Horror is a genre I don’t get to talk about often enough, probably because deep down I’m a big scaredy-cat. Growing up, I’ve listened to countless creepypastas, read true life ghost stories, and spent most of my childhood underneath sheets with a flashlight reading Goosebumps books. When the subject is introduced in The Crow’s Eye my excitement stemmed from other titles in the past, mainly Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which to this day still has me looking down hallways suspiciously in case the bad stuff start flooding.
Initial excitement for stepping into a psychological horror made me nostalgic for the days when I sat down to watch a Let’s Play of Amnesia: The Dark Descent for the first time. Dark hallways barely illuminated by flickering candlelight, the uncomfortable sound of a door closing down the hall when I enter another room – the sheer terror of the environment is an experience I relish above all else. The Crow’s Eye at first had me squinting into dark corners and walking slowly down dimly lit hallways to reach the next area.
What started out as an initial sense of forbidding into the unknown quickly turned into apathy and despair when the realization hit there was little to actually be scared of – and this is coming from a person who walks down into their basement to do laundry convinced a hell hound is going to devour their soul.
The backdrop is the prestigious Medical University of Crowswood, which was forced to close its doors after authorities investigated the disappearance of four students on campus. Citizens living nearby the university encouraged police to resolve the case, but people continued to go missing until the university finally shut down in 1947 with no chance of reopening.
Nineteen years later, a young man wakes up in the abandoned and rotting halls of Crowswood. He comes to learn his presence in the abandoned university is an experiment as he tries to navigate his way through puzzles and obstacles scattered about in his search for an exit. His curiosity leads him to discover the truth not just behind the original disappearances, but whether his presence plays a role in the events that took place so long ago.
The Crow’s Eye at first had me tiptoeing to each new room, lighter held aloft to give me some semblance of security. There were times I’d hear doors closing behind me or swinging open with no indication of another person being there. My first reaction being to tread with caution lest any jump scares or monsters be lurking about. The initial introduction from a mad scientist hidden – I’m assuming – somewhere within the depths of Crowswood helped set the stage for what I first assumed would be a glorifying, spine-tingling experience.
My first few minutes were spent poking around rooms looking for certain items like a key, a ladder, or picking up a box to give me a boost over a wall. Along the way, I stumbled across documents and tapes hidden in secret corners which slowly pieced together the story and hinted at what may have happened to the students who disappeared. Different viewpoints are presented from an investigator, a concerned wife, and even a teacher in the university detailing the daily events leading to the day Crowswood was forced to close its doors indefinitely.
Listening to these quick snippets of thoughts and confessions provided the illusion of not being alone in Crowswood left me with a sense of loneliness when the tape would end after a few seconds.
Venturing further into Crowswood, my sense of terror in the place began to lessen considerably. Sure, the hallways were dark and forbidding and the drip of water in the distance certainly set a spooky atmosphere, but where were my scares? Where were the monsters and the slow buildup of horror I’d come to expect for a psychological terror? The first time I encountered a jump-scare it caught me off guard, but other than making me leap from my seat nothing really struck me as a true sense of ‘terror’.
Even the puzzles which I expected to be a challenge didn’t lend much forethought into solving. The answer to solving most of them ended up being completing simple tasks like retrieving a key or figuring out how to get over an obstacle. One of the few challenging puzzles I did come across had to do with a lock pick mechanic, which called for fine mouse control to ‘solve’, yet even this gimmick never repeated later. The most time I spent solving any puzzle took about five minutes, other than the one enigma that had me pushing around floating blocks. Even this only took about ten minutes once I figured out how to manipulate the blocks to fit them in their respective areas.
The Crow’s Eye does lend a sense of a moldering building with large sections caved in, water dripping in from broken pipes, rooms being a disarray of debris, and the countless rooms devoid of any life. While the backdrop provides all the necessary elements for a creepy experience, the ‘terror’ from the abandoned university ends there.
During my explorations, I didn’t find any elements to truly ‘scare’ me like I’d hoped. The first fifteen minutes left me uneasy, but after a few hours of exploring I began to feel something much worse than terror: boredom. Sure, I came across tapes, letters, and even a sketch detailing the horrors of Crowswood. But how were these supposed to provide the terror I’d been promised? At most I felt these small additions felt more like concepts were never fully utilized. Even the crazy scientist who talked to me once in a blue moon was a disappointment, never truly scary or able to provide motivation to help solve the puzzles.
I did appreciate the inclusion of using both notes and tapes to flesh out the story instead of being forced to choose one or the other. Other horror games I’ve watched (or played) would only use one element and stick through it for the rest of the story. The Crow’s Eye does go out of its way to provide a small mix of visual and audio elements to set the stage for its ‘creepy’ atmosphere. One that made me feel particularly uncomfortable is when reaching a save point, a strange music box/carnival music would play when saving.
The Crow’s Eye feels like a heavily watered-down version of a better, scarier horror game, with little to offer the devoted horror enthusiast. Beyond the odd jump scare, there was little to set my heart racing or make my mouth dry to consider walking around the next corner. The hallways are empty and bare, puzzles way too easy to solve, and nothing gave me that sense of uneasiness like I was being watched in such a broken down and empty medical university. The potential was there for The Crow’s Eye to have been a decent horror experience; ultimately, there just wasn’t enough substance to offer a terrifying experience.