Review

Huntsman: The Orphanage Review

  • Game release: September 13, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

Hunter and gatherer.

Huntsman: The Orphanage prompts many questions. Who is the huntsman? How did 12 orphans vanish without a trace from a rural Illinois orphanage in 1897? For that matter, where can I pick up that sweet smartphone that talks to the dead and never loses a charge? Huntsman doesn't answer all of these questions, but some of its chief pleasures lie in rummaging among old suitcases and piles of dusty prosthetics for clues to the answers. When paired with its creepy namesake, it's a premise that manages to deliver some genuine chills, but it's not long before its web of creepypasta stories ensnare you more than any sense of dread. That's both a blessing and a curse.

ShadowShifters, the studio behind the project, created a game that frightens more by ambience than with the jump scares, blood, and violence that define many horror games (and movies) these days. Many of its most effective chills actually spring from the expectation of scares common in horror games that came before it, and indeed, the first tentative steps of the game lead you down a wooded road, past a phone booth, and up to the wrought iron gates of a decaying institution. A casual onlooker could be fooled into thinking you were playing through the start of Outlast.

The huntsman isn't your everyday Slenderman.

But there's no blood here, and if there were, it's had over 100 years to fade away. Perfect opportunities for jump scares present themselves and pass, and even 20 minutes into the game you might still believe that this really is just an abandoned complex in modern Illinois, and that the falling crosses and self-closing doors really do owe their existence to nothing besides the wind. By the time I came across the rare wonder of a chalkboard writing a helpful tutorial by itself, I found myself not so much spooked as grateful for the novelty.

Thank goodness you have the best smartphone in the world at your disposal. Its constant presence puts Huntsman: The Orphanage in the same class as "weaponless" horror games in the vein of Outlast and Amnesia, and most of the time you use it as a flashlight but, alas, with none of the dread that springs from losing battery power. The phone's existence comes into its own, however, when the voices and images of the 12 missing children come crackling through it, begging you to find their favorite belongings and return them to their graves so their souls can be free of the dreaded huntsman.

The stories told by the portraits are almost always worth listening to.

Sometimes they interrupt you with flashes of video when you get near said items. Sometimes they pop up and tell you stories with clues from their past when you hover the phone over the portraits scattered throughout the orphanage. And in most cases, the excellent voice work for the accompanying stories makes up for some of the limitations of the surrounding visuals. Tales of chopping off hands at the woodpile suggest that these orphans aren't angelic innocents, and some of them speak with just enough hints of menace that you might balk at placating them with gifts. They don't even let up on the creepy act after you've found their junk and tossed it on their hidden graves.

It's fitting that the voice work excels over so much of the rest of the experience. (If there's a drawback to this focus, it's that you have to stare at their photos the whole time to hear the full narration.) The orphans spill their lines, dropping hints based on their histories, and then you set out to dig in and around the inky-dark ruins of the orphanage to find the relevant items. It's tougher than it sounds. The relevant items don't glow or otherwise make their presence known, and since you can't interact with some of them unless you crouch or lie down, you may not even know you're looking at one even though you're staring right at it.

Some of its chief pleasures lie in rummaging among old suitcases and piles of dusty prosthetics.

It's here that Huntsman's overused visual assets unexpectedly come in handy. Dozens of copies of the same Dutch painting and black-and-white group photo litter the rooms of the two-story orphanage, and you grow so used to them and the sight of the same books and blue suitcases that anything else stands out in stark contrast. Good thing, too. Huntsman may be a game about exploring, thinking, and listening at heart, but on many occasions, you find the pieces just by dumb luck. It's sometimes challenging enough with the current design; it might be a nightmare in more detailed environs.

Speaking of nightmares, what of the huntsman? His comparative absence in the review so far may show just how weak of an impression he tends to leave. Oh, he starts out scary enough. You see him first by the light of your phone in the enveloping darkness, with hairy arachnid legs and an upper body that looks like a steampunk dandy sporting a Renaissance plague mask, and his presence is heralded by the sound of what resembles the ticking of a dozen grandfather clocks. Knowing that this fascinating thing awaits somewhere in the dark creates much of the game's early tension.

Regrettably, it's a sensation that doesn't last long. The cacophony of ticking makes him absurdly easy to avoid (particularly when paired with stereo headphones), and once I found him just staring off into space as if ruminating over his poor life choices over the last century. Even when he catches you and sucks you into limbo, the G-rated fade to black might make you wonder if the game's not simply bugging out if you didn't know better.

Get used to seeing this painting. A lot.

Once you start to put the children's items back on their graves, however, the experience changes for the better. The catch is that all their graves lie scattered in a sprawling, overgrown hedge maze, and that's when you should look forward to playing in the dark with the door closed and your headphones firmly clamped on. You can always hear the tick-tocking of the huntsman, yes, but the design thrives on the realization that any wrong turn might dump you right in front of its face. With enough repetition--there are, after all, 12 children--it's possible to learn the general layout, but in those early moments, Huntsman: The Orphanage does much to live up to its horror label.

Huntsman: The Orphanage does manage to convey a sense of terror in its quiet moments, but they're more benign chills than you find in bloodier horror adventures that let you fight back or at least present enemies who do more than engulf you in darkness. Its greatest frights lie in the anticipation that anything could lurk in the darkness, but once you realize that it's just you and a clockwork Spider-Man, you might find that you're no longer as afraid of the dark as you once were. And in a horror game? That's just scary.

The Good
Generally excellent voice acting
Huntsman himself has a satisfyingly creepy design
Hunting down objects based on clues encourages exploration
Hedge maze adds tension
The Bad
Stops being scary too quickly
Occasional bugs
Lack of true danger eventually lessens the scares
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Leif Johnson lives in Illinois, but he's never had the occasion to discover a ruined orphanage quite like the one found in The Huntsman, though he has explored his fair share of abandoned buildings blighted by urban decay. He thinks the huntsman would have been even more effective if set in snow. For the purposes of this review, Leif played about eight hours.

Discussion

18 comments
Tripwolf
Tripwolf

Solid review, Leif. Told me everything I needed to know and I think the score matches the criticisms.

binderdundat
binderdundat

So Gamespot doesnt do video reviews anymore unless they are on next gen consoles??? Classic Games Room and Angryjoe all the way!!!

emilio721
emilio721

hey, gamespot tards with your new interface, put on top zone in the description there:
 
Game release: September 13, 2013
Reviewed: December 13, 2013
PC


THE GodDamn G E N R E  !!! 

hitomo
hitomo

'and once I found him just staring off into space as if ruminating over his poor life choices over the last century'

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@binderdundat Um. What?


It's difficult to justify yanking a video producer off of one project--particularly at year end, when we are handling countless game of the year projects and other year-end projects--in order to produce a video that perhaps 5,000 people or fewer will view. (Notice how there are two reader scores for this game? That's actually a fairly good gauge of audience interest. Creating a video review isn't always possible, and if we have to choose putting a producer on a project that 30,000 people will watch, and one that 5,000 people will watch, it's a no brainer. Just use a little common sense.) Our pattern of creating video reviews, and the number we are producing, has changed very little, actually. While there are exceptions, reviews written by freelance authors get few video reviews, though we do many, many more of them now than we used to. 


How you reached your particular confusion I have no idea. Personally, I have never found that reading 1000 words is all that taxing. 

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@emilio721 Well since you called us all tards, I guess we should get right on that. Being rude is an awesome way to get things done!

binderdundat
binderdundat

@Gelugon_baat @binderdundat I do go to those sites. I barely come here at all anymore if only to see they have done any reviews. Ill come here to see what came out then go elsewhere to get better reviews....gamespot is now 'lame-spot' that will catch on you will see and then maybe they will do something about this new horrendous layout. The other guy is right , its impossible to try and search up a game thats a year old. Go ahead and try, you will want to throw your computer against a wall. 

binderdundat
binderdundat

@Kevin-V You have replied to a few of my comments now, which is actually pretty remarkable really. I appreciate that you take the time to do that. I am a jaded gamespot fan who misses the days of greg kassavin who dissected video games using visual media, i have watched his oblivion review multiple times, you were a reviewer favourite too, and it was relatable. Its hard to get across in text what a video can do for a video game. But I see your point about paying someone too much for a video that doesnt get views. oh well...

AuronAXE
AuronAXE

@Kevin-V Don't worry Kev, a lot of us understand the gaming industry better than others. You guys are doing a great job anyways, compared to some other dwindling gaming sites.

emilio721
emilio721

@Kevin-V@emilio721 well, before I got no attention, being rude is sometimes the way to make someone understand something

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@binderdundat

Also, if you haven't heard this from me already, just leave and never come back. The site won't be turning into something you like anytime soon.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@binderdundat 

I have - many times and succeeded. You may want to know that I often write user reviews for games older than even a year.

Maybe you just don't know how to use the search tool in GameSpot.

Also, I have been here for years, longer than you have, and I have experienced plenty of changes in the site layout. Maybe I handle change better than you do.

binderdundat
binderdundat

@Gwarpup @binderdundat @Kevin-V So true, its hard to see where they are going with this website. It more trouble than its worth now. They dont even make video reviews barely anymore. Instead we get 'feedbakula' and other nonsense videos....it would take like an hour to make a decent vieo review if they use a pvr and adobe premier. I usually go to CGR or Angry joe now....hell i find myself going to ign too...and i never used to ever. 

RIP GAMESPOT

Gwarpup
Gwarpup

@binderdundat @Kevin-V  After being a viewer here since the mid 90s. I have to say the new interface is terrible.  It took me about 10 minutes just to find the review section on a website that should be primarily about game reviews.  All the stuff on the front page is like secondary web shows that make it feel like walking into an IKEA store.  They make you walk through this elaborate maze and see everything in the whole store rather than allowing you to go straight to the section you want and get out fast.  I'd like to be able to view my reviews, platform and an easy link to the videos related to that game and forums.  Like the good old days.. or just early 2013 even. 

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@emilio721

I wonder how long it would take you to realize that Kevin has been sarcastic and that no changes had been effected. ;)

emilio721
emilio721

@Kevin-V@emilio721 this new interface and white and slow site is AWFUL man! change it already, put back the old one, it was too perfect thats why you've change it?

Huntsman: The Orphanage More Info

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  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    Huntsman: The Orphanage is an indie horror-survival game that replaces blood and violence with the subtlety of the fear that springs from your own imagination.
    3.4
    Average User RatingOut of 5 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Huntsman: The Orphanage
    Developed by:
    ShadowShifters
    Published by:
    ShadowShifters
    Genres:
    Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    All Platforms
    No Descriptors