The Hat Man, by Game Mechanics LLC and available on Steam Early Access now, is based from ‘Tales of walking shadows from across the world’ according to the game’s Kickstarter page which secured over $3000 in crowd sourced funding in January of this year. The game is billed as “a scary, authentic, dynamic horror”, So what is it all about?
It begins in an elevator with a telegram, informing you of your daughter being missing in an asylum. You then venture into a room and try to look at a journal which, after a nice jump scare, flutters away and breaks apart. The core gameplay has you exploring around the asylum, looking for pages from this journal to find out exactly what is going on, all the while trying to avoid the aforementioned Hat Man and his attempts to take your soul. The game does not hide its influences, using the formula within Slender: The Eight Pages as their main source of inspiration, and it shows.
The sounds in the game work rather well. Hearing your heartbeat, the ambient sounds every so often to keep you on your toes, and ever watchful for the Hat Man. It goes a long way in keeping the tension going while exploring. The procedural generation is a really good idea for this kind of genre. Going back to Slender, it’s in a set environment, so while the page locations change with each attempt, the physical layout of the area does not. So after a couple of attempts players will know exactly where to look for the pages. With The Hat Man, different layouts every time force players to look carefully at every room, each time they play. The gameplay itself is also very straightforward; search for pages of a book in rooms, and stay away from the large ominous dark shadow. Add this to simple controls, and it allows for anyone to play it, even family and friends who don’t see themselves as gamers, but like the idea of scary things and horror films.
However, the game has a few glaring issues. Leading on from the simplistic gameplay being good, it is also a bad thing for the game, as there’s not exactly a lot to do. It ultimately boils down to jump scares just for the sake of jump scares, which doesn’t exactly make for compelling gameplay. It also doesn’t make for a good horror game, as it’s more of a explorative game with jumpy parts. Something which is supposed to be “horrific” shouldn’t need things as cliché as as a flickering light going off when you approach, or a wheelchair moving by itself down a corridor. For comparisons sake, Amnesia is a game which has some similar components, but it takes gameplay in a different direction. It uses the storytelling and the puzzles as the main gameplay, with the eerier and jumpy parts coming in between these, making for a much more enjoyable game overall.
The game doesn’t do anything new. While it shows its influences from Slender on its sleeve, it doesn’t build up from it enough to stand out as a different game overall. Yes they’ve made the game itself a much longer experience, and yes the different layouts every time is a nice touch, but they didn’t do much else beyond that. Death is a permanent affair, so if you’ve spent 30 or so minutes carefully looking around for all the pages and got far into the game and then you die, it’s right back to the beginning, case in point: Markiplier losing his mind after spending a long time progressing in the game game, only to die several times and repeat his progress all over again.
While in games like The Binding of Isaac and FTL: Faster Than Light this is also the case, those games (referred to as Rogue-like games) have gameplay which is addictive, challenging, and has elements which reward you for your next play through. This has none of those elements built in, so the next play through is going to be no different from what you’ve already done, and that reduces the idea of the procedural generation increasing the longevity significantly.
The game also seems rather bland. I’m aware of the game being set in an asylum, which by its very nature isn’t the most colourful, but every room and corridor, save a couple of chairs and tables, seems to look exactly the same. The Hat Man himself, is also not that scary. A large black gas cloud with a hat on top isn’t that nerve racking, especially when you can find him, look right at him and then proceed to back away without ever being caught.
My closing thoughts on the game are that it doesn’t offer enough differences from the free Slender: The Eight Pages to be considered enjoyable. It uses the exact same setup with nothing else added except length. Because of this, the gameplay itself is limited at best. Games like Dear Esther and Ether One have the same amount of actual gameplay, but use the narrative and puzzle solving to create enjoyable experiences.
This is the kind of game that certain Youtubers and Twitch.tv streamers will relish, with face cams on in a dark room, shouting or screaming at the monitor when something happens. The game’s Steam Greenlight page has a trailer showing this exact thing, and it’s not at all surprising. For me, without any in depth story being told or interesting gameplay to keep me hooked, my interest in the title waned quickly.