The Initiate (PC) REVIEW – Honey, Where’s Home?
A tense puzzler that lacks a special something.
Puzzle games tend to either have great plots or mind-numbingly basic ones. Now, depending on how lucky you are, you might pick out a game that belongs to the former group, but sadly, The Initiate belongs to the latter.
You have been kidnapped. After a generic cutscene of you shortly waking up alone in a hospital, your vision blurry, you’re on the floor of a room you’ve never been in before. A mysterious, taunting voice gets you up to date on the circumstances. Basically, either you solve the puzzles, and then join the cult and walk free, or you die. Sounds like a normal Tuesday to me.
The game has you solve easier and harder puzzles, the easiest of which can be made excruciatingly hard when you’re searching around for one last item and just can’t seem to find it. If searching where it’s supposed to be and searching where it isn’t doesn’t help, nor does turning it off and on again, that means your save file is bugged, and when the game has a one-slot save system, you’re going to have to completely restart the game. Now, many of the puzzles that are harder to beat have a simple trick that’s easy to remember once you have it, but until you do it can be fairly annoying.
The game is branded as a puzzle game with horror elements, meaning you’ll have the occasional unexplained earthquake that, according to notes from a mystery person who did the whole initiation before you, seem to actually be unexplained earthquakes. Also present are the obligatory splashes of blood in many places on the floor, obviously only visible with the ultraviolet lamp, for the extra spook factor. These make even less sense than they already do when you find out that failed participants are blown up, leaving the house destroyed, which makes it impossible for such traces to be left.
There are two main audio factors. One is the game maker/narrator/torturer or whatever you want to call him, whereas the other is the repetitive music. With a puzzle game supposed to have horror elements, a lot can be done with the soundtrack. However, if the music is repetitive and can easily get on your nerves instead of unnerving you and giving you chills, it’s doing something wrong. The taunts of the torturer when you’re not moving forward in the puzzles are almost on a loop, and his voice sounds too much like a countertenor with a nasal problem.
The Initiate isn’t all bad. Some of the puzzles are quite clever, even if they sometimes force the hints too much, making them too easy. The game pushes the mystical aspect of the cult, with alchemical signs on the walls, too, without having any encounters of the third kind, which serves the game well. Aside from the taunting voice, the game’s lore is delivered in form of notes hidden around the house, sometimes from cult members, sometimes from the torturer himself, sometimes from the previous Initiate. They either talk about the cult, or tell the story of the previous Initiate, who remembers more about how he got there, but ends up doubting these memories. There are short flashbacks, too, that are quite invasive, flashing over the screen, as you remember the events that transpired before your arrival.
The game ends by giving you the first code needed for the online ARG. This is a series of puzzles, some requiring in-game knowledge, though mostly requiring searches outside of the game. These puzzles can go from easy to ridiculously obscure. The early solvers only had to solve three or four puzzles, but newcomers will have to go through sixteen/seventeen. Out of the 250 spaces there were for puzzles solved, there are roughly 215 left, and there is a large group of people working on trying to get the last puzzle solved, without any proper hunch to go on.
The Initiate is a very short game that can easily be played in less than two hours if you are very perceptive and figure out the puzzles easily, as well as avoiding any bugs. If not, the game can take up to 4-6 hours, depending on a variety of factors. Some of the puzzles are clever, but generally, they’re not too hard, and the game’s open ending leading to the website might have you feeling unsatisfied. The music is repetitive, and taunts can get on your nerves, but the game is still enjoyable nonetheless, and if you really sink your teeth into the post-game ARG, you might have 10-20 hours in-game on your hands, looking for clues.