Haunted House: Cryptic Graves Review – Rise From Your… No Actually, Don’t Get Up

Atari squats on the floor and dumps a steaming pile of horror in front of our disgusted faces.

01

Developer: Dreampainters
Publisher: Atari
Format: PC
Released: November 25, 2014
Copy acquired via Steam press account

As a matter of disclosure, it’s only right that I confess to putting just over 100 minutes into this game before committing my thoughts to a review. Ordinarily, that would be a woefully inadequate amount of time to accurately assess a videogame, but Haunted House: Cryptic Graves is not an ordinary experience. Indeed, in less than two hours, I was able to witness firsthand enough glitches to fill several full videogames, while the various half-baked attempts at visual effects can induce brutal headaches in about fifteen minutes of playtime. You may disagree, and you’re welcome to wait for maniacs braver than I to play it to completion, but I am confident that my playtime is sufficient to deem Haunted House one of Atari’s most remarkable atrocities.

When I first started playing Cryptic Graves, I was genuinely surprised to find it wasn’t an untouched port of a game from the nineties. With fuzzy visuals that did not appear to be comfortable in its maximum resolution of 1080p, not to mention a muffled, robotic voiceover from the badly rendered old man standing before me, the whole thing looked like an artifact of decades long past. One particularly interesting anachronism is that, while the old man regurgitated narration to us with a voice that seemed to be ripped from an old cassette player, the protagonist answered with much clearer audio, blatantly recorded in a totally different environment. What amazes me is how there seemed to be no effort to mask this, and the jury is still out on whether or not some of the dialog was gained using text-to-speech software.

As main character Anya traipses around the titular haunted house, it’s difficult to not want to throw up. The camera wobbles profusely, and often fights with one’s mouse movements, sometimes thrashing around or jerking unprovoked. Anya can also see through walls, as walking near any solid surface clips her eyeballs through it, allowing us to see whatever lies beyond. There are chairs you can sit on, and when I say “sit on,” I mean Anya will stand through a chair, her legs clipping into the furniture. At one point, I wandered into a room to find the game had forgotten to render almost all the objects in it, leaving only a book and box of crayons floating solidly above the space that used to house tables. This wasn’t an attempted spooky effect – this was a clear case of the game failing to load items.

02

This failure to load and trigger things is the ultimate reason for my stepping away from the game entirely. Not once, not twice, but three times in my less-than-two hour session was my progress halted by doors that failed to open when they should have. The first time, I found a key for a door that failed to recognize the item in my inventory and remained locked. I had to quit the game and restart it, upon which the door was now magically open without me even needing to use the key. The second time, a door that wasn’t even supposed to be locked at all was locked, and I wasn’t near a save point that time – I had to reload an older save and retread old ground to get back there, whereupon this time the door could open. The third instance of doors doing what-the-hell-ever is where I gave up entirely – there’s a door with a crucial item behind it (I can see the item because of the aforementioned “ability” to peer through walls) that simply will not open. I checked online for all these glitched doors. I’ve seen videos of others opening them. I know they’re broken. This third door, I’ve been unable to find a way to unlock, and thus I gave up entirely.

There is a spiral staircase that you cannot simply walk up, instead needing to jump to traverse each individual step. There’s a spell crafting menu that I accidentally stumbled upon by pressing the “C” key, but I couldn’t close it – sometimes pressing “V” would shut it down, other times it simply remained there, and I was unable to turn or crouch while it was up. Reading diary entries from the main menu confuses the game, causing a mouse cursor to randomly appear, or stopping the player from returning to the game properly. Everything’s too dark and blurry for one to effectively navigate the house’s dismal brown rooms. The third save point Anya encounters should not be used, as it can crash the entire game with a “fatal error.”

All of this comes before the laughable attempts at jump scares, with weird elongated mummies staring at you, and the awful “Stalker” enemies that look like silly little gargoyles when you view their otherwise invisible forms with Anya’s Magic Vision. Also, the Magic Vision simulates migraine auras very well, since it’s impossible to focus on anything and horrible bright spots get in the way of things. Then there’s the dreadful blurring and static effects that crop up, the sluggish controls, and the fact that the look sensitivity settings will randomly alter themselves for several seconds at a time.

03

As I relay this laundry list of fetid garbage, do please remember that I’ve played just 102 minutes of the fucking thing. The amount of broken, poorly designed, aesthetically infuriating awfulness packed tightly into the game’s first hour would be unforgivable even if spread evenly across an entire ten-hour videogame. I got a “fatal error” message because I tried to load a save in order to fix a totally different error, and when that happened, it was hard not to consider the possibility that Haunted House is some kind of cruel, elaborate joke – a joke that has the sickening nerve to charge $19.99 for the dubious privilege.

Everybody knows that Atari’s fallen on hard times, but is it really so desperate as to contract the cowboys behind Anna to churn out a wannabe Machine for Pigs as an amateur-hour Unreal 4 mod? Apparently it is, and has no shame in presenting it as an alleged re-imagining of the original Haunted House in order to garner some nostalgic attention. Looking at the sad result of this woeful collaboration, one can only surmise that the budget for the whole thing was $2.50 and a tube of Pringles. If just one sale of Cryptic Graves isn’t enough to make back the money spent on developing it, then Atari paid too much. Modders have made more robust, better looking, infinitely more enjoyable experiences in their spare time for free. That this could masquerade as a professional product serves to shame the game industry greatly.

04

Atari has another horror reboot in the works, with Alone in the Dark: Illumination slated for an unannounced release date. If this shambles is any indication of the publisher’s current commitment to the integrity of its intellectual property, I’d say the time is ripe to abandon any faith one might have had in future releases. Then again, Illumination is in development by Pure FPS, so it might be good – we have no way of knowing since the only game Pure FPS has ever worked on is… Alone in the Dark: Illumination. 

(Update: I’ve just been informed that Pure FPS is not a new developer. It changed its name after the notoriously awful Rekoil, a game so bad I once implored people with a hitherto unseen desperation to not buy it. Promising!)

Haunted House: Cryptic Graves is pathetic. The short amount of time I spent with it was literally too much time, as even if it wasn’t a broken monstrosity of a game, we’d still end up with a trudging, unambitious “me-too” horror game to throw onto the pile of trudging, unambitious “me-too” horror games. That’s not what we have, though. We have something far worse than that – something ugly to the point of actively affecting gameplay, something that requires multiple reloading of saves to fix glitched doors, something that crashes when given a chance and boasts a user interface that actively fights the player. That this saw a release and expects to sell for real human money is lunacy. Then again, that’s this game all over – sheer, unbelievable lunacy.

1/10
Accursed

Vanessa Magick
Guest
Vanessa Magick

If a single guy can make a genuinely atmospheric and scary horror game on a shoestring budget using only still images (Five Nights at Freddy’s) then surely one of the oldest game studios on the planet could at least put together something PLAYABLE.

Arcane Azmadi
Guest
Arcane Azmadi

How did it come to this, where games are REGULARLY released in a COMPLETELY unplayable state and with absolutely no effort or even basic quality control testing invested in them? I know this game must have received no testing at all, because the alternative to that is accepting that someone actually PLAYED this game, told the developers “uh, the game is a wretched, buggy, unplayable mess” and they responded “eh, who gives a fuck, throw it out there anyway, we’ll still get some suckers to buy it”. And that possibility is too depressing to contemplate.

Sapphire Crook
Guest
Sapphire Crook

“1/10 Accursed”?
That’s some condemning language, Jim. Time travels from pre-NES-eras will surely sent assassins to kill you for damning the great Atari! 😛

ReddiShadow
Guest
ReddiShadow

If nothing else, this game serves as a sad, sad commentary on just how desperate the entertainment industries are for dredging up any old IP they’ve got lying around with the slightest shred of brand recognition. This is why satire and parody are dying arts, Atari taking that 2600 game where you move Meatwad around a bunch of blocks and turning it into an Amnesia clone sounds like a joke, and yet it’s a) real and b) manages to be more depressingly hilarious than any parody you could write.

kuro
Guest
kuro

ThE sad thing is I remember Anna to be…well not good but at least playable and with a bearable sum of glitches. This game however is just….bad beyonder any limit of goodwill atari or dreampainters still had in my eyes.

Gendreavus
Guest
Gendreavus

C’mon Jim, that’s not fair. Infograme–I mean Atari can patch all those things. You can’t expect a game to be bug-free this close to launch, and you not liking jump scares is super subjective. Based only on the title and screenshots, I’m going to give this an 8/10, with a possible game of the year nomination.

[obligatory /sarcasm]

cirdanx
Guest
cirdanx

I couldn´t even watch the whole squirty play, it is really bad.

A perfect example why steam needs to get its shit together and make a proper refund policy. Hell even Origin has one now.

MegaSeveN
Guest
MegaSeveN

Any chance you’d be willing to show off just how bad this is via Let’s Play?

It truly seems like it’s a trainwreck that needs to be seen to fully despise as you do.

Craig the Intern
Guest
Craig the Intern

I’m gonna go play Amnesia again and remember the halcyon days of things like “effort” and “passion.”

SilentPony
Guest
SilentPony

I have to wonder if this game *could* have been scary under different circumstances. I mean its a remake of an older game, so maybe it was scary back then? People tell me Silent Hill 1, 2, & 3 are scary, but I just found them laughable and awkward, but I do believe them that at one point Silent Hill *was* scary. Just like the original King Kong *had* amazing effects at one point. Maybe games like Outlast and the Amnesia series have spoiled us? Like we’re so used to being able to play these really good horror games, we… Read more »

Eala Dubh Sidhe
Guest
Eala Dubh Sidhe

What flavour Pringles?

Huhhhhhhhhhhh09
Guest
Huhhhhhhhhhhh09

Sounds like a truly frightening experience, the incompetence is scary, 10/10.

dennett316
Guest
dennett316

This thing looked abysmal just going by the short amount of footage you showed…I find it baffling that some in the comments tried to claim it wasn’t that bad. Have our standards really dropped THAT much?

Any chance you’ll stream some more of this gem?

SHFan
Guest
SHFan

I have to disagree with the reviewer and I’ll give this game 1.5/10

More seriously though, is there any doubt that “Alone in the Dark: Illumination” will be a disgrace, after that oh-so-intense trailer? That series has reached a peak with “Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare”, and unfortunately it has gone downhill from there. Very unfortunate.

Rob
Guest
Rob

Hey Jim do you think you will ever review some of the all age visual novels on steam from Manga Gamer?

Greg
Guest
Greg

By the developers of Anna; I missed that little detail. From your review and Squirty Play, this looks way worse, and Anna wasn’t exactly a masterpiece.

Sharkey
Guest
Sharkey

“I wasn’t even a save point that time” – sounds like it should maybe say something else?

Nice review, though, what an awful-sounding game. Even the glitches aren’t entertaining, and that’s simply unforgivable.

DQN
Guest

If this is a 1/10 would Steel Battalion be the kind of shit you’d give a 0/10?

Supernewt
Guest
Supernewt

I actually had a 2 hour headache from watching your squirty play, the awful lighting, FPS drops and head banging (extreem head bobbing) really did cause me to have a lie down! This i can say is the first video review/lets play to ever have such an affect on me. A very very well deserved 1/10…

Loon Of Nature
Guest
Loon Of Nature

I am really getting demoralized by all the shitty haunted house games. As in games about haunted houses, I like haunted houses/”That’s my fetish”/ect. That one haunted section in Vampire: Bloodlines basically stole my heart, and games like this ram a stake through it. That Woman in Black by Hammer Films did a good (even if it’s a jump scare train) job with it’s haunted house, which is hilarious since Hammer Films used to be the butt end of a joke for my family in their younger days. I want, good, video game, haunted houses.

Fortyseven
Guest

Some of the visuals looked quite nice at times, actually. Though I have a feeling, based on how lousy every other goddamned thing was, this was merely a side-effect of some decent polygon work (purchased, or otherwise), crossed with UE4’s lovely lighting.

CH35H1R3
Guest
CH35H1R3

the 11th hour looked better than that

Seddon4494
Guest
Seddon4494

I think it’s a compliment to suggest that this game was shat out. I think that the game is trapped in the bowels of the constipated-sounding enemy that appeared when you picked up the key in your Squirty Play video.

Beige
Guest
Beige

I think what we’ve all learnt by now is that if its on steam and involves anything to do with the undead, stay away from it as it will be crapé

ERIKCRAVEN
Guest
ERIKCRAVEN

ATARI shoulda stayed dead, makes me wonder how much they will fuck up the upcoming Alone in the Dark game, judging by from what i saw from the trailers and gameplay videos its gone completely gung-ho aka RE6 style where you unload on monsters with a m-16…