The Charnel House Trilogy on PC
I’ve said in previous reviews that I’ve been a fan of point and click adventures for much of my life. My latest foray into this genre comes in the form of The Charnel House Trilogy, an exploration of strange and macabre themes. Following the exploits of a young woman, Alex Davenport, and a studious doctor of archaeology Harold Lang, this three-part story tells the tale of the mysterious Augur Peak, a lonely island with a sordid past. Broken into short stories that each tell a piece of the overall story, this short but well-written game is an easy shoe-in for anyone with an interest in the genre.
The Charnel House Trilogy‘s first chapter, Inhale, takes us to Alex’s New York City apartment, where she awaits a delivery that is meant to change her life. After struggling with apathy and stagnation following several difficult events in her life, Alex simply can’t wait to receive her package – a train ticket set to take her to the secluded island of Augur Peak. While the narration avoids explicitly stating it, players definitely get the sense that Alex has finality in her mind as she prepares for her journey. After a few brief puzzles to piece together where the ticket may be, Alex finally prepares to set off. This opening chapter is largely mundane, though a few glimpses of something else at work begin to plant the seeds of things to come. Soon, Alex finds herself at the station, awaiting the only train that leads to the sole dock feeding the ferry line to the island with a single other passenger.
For its second chapter, Sepulchre, The Charnel House Trilogy puts players in the shoes of Dr. Lang. Again, the opening scenes of this chapter are fairly mundane, but it’s not long before Harold becomes acutely aware that something isn’t right about this train, or the other passengers on board. Even the conductor, Don, and jovial bartender, Floyd, seem a bit off as the ride progresses. Soon, the good doctor finds himself in the grip of a spiralling horror, as the very walls of reality seem to break down around him. A strange, mumbling creature called Grub occupies one cabin, while most of the others seem empty and forgotten. This mostly-barren portion of the trip may seem ordinary, but all the while, small things around the train seem to point towards a dark secret lurking just beyond the next turn.
Here in the second act is where The Charnel House Trilogy really begins to unsettle. Dr. Lang’s innocent train ride becomes anything but, as the conductor begins to act strangely and, eventually, he vanishes from his post. The incoherent semi-human Grub, while not especially threatening, presents the doctor with an ornately-carved box at one point. Opening the box, players find only a mound of dirt and writhing worms. Returning to the twisted creature’s cabin later, Lang finds a model of the very train he’s on buried within the box as if it’s been there from the start. These small, building moments create a growing sense of dread that really drives home the abnormality of our protagonists’ situations. As each event adds another piece to the puzzle, players will find themselves cornered as the truth of the matter shifts into focus.
After experiencing the nightmarish vision of Sepulchre, players are thrust back to near-normalcy as Alex takes the stage again for the game’s third act, Exhale. This time, though, no time is wasted in setting up the flurry of twists, turns, and oddities. Flooded with people and images from Alex’s past, the closing neatly wraps up all of the things experienced in the preceding tales. The confusion begins to melt away, only to be replaced by a fantastic reveal tying together the history of Alex, Lang, and even the train itself. Embroiled within the cast of characters from Alex’s months-past birthday party and the events unfolding in her life from that fateful night, players find themselves amidst a dark drama that touches on very human flaws, including infidelity, social power struggles, and the lengths to which a diseased mind will go to protect those it decides need protecting.
The Charnel House Trilogy not only puts together a compelling story with just the right amount of creepy, but presents a fantastic polished experience. Talented voice acting accompanies the entirety, and a cast of characters with unique personalities and quirks come together to form a complete experience. Experienced adventure gamers may not find much that breaks the mold of the genre, but it’s not a formula that needs a ton of tinkering. Simple object use, character interaction, and puzzle solving all blend very well into a story that, like the train on which most of it is set, continues barrelling forward even as the edges seem to fray and the sanity of the player’s characters unravels. The glimpses we get into the minds of each character, from Alex’s apathy to the dangerous obsessions of her neighbor, Rob, are a wonderful peek into the many-colored lenses through which we see our own world.
Exploring themes of horror, personal relationships, and personal agency, The Charnel House Trilogy weaves a fantastic tale that is well-written, and relatively well-acted. As more and more of the truth started to become clear nearing the game’s conclusion, I found myself completely drawn in. I don’t often say that games deserve a look from those not already fans of their given genre, but for a mere $5.99 on Steam ($7.99 in a bundle with another Owl Cave title, Richard and Alice) this one is certainly among the ranks. The game took roughly two hours to complete, which is less than I’d like to see, but a post-credits scene promises more to come in the future, promoting a 2016 addition to the Augur Peak Island story. Frankly, my only disappointment is knowing that I’ll have to wait to experience more of this haunting tale, and I can only hope that I’m still here to review whatever lies ahead.
[+] Slowly building sense of horror
[+] Great writing and voice acting
[+] Compelling story and characters
[+] Fantastic original supporting soundtrack
This game was reviewed for PC