ReviewsReview: Charon's Staircase

Review: Charon’s Staircase

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Whenever the month of October rolls around, everyone goes horror crazy. Subsequently, books, TV, films, and computer games eat up this cliched and often well-trodden genre. However, no matter how many times I end up jumping out of my skin, I can’t get enough. As such, when I was offered Charon’s Staircase, I couldn’t resist.

Developed by Indigo Studios and published by SOEDESCO, this is a horror title with a puzzling twist. What’s more, it has a sinister plot, a creepy setting, and plenty of jump scares to get your blood pumping. Sadly, though, its reliance on a handful of classic mechanics soon wears thin. Subsequently, you’ll want the game to evolve past its primary, yet eerie, approach.

Charon’s Staircase has a thriller edge.

Though Charon’s Staircase is coined as a horror title, it has a distinct thriller edge to its core concept. With mysterious goings on, plenty of mysteries to uncover, and some supernatural moments, this game tests your inquisitive mindset. Furthermore, its repetitive and often hard-to-decipher puzzles have you running around each claustrophobic and labyrinthine world. You’ll search for keys, collect nuggets of information, and observe many ghastly apparitions.

The story focuses on a special agent who is codenamed ‘Desmond’. This man must infiltrate the Oack Grove estate to retrieve top-secret documents for The Ministry. Accordingly, this mission should be a piece of cake. However, things take a turn for the worse as the horrors of the past begin to haunt you. Consequently, the special agent reveals the unpleasant and gruesome result of Project Alpha. What’s more, unless he can solve the problems he faces, he’ll never leave the torturous mansion.

Charon's Staircase is full of religious imagery.
So many religious images.

Follow the clues.

Solving puzzles and finding clues isn’t that challenging. Yet, Charon’s Staircase decides to up the ante. With oddly worded clues and often cryptic solutions, making progress is usually harder than it should be. But this shouldn’t put you off. Instead, the added difficulty enhances the sense of reward, even if the gameplay is slow and arduous as a consequence.

Many of the solutions require a keen eye for details and a hearty portion of cheesy jump scares. With slamming doors, creaking floorboards, and ghastly apparitions galore, it lacks originality. However, this shouldn’t put you off. Why not? Well, the execution, atmosphere, and environment work well to create an uncomfortable experience.

The gameplay loop follows a familiar pattern. You’ll enter a room and search it from top to bottom. Usually, you’ll discover some essential information, a few notes that enhance the lore and story, and finally, there will be a key or clue to open a combination lock. Luckily, there is the occasional exception to the rule, but mostly, it follows a comfortable, albeit scary course that rarely wavers.

Sometimes the world is unusually "normal"
There is nothing unusual about this office.

Charon’s Staircase is too dark.

Now, I adore a moody and sinister world. In fact, the darker and more broody the atmosphere, the better it is. Disappointingly, though, the developers didn’t get the balance quite right. Annoyingly, at its lowest setting, the brightness makes the game almost impossible to play. However, altering it highlights the rough edges of your surroundings while destroying the lighting effects and the creepy ambience. Consequently, it wasn’t the easiest game to play, and I had to adjust the settings repeatedly throughout. Alongside this, the animations are wooden and dated, and the final product lacks a polished edge. This was unfortunate, and the plot and core ideas were let down by the underwhelming visuals.

What was also difficult to comprehend was the subtitled audio. Originally designed as a Spanish title, this is the default option. Accordingly, my first playthrough was more challenging than it should have been. Furthermore, I missed key moments in the dialogue as I focused on the action rather than the narrative. Yet, it was extremely captivating when played this way, and the game didn’t feel right when the English alternative was selected. What was also fantastic was the eerie sound effects and the rich music. Though it was borderline cliched, I enjoyed the uncomfortable atmosphere and the almost predictable jump scares.

Charon's Staircase has some hideous images.
What is that?

Excellent controls.

With slow gameplay and little danger, Charon’s Staircase was easy to pick up and play. Effectively, it uses a point-and-click approach alongside its puzzling mechanics. Moreover, the first-person viewpoint and simple cursor system allow you to select each usable object. Furthermore, the stripped-back UI and basic inventory system keep things user-friendly.

Where this falls short is its replay value and longevity. With around 8-12 hours of gameplay, you may feel a little cheated. However, the lore-rich articles, collectables, and moderate achievement list should persuade you to return for more. Disappointingly, there’s no way to incorporate an NG+ mode, nor can I see a way to add DLC to pad things out further. As such, its limited timescale may put some gamers off.

Charon’s Staircase blows hot and cold.

I experienced genuine moments of fear and enjoyment as I played Charon’s Staircase. I loved the Spanish acting and the excellent atmospheric audio. Furthermore, the lore-filled documents and the creepy atmosphere were fantastic. Moreover, the puzzles were interesting and will challenge less experienced players. Yet, the lack of replay value, cliched gameplay, and familiar gameplay loop will frustrate some. Consequently, it won’t impress everyone, but I enjoyed it enough to recommend that you buy it here! Can you complete your mission and escape your newfound hell? Solve the puzzles, find the documents, and get to Charon’s Staircase.

SUMMARY

Charon's Staircase is a classic horror puzzle title with a thriller twist. It plays the part perfectly with cliched jump scares and a sinister atmosphere. However, its limited replay value and well-trodden mechanics leave you feeling underwhelmed.


+ Excellent audio.
+ The Spanish acting is fantastic.
+ Claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
+ Some of the puzzles are interesting and tough to solve.
+ Plenty of lore.

- Not long enough.
- Lacks replay value.
- The visuals are too dark.

(Rating: PEGI 16 Horror Release date: 28/10/2022 Price: £30.99)


(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on the Xbox One, PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5)


Daniel Waite
Daniel Waite
My gaming career started on an Amiga and spans many consoles! Currently, I game using an MSI laptop and Xbox Series X. A fan of every genre, I love to give anything a go. Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I'm loving my new home here at Movies Games and Tech. I can be contacted for gaming reviews on the following email: Daniel@moviesgamesandtech.com

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<p class="has-text-align-justify" style="font-size:14px"><em>Charon's Staircase</em> is a classic horror puzzle title with a thriller twist. It plays the part perfectly with cliched jump scares and a sinister atmosphere. However, its limited replay value and well-trodden mechanics leave you feeling underwhelmed.</p><br/> + Excellent audio.<br/> + The Spanish acting is fantastic.<br/> + Claustrophobic and uncomfortable.<br/> + Some of the puzzles are interesting and tough to solve.<br/> + Plenty of lore.<br/> <br/> - Not long enough.<br/> - Lacks replay value.<br/> - The visuals are too dark.<br/> <br/> <p class="has-text-align-center" style="font-size:10px">(<b>Rating:</b> PEGI 16 Horror <b>Release date:</b> 28/10/2022 <b>Price:</b> £30.99)</p><br/> <p class="has-text-align-center" style="font-size:10px">(Reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on the Xbox One, PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5)</p><br/>Review: Charon's Staircase