Well, this was certainly different. Albino Lullaby is an FPS puzzle-platformer (to borrow from Ashley Birch, a platuzzler, if you will) that promises players a horror experience without “relying on jump scares or gore.” Albino Lullaby Episode 1 is a horror in the classic sense, creating feelings of dread and lasting unease as opposed to outright fear. The atmosphere created is so bizarre and creepy, but the game does an excellent job of making you feeling uncomfortably comfortable with your surroundings. Unfortunately, the game stumbles a little in a few areas, with either poor decisions or execution holding back what should have otherwise been great moments. This is still only Episode 1 of 3, however, so as with all episodic release games there’s room to improve, and Albino Lullaby has the potential to do just that.
Albino Lullaby‘s story and setting is difficult to explain, with mystery and discovery being a key part of the game, though I’ll do my best to try. Players are cast as a nameless humanoid, often referred to as a “Walkling” or “Worm” by the NPC’s, escaped from confinement in an underground, Victorian-era architectural labyrinth. This winding, maddening maze of houses and buildings are ever-shifting, with sections as large as whole buildings being ambulated along the various gears and rails protruding from the world. This world is run by “The Grandchildren,” the most demented creatures I’ve seen in a game, who worship a lofty, powerful creature called (of course) “Grandmother.” They also mutilate and… “recreate” with Walklings.
The Grandchildren themselves are tall, cylindrical flesh sacks with bulging eyes, perpetually grimacing or grinning mouths, and more teeth than anything ever has a right to have. It’s as though Ape Law decided that Buffy’s The Gentlemen weren’t creepy enough and invited David Cronenberg in to “have at” a re-design. Figuring out their intentions, learning about how they live, and even listening to these mad things gibber and talk goes a long way towards building the creepy feeling atmosphere. There’s a lot of showing without telling going on in Albino Lullaby, however, and this fantastic world is very much lacking in some greater context. It’s one thing to raise some questions and leave the answer ambiguous, but so far it’s only raised questions and done nothing to address them from that point onward.
After some time with the game I gathered that my overarching goal was to escape this wretched place, but even that is never explicitly stated. The characters of the Grandchildren, while beautifully abominable and disgustingly charming, don’t actually do a whole lot other than gibber mindlessly or chase you around. There’s an awful lot of hinting about some truly terrible things that happen around the place but very little in the way of evidence to show it’s happened or is happening. For all the feeling that’s created to frame the story, it’s difficult to see what that story is meant to be at this stage. It’s as though the first episode was just one long exposition shot without actually giving players an idea of the point of it all is.
It was still neat, I’d just really love to know what the f*** is happening.
Gameplay wise, there were a lot of things about Albino Lullaby that were great and some things that were kind of bads, but overall I think it did a swell job. While there were some sections that skirted close towards “Walking Simulator” territory, exploration is usually well rewarded with respect to the puzzles. “Puzzles” also feels like too strong a word, perhaps, with a lot of it boiling down to “search for and press the thing to do the thing.” Given that a lot of the storytelling was tied into exploration, I didn’t mind this too much. This exploration of the world also includes finding the various notes left around the place by the Grandchildren and eking out details from the crazed, rambling scribblings.
It’s the platforming part of this platuzzler that has a problem, and it’s largely due to technical problems in the game. For starters, while the game started out relatively smoothly it slowly degraded into a janky, jumpy framerate by the end that even a restart of my machine couldn’t help. The stealth sections were also ridiculously easy, being able to pass almost right in front of enemies without being seen. In contrast, attempting to escape when getting away could be difficult because of the framerate issues later in the game, and instances of what felt like getting caught on other models. Basically, things didn’t go so well when it asked me to move beyond a walking pace, which didn’t help with my occasional perception of this being a walking sim.
Sometimes a peeping sim.
As mentioned previously, however, whatever the game’s faults for storytelling and gameplay, the world that’s been crafted is truly creepy and a big part of that is the voice acting. The Grandchildren seem to range from being vaguely intelligent to downright mentally retarded, reflected in the tone of their voice and the topic of their ramblings. The way they speak can also be quite strange, with an emphasis being placed on unusual parts of their sentences. Add to this the screechy, high pitched inflections that sometimes get applied to their speech and these things will stick with you for awhile. The design of the characters, from the things they do to the 4chan-esque behavior system they’ve created for themselves, is sold by the great performances given.
Albino Lullaby also excels in its environment design, with a lot of bright, vivid colour and even occasionally cheerful set pieces used to convey dark themes and feelings of dread. There are still plenty of dank, dingy areas to tingle your spine (if that sort of thing is what floats your fear boat). What you should be concerned about though is very much in the open. Ape Law have also made some unique locales for you to wander through while still maintaining a consistent theme of dilapidated Victorian-era “what the f***ery.” The detail and variance in this design adds to the slew of questions you’ll no doubt finish with, which I suppose is what they were aiming for, so that’s… good?
I really like Albino Lullaby, although I’m sure it may not sound like it at this stage. The game certainly exudes mystery, I barely know a thing about the main plot after eight hours with the game, but that’s also kind of a good thing. There’s a lot to explore and heaps of small detail to find in the game’s narrative, just don’t expect any solid answers at this stage. The characters of The Grandchildren are also some of the freakiest, most disturbing beings I’ve ever laid eyes on, and my ears feel violated by the sound of their voices. (This is a good thing, in a horror game.) The issues of the game can’t be denied, however. The story, as much as I enjoy it, relies entirely on the fact that you’re willing to sit through what felt like an entire episode of setting exposition. The gameplay is fairly weak, with a lot of the puzzles being rather simple and the platforming sections plagued by framerate problems. That being said, I’m still very much looking forward to the next installment of this series – maybe if I’m good until then, I’ll earn a visit with Grandmother!
EDITOR NOTE: Please understand, that to be fair, we won’t score an episodic game until it has been released in full.