Authors like Stephen King have made a great living off the simple idea that horror can come from anywhere, but is especially awful when it comes from the most mundane of places. A building you pass everyday, a basement, the gloom underneath your bed, that sewer drain down the block: any one of these common locales can instantly turn into a nightmare. Welcome to the Game thrives on the premise of the horror coming to you, being invited in by you (the player) doing something you shouldn’t. Granted, not everyone goes perusing on the Dark Web in search of entertainment. But sitting in your comfortable chair, browsing the internet for hours at a time, begets a feeling of boredom. Through boredom, people sometimes stumble upon odd things, some of which bring grim consequences of their own.
Reflect Studios has taken a basic premise in Welcome to the Game and loaded it up with dread. You take on the role of an average guy who’s been introduced by a friend to the Dark Web, the grim underbelly of the internet. You’ve got a month to find a legendary Red Room, a site where you can watch someone being murdered. Your character isn’t given any real motivation for seeking out a Red Room in the first place, but I don’t think they really need one either. Beats being bored, right? You’ll basically be required to scroll through a series of archived Dark Web sites your friend (and tutorial guide) Adam has selected for you, some of which only will open at certain times of day. Hidden within a few of these sites are different parts of the URL you’ll need to access the Red Room. There are also two varieties of hacker attacks you’ll have to fend off through two distinct mini-games, which are fine to play through. There’s also the threat of kidnappers to attend to, one aspect of Welcome to the Game which really serves to ratchet up the tension inherit in scrolling through a series of grim Dark Web sites. Oh, and there’s a handy desktop notepad because who doesn’t need that, right?
Now is probably the best time to bring up the content of the pages you’ll visit on the Dark Web. Some of it is mildly amusing, like the terribly constructed ganja connection site. Some are mildly disturbing, like the various sites for hiring professional assassins (at what I would call some amazingly reasonable prices). And then there are the really dark parts of this fictional Dark Web, which can get pretty sick indeed: eerie doll music plays as you read further and further into a description of how you can purchase a sex slave, whose arms and legs have been removed, whose free will has been pre-broken by the Russian surgeon who makes his living doing such awful things. There’re some real icky stuff presented in Welcome to the Game, but it is a horror game after all.
As Welcome to the Game progresses, hackers attack more frequently and odd sounds in your apartment start to stack up. I was honestly surprised how wrapped up in what’s basically a spooky little research project. Playing at night certainly helped the ambiance, as it’s always night inside of your fictional apartment. Honestly, I don’t want to spoil too much more of the game, since half the point is working your way through the riddles and puzzles in order to get to the Red Room. What happens there? Well, that would be telling.
In pure technical terms, Welcome to the Game is nothing too fancy but certainly gets the job done. The drab visuals contribute to the mundane creepiness of gameplay. The apartment is simply laid out without seeming empty or unrealistic. I’m a Mac user and the virtual desktop is the same setup as my actual desktop, which may or may not have gotten in my head just a little bit after the first hour or so. Music and sound effects are sparse and purposeful, all in the right place and contributing to the grim and gritty feel of gameplay.
Welcome to the Game is a fun and tense little horror experience that doesn’t outstay its welcome. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who consider themselves sensitive to violent or sexual imagery (or both), but I think it’s got a little more range than only appealing to horror fans. The gameplay is simple enough for anyone to figure out and the research itself isn’t overly tedious or baffling. And let’s be honest, at $1.99 Welcome to the Game isn’t that big of a risk to try out. If you’re a hardened horror game veteran it’s not the most illuminating of experiences, but it’s a fun way to spend a late night all alone. With the doors safely locked, of course.