|December 13, 2019
The world has been sleeping on Sally Face for far too long. If you’re interested in gripping stories, gritty mysteries, or a genuinely unique and haunting ride- Sally Face is a must-have game for you. Sally Face plays out as if the hit series Stranger Things had been made into a game; much like the show, you slowly discover the dark secrets of the world around you via a cast of layered and flawed characters. The game was designed, written, and produced by Steve Garby over three painstaking years, and his tireless efforts really shine through in this indie mystery masterpiece.
Okay, so Sally Face has a lot of dark spiritual elements for sure. If you’re easily offended by ghosts, supernatural events, demonic worshippers, dark spiritual imagery, dark spiritual beings, possession, and rituals, then this is not the game for you. The main characters are not a part of any cult themselves, but one does exist and quite a few dark supernatural events are witnessed throughout the game. Additionally, there’s a lot of gameplay that takes place in spiritual realms or with ghosts, spirits, etc.
The story of Sally Face is quite dark and features murder, suicide, maiming, death, graphic depictions of dead or disintegrating bodies and entities, and general blood and gore. Not for the faint of heart, but the cartoon-ish art style keeps it from being too traumatic visually.
There’s some strong language in Sally Face that is definitely present. The f-word is used sometimes, as are many other common swear words.
There’s no explicit sexual content in Sally Face, but some references to sexual acts, affairs, etc. There are unmarried couples with kids as well as a gay couple during the story. There’s one scene with full-body nudity, but it’s easy to look away and not portrayed in a sexual context.
There’s alcohol and drug use mentioned and seen in Sally Face, but none of the main characters partake in it.
There’s this fascinating place between horror and mystery- one where you’re more intrigued than you are frightened, but the underlying unfairness and anxieties of life are laid bare and ooze like wounds uncared for. There, in that place, is where Sally Face camps. Separated into five escalating episodes, you follow a boy with a prosthetic face through mystery after mystery as the web becomes more complex and unusual. It’s a long and haunting ride as Sally Face toes the line between scary, fascinating, unnerving, and heartfelt. You genuinely never know what to expect from start to finish- from the story, the gameplay, and the characters- but what you can always know is that you’ll be hooked to the very end.
The majority of Sally Face’s gameplay falls into the indie adventure category; you solve puzzles, talk to characters, and play minigames to progress the story. Some chapters are more dialogue-heavy than others, while some are distinct in their wide use of mini-games and challenging puzzles to solve. The gameplay mirrors the growing complexity of the storyline in each chapter and is often intentionally designed to match the story.
Everything about Sally Face’s design, writing, and production feels incredibly intentional- created with love and care by Steve Garby as he honed his craft over the three years he made the game. You can tell how much thought went into every detail, how every twist and turn of the story was mapped out and integrated into gameplay, dialogue, and scenery. Even if Sally Face’s vibe isn’t your style, the level of dedication Garby poured into this project is worthy of acknowledgment.
The story of Sally Face is easily its strongest feature. Whatever you might expect going in, the game seemingly sets out to defy. The story is mostly told from the perspective of Sally Face himself as he recounts events of the past. While the plot becomes increasingly supernatural and unnerving, it also maintains a sense of grounding in reality. Sally Face and his friends feel like genuine people with struggles and interests that go beyond ghost-hunting or mystery-solving. The storyline matures with them, as they age up from teenagers to young adults, but nothing ever feels excessive or completely unbelievable. This sense of realism never leaves the game, even when things go completely bizarre- and be warned, they definitely do. Demons, aliens, cults, spirit realms accessed by electric guitars- it’s all here in the insane but intriguing world of Sally Face’s apartment building.
You genuinely become attached to the characters and world of Sally Face, despite the fact that the game’s world doesn’t romanticize itself for a second. It is gritty, raw, messed up, and completely unfair, but it is real. The relatability of the characters, the interactions, and the conflict is what grounds the story through its most outlandish moments. Garby makes you care, even through the filth and flaws of the world around you. Through five chapters, you discover, lose, and watch the details of your apartment building and life change. You become accustomed to it all, even when it’s at its most unnerving, which is what makes the story so absolutely gut-wrenching.
Sally Face successfully pulls off more plot twists and genuinely horrendous moments than most games could even attempt. You may walk away feeling differently, but you never, ever know what to expect and Sally Face refuses to give you any guarantees. Anything is possible, but not in the cheerfully positive “anything is possible!” sense. In the most horrifying way, anything, and I mean, anything is possible. The worst things, the cruelest things, the hardest to understand things, the incredibly unfair things- they are all possible, and Sally Face refuses to let you forget that. It never lulls you into security, but it is masterful in its twists and depths.
You never walk away from an episode of Sally Face with fewer questions, only different ones. The ending feels final, resolute, and genuine, which is remarkable considering its complexity and the way it highlights the most outlandish undertones of the story. The ending feels like a more unnerving Night in the Woods with a looming sense of darkness and supernatural twistedness throughout. It may catch some players off guard while making complete sense to others. However, the mysteries surrounding Sally Face never go away as the stakes only feel higher and failure only feels easier.
The well-placed foreshadowing, incredible attention to detail, and expertly-crafted unfolding of events in Sally Face make for a game that’s eternally engaging. It never lets you have more answers than you do questions, fiendishly keeping you hooked to the storyline. These features were key to the originally episodic release of the game, but also hold true even when one doesn’t have to wait months to keep playing.
Another unique element of Sally Face is its hand-drawn art style. It’s cartoony, yet gritty and semi-realistic, meshing extremely bizarre or graphic imagery with very laid back colors and drawings. While the story is the absolute star here, the art style supports and allows that story to be told in the most visually engaging way possible as well.
While it’s incredible what all Steve Garby did with Sally Face, there are points where you can tell it was made by one person rather than a team of developers and designers. The pacing can feel choppy occasionally or rely on text-heavy exposition. However, the scope and complexity of the story are remarkable and Sally Face always remains grounded in the reality of its characters.
Overall, for the right kind of player, Sally Face is an incredible psychological horror indie game that must be experienced. Go in expecting the trippiest and most intricate dark 90’s-feeling animated show of your life. It is a testament to the story-telling ability of video games and the complex, harrowing stories they’re capable of haunting us with. It is definitely not for the squeamish or sensitive, but it may be the new favorite game for many who are looking for something different, genuine, and impactful.
The Bottom Line
You genuinely never know what to expect from Sally Face from start to finish- in the story, from the gameplay, and from the characters- but what you can always know is that you’ll be hooked to the very end.