonic possession of the writer, a cross on the wall directly above it slowly turns upside-down.
In keeping with the theme of spiritual warfare and demonic presence, in a room you can find a portion of Isaiah 34 handwritten on a piece of paper. The upper section contains verse 14, which is the well-known passage that mentions Lilith. Lilith, according to Hebrew mythology—as well as Mesopotamian mythology—was the name of a female demon, often associated with night.
There is one part that may cross the line for more spiritually sensitive players. You are required to use a Ouija board to continue. You are given a list of questions you can ask, such as if the spirit is good or evil, or if your friends are in the house. To those, it replies with the letters “y-o-u-d-i-e.” If you ask if it’s human, it says, “no.” An audible voice responds if you ask who it is.
Positive themes: Faith in God and Christ are primary aspects of the game’s overarching themes. You find pages written by one of the few people in the house that did not turn to the occult. In them, he prays on his family’s behalf, asking God to forgive them, similar to how Jesus prayed in Luke 23:34.
Horror Story: Hallowseed wastes no time in getting the story moving. While the screen is black, leading up to displaying the title, Michael and his two friends are telling stories. As Michael begins to tell a scary story, a strange force attacks them, and Michael wakes up in a cave. From there, he sets out to find his friends.
You spend the majority of the game in a house in the woods. The family living there is gone, but they left plenty of clues as to what they had been up to before you arrived. Throughout the house, you find Bibles and classical Christian art. It seemed incongruent to me at first, given all the demonic stuff also happening. It turns out, though they were Christians at one point, they turned away to serve Satan.
Hallowseed is ultimately a terrifying puzzle game. There are certain things you need to find or do in order to progress, and it’s easy to tell you’re going in the right direction. If you find that you’re stuck because all of the doors are locked and you’ve explored everywhere you can get to, then that means there is something somewhere that you missed. Sometimes it’s hidden, other times it’s just a matter of interacting with something that you missed before. There were several times I needed a key to proceed, and it was in a drawer that I didn’t see before. It’s cleverly done and requires a bit of patience.
One minor thing that I really liked was saving the game. A piano acts as the save point, and in order to save, you must play the piano. You don’t have to play anything in particular, just do whatever you want, as the keyboard acts as the piano keys, and the game will end it after a bit. There’s only one, so any time you want to save you must find it again. My only (very minor) complaint about it is that there were times I’d wanted to play around on it longer when the game stopped it.
The game has what it calls a “micro-scares” system. Instead of jump scares, as most games tend to rely on, micro-scares are a series of random events that occur based on how you interact with the environment. Every playthrough will be a little different as far as what you see, which adds to replay value. I think the system works very well and keeps the player tense, which helps drive the scares home.
Some of the most terrifying things I encountered were more drawn out than the quick, short things. For example, after walking into a room, a door on the other side slammed shut without reason. Then a disembodied voice started singing “O Be Careful Little Ears, What You Hear.” To make it more sinister, there was a deeper voice singing simultaneously, as demonic voices tend to sound when portrayed in media.
The horror elements in Hallowseed prey on some of my own fears, to an extent. Having had past experiences with this kind of thing, the feeling of anxiety the game elicited was very familiar. That undercurrent of terror is difficult to pull off, so it works in the game’s favor. However, players with sensitivities to supernatural horror may want to do extra evaluations before tackling this game.
The game has its flaws. The one that stands out the most is the voice acting. Some of the acting is good, particularly the demons. Michael, however, is unfortunately the weakest. There are a few scenes where his delivery did more harm to the tension than good.
There is one more thing I wanted to mention. All too often in media, particularly movies and video games, I find products geared toward Christians to be lacking in quality, to say the least. It seems to me that such productions are more concerned with getting the message across than they are about making good art. And though I don’t think the message should be compromised in any way, that is no excuse to sacrifice the quality of the rest of the art.
Hallowseed is not guilty of that. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that the real world is a dark place, and it shows it so clearly that it has the potential to alienate some players. But it also doesn’t compromise the message that Christ is always victorious over the powers of darkness.
Horror Story: Hallowseed is quite possibly my favorite indie horror experience to date. It creeped me out more than any other game has in years, with the exception of one section of Resident Evil: Village. It isn’t perfect, but it is worth playing if you’re a horror fan.
The Bottom Line
Horror Story: Hallowseed is a prime example of how Christian art can have a clear message without sacrificing quality.