Originally planned to release on the 31st October, the Apparition developers made the decision to withhold this ghost hunting horror and release in an early access form instead. And while I think Apparition certainly has some good ideas and an effective element of spookiness, early access was definitely the right decision this time around.
The premise of the game is simple. You play as a paranormal investigator who turns up at an uninhabited woodland cabin/campsite (with a bad reputation) on a dark and miserable night in hopes of finding something sinister.
This involves exploring the small area trying to find evidence of malice and ghostly encounters. You are equipped with a small selection of tools to help you, including a camera and an Ouija board, and with each encounter or snapped photo of something spooky you are rewarded with points.
Initially this design seems shamefully limited, however while banking points at the end of a successful session – returning to your car and escaping (you lose your points if you are caught by a ghost) – you can purchase new items and equipment that open up more of the area as well as make earning points less challenging.
Unfortunately it is a bit of a grind to get there – replaying the same limited section of game and not seeing anything interesting for quite a while – but when you start to unlock things like the video camera, and gain access to other parts of the map (like a basement area in a cabin which you have to open with a purchased crowbar), the idea of the game and its potential becomes clearer to see.
Like a Roguelite where you become gradually better equipped over multiple runs, Apparition expects you to take things slowly, making multiple attempts and revealing more of its secrets and equipment as you get better (acquire more points). For example, while you can snap ghosts and earn some points just with your camera and Ouija board, if you don’t earn those points to spend on a crowbar, you won’t discover the basement that contains the level’s crafting bench, and therefore how to make traps and upgrades for your gear.
However, while I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s extra depth in this respect, this is mainly due to the opening being as bad as it is and just generally the game not being very well explained. After a few attempts at tempting and taking pictures of ghosts – either dying or escaping with a pitiful amount of points – you might start to question how much the game really has to offer. Even after expanding your equipment and discovering new ways to investigate the paranormal residing here, it’s difficult to see the game as anything more than a spooky quest to hit a new high score – feeling as though you’re getting better at the game, but not really progressing.
This owes a lot I think to the game not having a properly developed story. Aside from the opening cut scene, there is essentially no narrative to speak of, and while you do encounter locked doors and areas to open later on, the scenery becomes familiar very, very quickly. To be honest, it’s astonishing that this was only recently (about a month before release) announced as switching from full release to early access, as there’s clearly not enough actual game here to be worth anyone’s time.
But as I said, early access was a good idea, as there is an interesting concept to work with, and some good scares to boot. The Ouija board provides tension as you ask spirits questions – whether they are good or bad, for example – and getting clocked by a spirit leads to a quick chase.
Two of the planned outcomes of this early access, as stated on Steam, include making the mechanics clearer for the player, and also adding a layer of story to the game (in the form of notes). So two areas I have criticised are being worked on. If the game expands significantly during its early access, then I can see this being a cool little horror title, but until then there’s not much reason to recommend it.