Easter 1985. Anthony Smith, more commonly known as The Easter Ripper, is executed after being convicted for the murder spree of several young children he had abducted from a shopping mall – under the guise of The Easter Bunny – and tortured at his “murder house”, leaving lives shattered and families ripped apart. Two years later, a news crew breaks into the old abandoned home, with plans to shoot a salacious haunted house story. Silenced Tears: Inside the home of serial killer Anthony Smith.
“Tonight, we’ll go inside his vacant home, where 11 innocent children spent their final moments in agonizing pain and terror.”
From the moment Murder House begins, players are transported back to two quintessential eras of horror: 1980s VHS slasher movie rentals and 1990s 5th generation survival horror. The visual aesthetic is a combination of worn ‘video nasty’ tapes and the bygone days of PlayStation classics like Resident Evil (1996) and Silent Hill (1999) (review).
Indeed, the graphics are intentionally dated, the voice acting is atrocious (so bad it is good!), tank controls and eerie door-opening animations evoke Resident Evil vibes, and developer Puppet Combo has even implemented a third-person cinematic perspective reminiscent of Silent Hill. You can also switch to an optional first-person mode; suited for Murder House’s more intense action-orientated moments. Plus it is all drenched in a default filter (one of several including VHS, PSX, etc) that mimics the type of straight-to-video slasher movies I used to rent and watch at home – alone in the dark – with a bowl of popcorn!
After a short prologue introducing Murder House’s murderous antagonist, players are transported to the “present day” (aka 1988), taking control of Emma, an intern to the Channel 9 News team tasked with various odd jobs on set; holding the boom microphone, pretending to be a ghost to “sex this [story] up”, ordering pizza, etc. In doing so, the player gets to explore the home of The Easter Ripper; finding items and solving logical puzzles. The real challenge, however, begins when you realise that the Channel 9 News team aren’t the only people in this house… and it is starting to get dark outside!
From here on out, Murder House’s biggest inspiration seems to come from the lesser-known, but equally frightening Clock Tower (1996). Known as Clock Tower 2 in Japan, Clock Tower was the first entry of the series to hit Western shores in the 1990s. What separated Clock Tower from most survival horror games at the time was the constant threat of Scissorman, a stalker who wanted nothing more than to rip out your guts; requiring the player to find hiding spots when confronted.
As it turns out, in Murder House, you will also find yourself under the constant threat of grievous bodily harm (and death!) from none other than The Easter Ripper; lurking in this seemingly abandoned home, waiting for his next victim (you!) with his rusty sickle! Expect lacerations, decapitations, and skull-crushing sadism in this gore-soaked tale of terror; unless you can keep hidden and find a way out of this god-forsaken house of horror!
The dilapidated furniture will soon become your new best friend whenever you hear footsteps within the house, providing ample hiding spots when you feel like you’ve been backed into a corner. And don’t forget to turn off your flashlight! The Easter Ripper can burst through doors at any moment and is unforgiving if he catches up to you… and believe me, he will catch you! You see, Puppet Combo has also implemented a stamina bar (in the visual form of VCR tracking!) which quickly depletes whenever the player tries to escape. Running away only lasts for a short duration before you are forced to hide… or fight back!
During your unwelcome stay at the “murder house”, you will find a melee weapon, a handgun, and towards the final act, a shotgun! Personally, I would not take on the killer in combat until forced to do so, as ammunition is limited and will only slow down, or cause our antagonist to retreat briefly. Hiding isn’t always feasible either… Chills ran down my spine as I watched The Easter Ripper slowly creep past the bed I was hiding underneath. I thought I was safe, but then suddenly he reemerged, staring at me with his blank expression, before pulling me out from under my temporary refuge and crushing me to death; forcing me to reload my progress. Nowhere in this house is truly safe…
For added pressure, your progress can only be saved in one section of the house – under the stairs – if you are not being chased, and only if you have found a pencil to document your experience in the notebook; functioning in the same way that typewriter ink ribbons do in Resident Evil. The synth-driven soundtrack composed by MXXN and Clément Panchout also enhances the sense of dread you will experience whilst playing through Murder House.
Unfortunately, Murder House’s short length meant that I had completed Puppet Combo’s latest horror offering after approximately 2-3 hours, and there wasn’t much left to discover after the end credits; beyond an eyebrow-raising extended ending. With that said, Puppet Combo’s interactive slasher had me on the edge of my seat during its duration, with a nostalgic take on the survival horror formula, and a twist ending (and subsequent post-credits sequence) that paves the way for a potential “Part II”, if the developer ever decides to return for a sequel.