Remothered: Broken Porcelain is a game about feeling powerless. As rebellious teenager Jennifer, you stumble through the creepy, dimly lit halls of the Ashman Inn largely powerless to fight the various creepy creatures stalking you. You are a profoundly fragile and breakable person, and just about every living thing you encounter can, and will, try to break you. This kind of immersion in horror can be extremely effective when properly utilized, which makes it a shame that Broken Porcelain doesn’t manage to fulfill the promise of its premise.
Remothered: Broken Porcelain has a lot of familiar elements: Taking place in an isolated hotel, gameplay that consists of running and hiding from the monsters that pursue you, environmental puzzles that range from the clever to the absolutely baffling, it pulls from the cloth of established survival horror games like early Resident Evil, Outlast, and Alien: Isolation. This isn’t meant as a criticism — when Remothered sticks to the fundamentals of survival horror, it delivers reliable chills and thrills that will definitely appeal to the fans of the genre.
However, appealing to fans is not the same as actually being satisfying for said fans. While all the ingredients for tense life-or-death play are present, they don’t exactly all come together. Jennifer’s movement tends to stop responding properly when she’s backed into a corner. Enemies are often able to hit you without actually making contact, and getting your positioning just right to open cupboards or pick up items breaks the flow and sense of immersion. Survival horror games can wring tension out of the scramble for materials — but Broken Porcelain just makes it all feel tedious.
The tedium is compounded by the formulaic gameplay. You are always either being chased or struggling through some kind of often arbitrary puzzle, and the repetitive nature of this gameplay loop quickly robs the experience of any novelty. The game does give you more means of combating the enemies you face, but they always feel weightless and lack any sense of impact. Every encounter feels like the Rat King boss fight from The Last Of Us Part II: a bullet-sponge encounter that vastly overstays its welcome.
This is the second game in the Remothered series, following up 2018’s Remothered: Tormented Fathers, and the game begins with a helpful “what happened last time” for players who didn’t pick up the first game. When characters and events from the previous game begin to enter Broken Porcelain’s narrative, they do so in a manner that feels less like a sequel than another game hijacking the current story. The narrative boundaries between Jen’s attempt to escape the Ashmann Inn and all the goings-on from the previous game creates a lot of narrative friction which will likely leave players scratching their heads. Sequences that are played like grand reveals end up feeling more baffling than anything, like the player skipped a page and missed crucial plot information.
All in all, it’s not the best jumping-on point for an ongoing story. However, Jennifer’s solo narrative, before it begins to connect to any larger lore, is hard to make heads or tails of either. While environmental storytelling is a fine way to deliver exposition in video games, scattering world-building information in newspaper clippings or milk carton pictures and trusting the player to put the clues all together, Broken Porcelain throws an increasingly convoluted amount of information at its players, with rarely anything more concrete than a random name that sounds familiar. Overall, the game’s narrative comes in the shape of unintelligible “clues” that don’t add up without an infodump in a cutscene. While a sense of disorientation can be useful in a horror game, putting us in the confused and terrified perspective of our protagonist, Broken Porcelain’s implementation just makes the player disengage because there isn’t any context for what’s going on.
I know this review has been largely negative, and it’s never fun to write a negative review. There are some bright spots in the game, one of which is the absolutely stellar sound design. Augmented especially by playing with headphones, Broken Porcelain utilizes sound to terrifying effect: distant footsteps and mutterings of something stalking you, paired with your own footsteps that are juuuuust too loud on the carpet — these touches give some necessary atmosphere and a sense of dread to every new room you enter.
The game’s soundtrack is also a bright spot. Alternating from sparse compositions that let the sound effects breathe, to gut-clenching strings when a chase is on, the game’s music always knows when to do more with less, and when to charge in and crank up the terror.
Visually, the game looks great, with every area in the Ashmann Inn full of forebodingly long hallways and dark corners that are certain to have an unpleasant surprise. Character designs also look really nice — well, perhaps nice is the wrong word when the first major enemy you face is a decaying woman with a face full of maggots, but, you know, the maggots are very well-rendered.
With all of the power of the game’s look and sound, it’s a real shame that the game itself isn’t a more compelling scare. Clunky movement and frustratingly obtuse puzzle design hamstrings all the game’s atmospheric power, making a pleasant to behold but aggravating to play game that unfortunately will likely not have much staying power. If the Remothered series continues beyond this, hopefully they can give as much care to the act of playing through their world as they did to how it all feels.
A PS4 key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Remothered: Broken Porcelain’s striking visuals and outstanding sound design can’t disguise the repetitive, mundane survival horror game lurking underneath.
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