Shutter Review

Shutter follows a trial run of a prototype drone as it finds more than was expected in an abandoned cabin.
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Shutter for PC

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For me, one of the biggest driving factors in horror games is the ‘human element’: the focus on our nature and frailty that gives us something to fear. When I first fired up Shutter, a horror title that largely removes this element by placing players in the role of a camera-toting drone, I was put off by this missing piece. Shown entirely through the lenses of security cameras and the drone itself, there’s a distinct detachment from that human feeling that makes so much of horror, in games or other media, really work. After all, without that crucial connection to the protagonist, can a game really create a spine-chilling experience?

Shutter High Camera View
Most of the game is shown through views like this, looking down on the drone through the many security cameras.

Shutter takes place in an abandoned cabin that’s been the subject of recent break-ins and vandalism. Initially, the drone is sent in just to get a look at the place, survey the damage, and snap some shots of graffiti to test out the new robot. As play goes on, though, players find themselves in the midst of a years-old murder mystery, putting together clues and searching for something more than just rowdy youth. Throughout play, the drone can take pictures to send back to the team it’s working with, who also supply occasional upgrades to the drone and provide instructions on the next place to explore.

Shutter Ghostly Image
Snapping photos of ghostly forms, typically regarded as bugs in the software, pushes the story along.

I remember, early on in Shutter‘s relatively short play time, thinking that the horror element just wasn’t coming through for me. Controlling the drone takes some getting used to, and the camera’s initial black and white fisheye lens leaves much to be desired. There was one moment where I was wondering if the game could even pull me in, when suddenly, something flashed across my view and the lights sputtered out around me. Shakily, I made my way back to the game’s starting point, which serves as a hub of sorts, to restart the generator powering the cabin’s electrical systems. After getting the power going and receiving an upgrade to the camera software, things became much more interesting and Shutter truly starts to shine.

Shutter Night Vision Lens
Later upgrades to the camera introduce a very helpful night vision lens. While a bit grainy, it’s very useful when the going gets dark.

Shutter‘s weakest points are the length — it takes about an hour to complete — and getting the hang of the controls. Since the view is typically from a camera affixed to one of the walls, sorting out how to move through each area can be tricky, but the limited-use first-person view helps. Since using this view drains the drone’s power, I found myself often “cheating” the system by using the photo capture function, which provides the same view at no cost while the camera preps to snap the shot. Forward progress in the game is almost entirely reliant on finding the right photo to take and send back to the team, and while a few spots get frustrating as you try and find something to photograph, they’re largely self-evident if you’re paying attention to visual or audio cues.

Shutter Bright Apparition
These floating lights are almost always a sign you’re on the right track. They’re also accompanied by disturbing whispers and other effects.

While Shutter probably doesn’t fit in well with most modern horror games, it does a great job of packing a good, creepy punch that’s reminiscent of early horror games. While I first found the distance from that human element disappointing, it soon didn’t bother me; perhaps I actually felt even more powerless knowing that my camera-sporting robot had no means of defense or quick escape. Asking only $4.99 on Steam, it’s a short yet worthwhile take on a genre that’s more recently turned to gory death scenes and difficult battles. You’ll find no action here, but plenty of old-fashioned creep factor and just enough play time to be worth the price of admission.

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Image of Chaz Miller
Chaz Miller
Chaz was Twinfinite's resident indie game reviewer from December 2013 through until May 2017. An indie reviewer extraordinaire, father-type human for two young gamers, and generally a very busy person.