I’ll admit, I originally thought The Crow’s Eye was another run of the mill first person ‘horror’ game. Another bit of tat on steam that didn’t provide much else but poorly rendered jump scares, or gameplay that essentially amounts to ‘collecting notes’. But after watching the trailer and covering the release news of the game the other week, it looked like this may be something more special. And after playing through the game, I’m happy to report that it certainly is – not without its issues, mind, but definitely a diamond in the rough.

The game is set in an abandoned old medical university, where our character awakes in a confused state. The university has a sordid past, once a prestigious place of medical science, a spat of disappearances instigate a police investigation. The police make no headway with the case and yet more disappearances occur, so the University is shut down and the case closed, never to be spoken of again.

So, sucks for you that you appear to have been kidnapped and trapped in this mysterious place, forced to take part in an ‘experiment’ by an insane professor. Attempting to escape the university, you must work through the various trials set for you, and along the way perhaps discover what really went on there all those years ago.

The Crow’s Eye is essentially a first person puzzle/exploration game. After your character comes too, it’s your task to explore the level for information and look for a way to the next area. The way out is typically barred by some puzzle or obstacle, and these pose a variety of challenges.

At their simplest, puzzles can involve moving boxes to access areas, or finding keys to unlock doors, but other more challenging brain teasers include platforming and logic puzzles. Some puzzles require you to move blocks in a pattern to fit into their respective slots. For example, each block has a colour and needs to be put into the slot of the same colour. The blocks, however, cannot be pushed incrementally, and instead travel all the way to the edge of the room, meaning you need to figure out the pattern to get the blocks to their destination (push the blue block against this column, then to the wall in front, then right, etc). Another example is flipping boxes onto a picture, trying to mirror the image – so attempting to get the box in the right place, the right side up.

Platforming elements are generally self-explanatory, though there are a few mechanical twists that make these stand out a bit more. An item you procure late game gives you the ability to attract and repel certain objects, not only meaning you can bring objects down from inaccessible points, but also fling yourself towards and away from things – you need to get over to another platform, for example, so you repel yourself away from a compatible surface next to you in order to get there. The game also has an adrenaline system which can be used to slow down time – not only giving you a better ability to leap across gaps, but also dash through moving openings.

The variety of puzzles on offer is a standout point for the game, and as I briefly intimated earlier, is what initially attracted me to it. Especially with some of the later puzzles, the game provides some interesting and well-constructed content. My initial worry was that the variety shown in the trailer would be insufficient or half-hearted, however this thankfully wasn’t the case, and I was quite happy with the rate at which new challenges were implemented.

What I wasn’t so happy about was the overall challenge of the puzzles. I made a scribble early on in my notes praising the level design and variation, but as a side, suggested its easy difficulty would probably get tougher. Well, it didn’t. I’m not great at puzzle games, yet I wasn’t challenged in the slightest. This is perhaps a result of the game not having enough of a run time to really expand (it lasted me roughly 5 hours), but either way, a lot of it seemed quite simplistic.

Another important element of the game is its crafting system. Partly a survival mechanic – crafting bandages to heal yourself (from fall damage, or the bizarre surprise attacks from worm-like creatures that you need to shake off), or a map so it’s easier to navigate new areas – and partly another facet to the puzzling – crafting specific items to progress – the crafting is simplistic but essential. Unfortunately it feels a bit tacked on and doesn’t really offer anything engaging, but I suppose it does still add a bit more flavour to the game.

What I’ve neglected to mention so far is the aesthetic, which is a little unusual. A sort of blend of Bioshock and a typical first person horror. You have the dark, old halls of this medical university, filled with antiques and lab equipment, but accompanying it all is this quirky HUD and layout – especially with how the professor interrupts you, his portrait appearing at the top of the screen, which screams of Bioshock inspiration. It’s not the best looking game, but I did enjoy this aesthetic. The save points were a little odd though, with a sort of carnival music playing from what look like game machines.

As for progression of the narrative, The Crow’s Eye offers the typical note collecting and audio files, but there’s also the voice of this mad professor bothering you throughout. The actual story I feel is well put together, gradually revealing the mystery of this place as you look to escape, and ultimately I found it to be quite engaging, though its presentation isn’t without issues.

Sound design is a problem in the game (despite boasting an award for audio on its steam page). The audio levels seem out of balance and it creates an uncomfortable experience while listening to logs or any voice acted segments, not to mention the sound of achievements pinging up whenever you fulfil their requirements. It’s a bit of a minor criticism perhaps, but couple this with the less than stellar voice acting and it becomes a real annoyance. The professor seems to be going for a hyperactive cartoon mad scientist, which doesn’t particularly fit with the game’s atmosphere, and ends up just being irritating.

The game also has problems with bugs and glitches. My overall score might have been more generous if it weren’t for this point, as the technical faults were not only noticeable, but frequent. I had to reload my game on five occasions because something hadn’t worked, mostly the adrenaline not triggering when I needed it to, and I got stuck in another instance. It’s irritating when that kind of stuff happens anyway, but especially so in a puzzle game where it breeds self-doubt – has the game bugged out again, or am I attempting this challenge incorrectly. Also the game has a manual save system, so it’s possible to lose a fair amount of progress. I only experienced these issues early game however, and I’m sure they’re issues that can be easily patched (if they haven’t been already).

So the game isn’t without its problems, that’s for sure, and the gameplay disappointed with regards to challenge, but The Crow’s Eye offers enough variation and interesting gameplay for it to be worth it I think. The narrative reveals its mystery at a good pace, which helps to drive you through the experience, even if it can be a bit annoying to listen to. It’s reasonably priced (at £10.99), so I’d recommend it if you’re into your first person puzzlers or horror games, just be wary that it’s a bit rough around the edges and might not satisfy if you want something with complexity.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1, and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games - Silent Hill 2 and Shogun 2 being a couple of my all time favourites. I became adamant that I wanted to be a video game critic after discovering YouTuber TotalBiscuit, and subsequently took on (and completed) a Journalism course, hoping to one day play and talk about video games for a living...or, you know, just as a hobby.