Welcome To Hanwell is a first person, horror game, set in an evacuated city. Your goal is to explore and collect six pieces of an I.D. card, which have been scattered across six locations, from the hospital, to the jail, to the church. But as well as these locations, there’s also a whole map to explore, with streets filled with mist, everything’s been deserted at the last second and is haunted by strange anomalies. Each building comes with it’s own dark story, told visually, with you having to put the pieces together yourself from what you see.
And slowly, you come to the horrible realization of what happened here- the school in particular, having a dark tale to tell. But I’ll save that for you to find out for yourself. So, let’s take a look at Welcome To Hanwell. The atmosphere here can be genuinely terrifying. The fact that it can turn from normal to a nightmare in a matter of seconds, always leaves you with this uncomfortable feeling. Your radio starts to crackle, with the sound coming through your controller, when something bad is near.
There are plenty of jump scares to catch you out, but they’re used appropriately and not overdone. I hate it when a movie, or a game, relies on its jump scares to frighten you. But instead here, they’re used alongside a constant, creepy mood, to give you these bursts of adrenaline, but you still don’t feel safe afterwards. There were times when I was genuinely reluctant to go somewhere, knowing that something bad was probably waiting for me. You’re never sure what’s going to be thrown at you next.
And the music fits in perfectly. It almost sounds like a more classic horror soundtrack, swelling at just the right times, as the dread gets more and more intense. The combat can feel a bit button-mashy, but it gets the job done.
Each of your kills ends in a slow motion hit, which is a nice touch that makes it feel a bit more dramatic. Without a weapon, you feel vulnerable and because the monsters sometimes have unpredictable movements, it means that they’re often hard to get away from. There’s also a day/night cycle, plus some weather effects making the city feel more alive, and somewhere that you do not want to be.
I do unfortunately have some issues with the game. For one, the torch has the mechanic where it can it can run out of battery if you use it too much. I get the reason why this mechanic’s there- it makes a potential added fear of getting stuck in the dark, with no light and then completely helpless. But all I found that it did, was my batteries would run out and so I’d be stuck waiting for them recharge, which takes an annoyingly long time. Rather than make things more tense, it at times, brought the game to a standstill.
The graphics in game are OK, certainly good enough for this type of thing. But surprisingly the game lacks any proper options menu. In fact, you can change the brightness, but that’s it. For example, if you want to turn the subtitles on or off, there’s no choice. I, personally, prefer them off, but here you can’t.
Well, sort of. Sometimes they appear, sometimes they don’t. It’s all a bit random. There’s also other issues, like with the lighting and sometimes doors can get in your way, which means you have to do this strange ritual of opening and closing them to get round tight corners. It certainly lacks a bit of polish. Also, it maybe a minor thing, but feels weird, you can’t go into the main buildings with weapons because apparently the buildings are ‘protected’, what ever that means?
I get that they want you to tackle these levels unarmed from the start, but it brakes a bit of the immersion, when you’re told you can’t do something, but aren’t given any real reason why not. I would have just had a metal detector, or something, at the front of each building and you’re told you can’t go through with a weapon or else you’ll set the alarms of, or something like that. There’s a door early on that teases you, with it only being unlocked when you’ve gathered all 100 of the DNA samples.
And from that point on, there are collectibles everywhere. And I mean everywhere, sometimes two right next to each other. So on completing the main game, there’s still tons of other buildings to explore, to try and find all of them. But then, each of these buildings also has its own little story attached. It could simply be something like ghostly messages on the walls. Or a trail of bloody footsteps leading to a locked door. It’s enough to make exploring entertaining.
It makes a city that’s full of surprises. And the collectibles all glow, making them harder to miss, even in the dark and gloomy corners. This is a game that throws you into a world, right at the deep end. Who are you playing as? What’s going on? None of this is explained at the start, but it slowly builds from there, teasing you with answers, as you piece together the events of Hanwell. This trickle of information draws you in, leaving you wanting more, and is a great set up for some great horror moments.
Also published on Medium.