Albino Lullaby: Episode 1 Review (PC)
When it comes to the horror genre in the gaming industry, it’s become somewhat standard at this point that the biggest and best titles sell themselves in horrific gore and/or jump scares. Classic series like Resident Evil established a formula and more recent games like the widely praised Until Dawn and the Five Nights at Freddy’s series have carried the torch fueled by brutal monsters and intense in-your-face frights. Ape Law set out to buck against the trend with Albino Lullaby: a first-person experience that takes players on a psychological horror adventure without gore or jump scares. While Albino Lullaby’s first episode doesn’t quite succeed in keeping tension or fear all the time, it is nonetheless an engrossing and unique take on the horror genre.
The setting of Albino Lullaby takes you to a strange prison-like facility where you find your dangling cell rocked and broken open. Among the urging voices of your unseen fellow prisoners you are urged to escape and soon find yourself in an underground Victorian city where the walls, rooms and buildings twist and turn around clockwork, hydraulics, furnaces and other machines woven into all corners of the environment. You soon find you are not alone. Strange creatures resembling pillars with gaunt, nightmarish faces make it known that you were never supposed to escape and seek to capture you once more. These beings are known as the “Grandchildren” and are your primary enemies throughout Albino Lullaby’s first chapter.
Albino Lullaby largely revolves around you evading the Grandchildren and navigating through the labyrinthine walls of this underground prison city. Along the way, players discover notes that offer brief glimpses into the disturbing culture and happenings of the Grandchildren and their prisoners. Each twist, turn and discovery opens new and more disturbing revelations and the story manages to keep a steady escalation of discomfort and dread going for much of the game. You’ll solve puzzles and find items that help you defend yourself, but each victory offers only brief moments of respite before you’re walking headlong into an appropriately fresh hell.
Puzzles largely consist of exploring the area to locate a button, switch or collectible that will open the next area to you. The puzzles are reused on occasion and can be slightly repetitive, such as an often recycled puzzle where you must locate and push several buttons in an area to open a door, but the situations in which you come across any given puzzle are so varied and unique that it keeps it from feeling like too much of the same thing. Throughout each area there are also the Grandchildren to worry about. You must sneak around them and if one sees you, it will draw the rest in the area and they will chase you. Besides environmental deaths, get too close to them and they will capture you after a certain time, depending on how many are nearby. When we got swarmed and dozens of them cut off our every escape route, that moment of realization before defeat was truly terrifying and gut-wrenching.
Despite their daunting numbers, you’re not entirely defenseless against the Grandchildren. There are a couple items in the game that will save your life in a pinch. The first is blue matches. The Grandchildren hate blue light and will stay away from it, so why they would have these is beyond our imagination. Nonetheless, you can light torches and candles throughout the game to create temporary barriers. The second is a remote control that can be used to create a bubble that knocks back any Grandchild you push it into. It has one charge and must be recharged at stations scattered throughout the game after each use. Both items are unique defenses, though they can feel a bit overpowered and diminish fear of the enemies at times. You never run out of matches and charge stations are pretty plentiful, so it gets pretty hard to lose once you’ve got both of them.
One of the other problems is that the Grandchildren, while frightening in many of their circumstances, are primarily the only enemies in the game. There are a handful of times you come across something else, but for the most part, your biggest threat is sneaking past Grandchildren, or outplaying their tendency to directly approach you at all times once they’ve spotted you. Late in the chapter when you’ve got both items, they’re a little too easy to deal with even in massive quantities. The game has plenty of things outside of the Grandchildren to keep its fear factor going, but the lack of variety in enemy type and behavior is somewhat disappointing.
Albino Lullaby’s first episode is a rich tapestry of sight and sound. It runs quiet at times, letting you stew in the silence while you sneak through halls and crawl spaces. Other times, it builds slowly before guiding you into a room of Grandchildren speaking in zealotic fashion about capturing you. Still other times you’re caught in a wave of grinding gears, pained voices chasing you and sinister music as you frantically attempt to escape. Interlacing this is environmental design and color that blends often seamlessly between a slight glimpse of beauty in the serene observation of pleasant rooms or buildings and the twisting of entire rooms and gears bending and warping everything you see before you. Of all the things in Albino Lullaby, atmosphere might be where the game shines the most.
In an industry where shock value is often the king of the horror video game, it’s hard to imagine a horror game completely devoid of gore and sudden fright hitting all of the right notes of interest, but Albino Lullaby does the job admirably. It escalates very well, albeit some slight lulls or noticeable drop-offs to the tension due to recycled content. This first episode moved in a way where questions were solved, only to give way to much more gripping questions and the answers were sometimes much more disturbing than not knowing in the first place. Albino Lullaby’s first chapter has set the stage to deliver a solid series and we might just be on the hook to see where this twisted rabbit hole leads.
This review was completed using a download code for Albino Lullaby provided by the publisher for PC.