Whenever a game advertises itself as a spine-chilling horror, most of the
time one just has to laugh. Scratches boasts itself as such a game, but with
minimal production values and low resolution graphics (which are just panoramic
static images for crying out loud!), you'll want to cackle. Twenty minutes into
the game though and the cackling stops, replaced by genuine wariness; another
twenty turns into anxiety, and within a couple of hours I'm genuinely dreading
every next moment. And as I sat back at the completion of the game –
relieved, but still on edge – I renounced my initial reservations and must
confess that Scratches is one of the scariest games I've ever played.
The puzzles in this game are bewilderingly logical – an oxymoron, I know,
but believe me, you'll rack your brain as to how the puzzles can escape you
sometimes (perhaps we've been conditioned to make illogical assumptions based on
previous games' efforts?) -, so thankfully you won't be asked to figure out
something as trivial as a toothpick and rubber duck to crack a safe. For
example, one early puzzle in the game requires you to find a key to unlock a
basement. The first port of call is obviously a key rack, but like any good
adventure game, once you find the rack you realize the key is not on there. With
a few clues unwittingly left behind by the previous owners, it'll be found and
you'll feel smarter for it. Later puzzles in the game become a little more
esoteric, such as figuring out ingredients for an obscure recipe, but given the
nature of the story, it's more or less acceptable (and if you're really
immersed in the narrative, it's rather delightful).
The game is up there with the very elite of horror video games, being just as
scary as the original Silent Hill and the ever venerable System Shock
2. I dare not mention any other horror games simply because in terms of scare
factor, they stop beginning to compare.
Scratches is a game I whole-heartedly recommend. It's claim to success is
not in the radical approach it's made to the PC adventure genre, but rather in
its mastery of the traditional formula, and confidence in delivering a
spine-chilling narrative. Ironically, the same virtue that makes the gameplay so
good is also its biggest hindrance, and its low budget, while used very
effectively, is noticeable in comparison to games even several years older.
Whether it would be advisable to have a state-of-the-art presentation is a tough
question though, as the game may have literally scared people to death. And do
me a favour: if you can't play this game in the middle of the night, isolated
from outside disturbances, at least find the time to play the last few hours in
those conditions. Like me, you may just find your heart beating the fastest
it's ever beat.
N.B The game had been released a year later in Scratches: The
Director's Cut. The patch included comes with higher fidelity graphics and a
short chapter entitled “The Last Visit” which clears up any confusion people
may have with the ending.