Things are always scarier in the dark than they are in the light. This is a fact that is exploited to great effect by most horror stories. But in many games, the moment you see the monster in the shadows is when you're in the most danger. In Kraven Manor, keeping your enemy in view is the only action that assures your safety. Kraven Manor is scary; unfortunately, the game is full of enough missed opportunities that disappointment outweighs the fear.
Kraven Manor begins by dropping you in the entryway of the titular manor itself, though you are given no indication of why you are there or what you are doing--questions that are never really answered during the course of the game. The setting itself, however, is sufficiently creepy for the simple horror story that is told within it. While you find horror tropes like tracks of blood and cryptic notes throughout the house, the game relies on more subtle tools like lighting in order to evoke a sense of dread. You solve a few simple puzzles along the way, but for the most part you just need to explore and survive.
It isn't long before you have your first encounter with the game's antagonist: a bronze statue that only moves when you're not looking at it. Doctor Who fans can draw an easy comparison to the show's weeping angels, creatures that are locked in immovable stone when they're being observed but which can move fast and kill you the second you look away. "Don't blink," the survival advice goes. "Blink and you're dead." The episode in which the Angels debuted ("Blink") is one of the creepier stories in the show's history.
As it turns out, the same concept makes for an equally disturbing video game. Seeing your enemy frozen in time makes the thought of it coming alive the second you turn your back all the more unsettling. When watching a horror movie, do you ever have the instinct to close your eyes when you know the scary stuff is coming? Well, Kraven Manor forces you to look at the thing that wants to kill you. This is especially nerve-wracking on the game's harder difficulty setting, where your flashlight runs out of juice quickly if left on, but recharges even more quickly as soon as you switch it off. You can't stare at the statue forever, keeping it still and non-threatening: your battery will run out before you know it.
The aspect of Kraven Manor that is most clever (and shows the most promise) is the layout of the manor itself, which you determine as you play. A model of the house sits in the middle of the entryway, but at the start, it's missing most of its rooms. As you find the models for each room (the cellar, the library and so on), you manually attach them to the model of the manor, placing then wherever you like provided there's a door through which to get to them. When you do, the house actually changes to match the model, essentially giving you the power to place rooms wherever you want.
This is a terrific idea, and there are a couple of times where it almost feels like a game changer. Unfortunately, where you place each room barely matters the vast majority of the time. You pick up each room piece in a linear fashion, and throughout most of the game you are only entering one room at a time. As such, the only thing you're really changing is which door you're going to enter in order to get to the room in question. Everything else is static. The only exception is a completely optional puzzle (leading to an alternate ending of the game) in which careful room placement leads to areas that were previously inaccessible, but that instance feels like it should be the start of a much more important mechanic rather than a one-off gimmick. There is a lot of potential here that feels squandered.
Some of that disappointment can be attributed to the game's short length, which clocks in at around an hour. The brevity isn't inherently bad, but there is a sense that the game ends without fully exploring everything it set out to do. The puzzles you have to solve are too simple, the story doesn't feel fully fleshed-out, and the end sequence, while not quite anticlimactic, doesn't have the same sense of fear the rest of the game instills.
It's not that your time with Kraven Manor won't be well spent. There's fun to be had and there are scary things to jump at, but this short adventure comes up shy of other great first-person horror games from recent years.