About 20 minutes into Owl Cave’s Sepulchre, I unconsciously clasped one hand over my mouth. It didn’t return to my keyboard until the game* was over. Like protagonist Doctor Harold Lang, I didn’t want to see.
There’s a lot you will want to see in what little there is of Sepulchre. It boasts a narrow palette that’s rich with reds and browns well-suited to its literary air, and a lean point-and-click pixel art style lacking in just enough detail to trigger the old imagination glands. Set between a couple of carriages on a train and featuring just a handful of characters, it’s that rare thing that makes a virtue of its limitations.
The adventure begins with the rhythmic pumping of pistons that beat ever-so-slightly too urgently to be reassuring, and only gets more unnerving from there. Lang reaches for the word ‘unnerving’ himself more than once as you get the lay of your tight environs, narrating in wads of text that sometimes threaten to fill the screen (Sepulchre tells where it can’t show).
Talk about an unreliable narrator: this is a man who examines his own belongings in bizarrely detached manner, as if presenting an episode of Through the Keyhole. His thoughts are voiced by games journalist Peter Willington, and a spirited job he does of it too: savouring his lines like a good roast.
The odd moment of fourth-wall skirting sees Owl Cave draw attention to their rejection of genre trappings – and rightfully so. Arbitrary combo puzzles are thrown out in favour of naturalistic back-and-forth trundling between rooms. Lang will even chide the player for expecting to be able to rummage through passengers’ luggage unchecked. And while I’ve found adventure games tend to disappoint as their lack of options become apparent, Sepulchre uses that very flaw to foster a sense of rising claustrophobia. Brr.
And that’s about all I’ll say. Sepulchre is 25 minutes of unpleasantness – a high-concept, low-budget tale like those found in early 20th century short stories or the better episodes of the Twilight Zone.
And it’ll confirm a suspicion you’ve always had: there’s just something ineffably horrifying about overlarge bags.
Download Sepulchre for free here, or for $2.99 along with two wallpapers, a copy of writer Ashton Raze’s book ‘Bright Light and Glass Houses’, and Jack de Quidt’s expertly creepy soundtrack.
*A point-and-click adventure, luckily enough, so my hand could stay put.