Game: Westmark Manor
Platform: PC
Genre: survival horror, psychological horror
Style: heavy Lovecraftian influences
Verdict: Recommended
Buy: Steam
Lovecraft Video Games received a review copy of Westmark Manor.

Westmark Manor puts you in the shoes of a man named Theodore Westmark, who believes an ancient alchemical formula might be the key to curing his wife’s mysterious illness. As you explore the manor, the story is told a little bit at a time, when you enter certain rooms and get narration from Theodore or find notes that recount past events.

Now, I like that storytelling style, but since there’s a high degree of nonlinear exploration in the manor and you don’t have to visit every room, I found it hard to stay invested in the story itself. However, the presentation is fantastic, and it really helps build the atmosphere.

Most of the game is shown from either a slightly top-down perspective or fixed camera angles, but there are also full cutscenes for story moments.

It has a fantastic Lovecraftian atmosphere, as well, with a great sense of cosmic dread that permeates the manor. Overall, many parts of its presentation feel like a cross between Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Like in Amnesia, you can’t be in the darkness for too long or you’ll start to lose sanity. You can’t pick up items in the dark, either, which makes it even more dangerous. Matches and oil are in limited supply, however, and eventually I found myself forced to run through dark rooms in the hopes of finding some oil in the next lit room I encountered.

Sanity also acts as a health bar, so if it drains completely, you’ll die. You can revive yourself in the same room rather than reload your last save by spending a sanity point.

Sanity points are one of the most precious resources you have in Westmark Manor. In addition to reviving yourself, you also need to spend a sanity point in order to save your game, and there is a character who will trade with you in exchange for sanity points as well.

Interacting with something in the environment can reward you by boosting your sanity if it makes Theodore think of something good, although you can encounter negative effects as well.

There are also random phantoms and specters that will attack and afflict you with curses. These curses have a variety of negative effects, such as making it difficult for you to read your map, but fortunately one of the game’s healing items removes curses, and you can craft them if you have the right ingredients.

Unfortunately, the biggest detraction for me is that there’s an element of randomness when it comes to what items you’ll find. Crafting is a big component, but sometimes I just kept finding the wrong stuff. There are ingredients I never used, because I didn’t find the right recipes – or more likely, I didn’t use my limited identification kits on the correct books and couldn’t find the right ingredients to craft more.

While it might sound as though Westmark Manor is a punishing game, and it does present a good degree of challenge, the difficulty is fairly customizable. At the start, you’re asked several questions to determine what your playthrough will be like, and this even affect’s the game’s length.

I mentioned earlier that you don’t have to visit every room in order to complete the game. Depending on the answers you give, you’ll need a certain number of “sigils” to escape the manor. You earn sigils by solving puzzles.

Some are your typical unlock-this-door puzzle that can be as simple as finding the correct key or crafting a skeleton key with a matching Roman numeral, while others are complicated riddles that can keep you guessing for quite a while. Puzzles are one of my favorite parts of survival horror games, so I loved how the manor was filled with them… but due to the game’s structure, it often felt less like I was solving puzzles in order to explore, and more like I was solving them to collect sigils.

I got a couple more sigils than I needed to escape, although there were still many rooms and puzzles I never reached.

Overall, Westmark Manor does a lot of things right. It has a great presentation and atmosphere, an interesting story, and a hefty dose of puzzle-solving. Just be aware that not all of these aspects are a tightly crafted experience.

Buy: Steam