If you know the definition of sepulchre, then you know how Sepulchre will play out after its first few opening moments. Regardless of that, it’s still an effective and enjoyable slice of old-fashioned horror, a playable short story that is all about tension and creating an unsettling atmosphere rather than having you run from some ghoulish monster, your heavy breathing the only soundtrack to carry you to some kind of momentary safety. It’s a slow, torturous ride, and greater for it.
The story is as follows: you play as Dr. Harold Lang, a short-tempered museum curator low on primary memory aboard a moving train on its way to Augur Peak Island. He’d like some food and a drink before reaching his destination, and so he leaves his book and room, off on a mighty quest, only to discover that things–and people–are not exactly right on this train. It’s very hard to say much more without spoiling what unfolds, but let’s just say that you’ll talk to some characters, specifically a bartender and an attendant named Don, solve a few straightforward puzzles, and grow worrisome as the truth becomes clearer with each click of your mouse.
I’ve read elsewhere that the amateurish voice acting lessened the experience in Sepulchre; for me, it was just the opposite. Plus, I’m a sucker for anyone–or anything–with a Scottish accent. Sure, the bartender’s audio was noticeably lower than Lang’s, and there’s an airiness to everything spoken, but I felt that helped build immersion. When you learn the game-ending twist, the tinny voice recordings and distant feeling throughout maybe makes more sense. I also liked how naturally everyone spoke; it never came across as actors reading lines from a script, especially Don and Lang who, occasionally, had to talk to himself, to work things out. Yes, even Ben Chandler’s performance as the mumbling Grub is worth appreciating.
However, I will admit that Sepulchre does have some problems. Due to the limited number of screens making up the train Lang is stuck on, there’s a lot of walking from one side back to the other. It can feel a little tedious. The sound effect that plays when going to your inventory is a very loud thunk and was jarring each and every time I popped in there to see what Lang was holding. Some elements are maybe a bit too vague, such as the main painting and the name Lang says at the very end. Also: didn’t get whatever joke was hiding behind the “huge bags” though they were effectively creepy.
For awhile there, I thought there was going to be some strong revelation based around… dogs. The theme is pretty prominent–the bartender, after Dr. Lang gets verbally upset, tells him to let it out like “a good little puppy”; you find origami dogs in one passenger cart and give it to Grub, admitting it is not exactly man’s best friend, but should do just fine; there’s also a non-interactive painting on the wall of what looks like a small dog. Alas, nothing came of all this, but it was something I noticed nonetheless.
Sepulchre comes from Owl Cave and is written by Ashton Raze (Richard & Alice), with artwork by point-and-click connoisseur Ben Chandler (upcoming The Blackwell Epiphany and ^_^). You can play for totally zero dollars by downloading it from Owl Cave’s website, but you can also pick up a special edition for $2.99, which includes the soundtrack and some other extras. If you have a half hour to kill and want to lose yourself on an unnerving train ride, I highly recommend taking this short, but puzzling trip.