Review: The Mortuary Assistant

While the creative direction of most gaming genres are influenced the majority of the time, if not exclusively, by the decisions of large Triple-A companies. For years now the horror genre has been a unique field in which innovation has been primarily driven by indie companies. Game design has shifted majorly over the last decade as we saw a shift from a majority of titles being centered on the Doom-style gore/monster gunner model towards a more investigative/narrative story-centered model as evidenced by titles like Outlast, P.T., and Until Dawn. Even classic titles in the survival horror category have gone with a narrative focus with the recent iterations of series’ like Resident Evil that almost defined the genre as a whole. Indie developers have found magnitudes of success in the horror field, evidenced by the massive boom of the FNAF franchise into a multi-million dollar cornerstone of the market that expanded into everything from toys, collectibles, even books, and a rumored movie. With the recent growth of interest in supernatural multiplayer games riding the wave of Phasmophobia’s success, It’s not surprising to see a developer take a shot at a boiled-down single-player experience that runs in the same vein. However, it is surprising how much of a breath of fresh air the haunting single-player experience in The Mortuary Assistant turned out to be.

The Mortuary Assistant places the player in the role of a newly hired mortuary assistant at River Fields Mortuary who is tasked with investigating, documenting, embalming, and processing three bodies on the night shift due to an unexpected emergency. During the night shift, it is revealed that a demonic presence has attached itself to the player and is working towards full possession. Throughout the night as you do your regular duties like carting bodies from the morgue to the prep area, inspecting the bodies for marks and wounds, wiring the jaws shut, draining the fluids from the bodies, and injecting the embalming fluid, the demonic presence is making itself known more and more as the paranormal activity spikes. The player is required to use the equipment provided to investigate the area, reveal the demon’s name and bind it to its chosen body before the possession is complete. The game plays as a fluid meld of a mortuary sim combined with a supernatural thriller and it marries these two concepts amazingly. The sim portion is, from my inexperienced perspective, very fluid, realistic, and entertaining as a standalone concept when it’s paired with the massive amount of unique interactions and phenomena that can occur throughout the night. This game becomes a terrifying experience that will constantly drag you back for another shift, which is great since the game holds five separate endings for the player to achieve. Even with five separate runs, (six if you count the failed one), I found myself in unfamiliar situations and new interactions on every shift.

Strengths

 Atmosphere rating 10/10: The Mortuary Assistant captures the dread and tense atmosphere of the premise in a gripping and fresh experience.

 Gameplay Rating 8/10: The gameplay is both entertaining and involved from start to finish, but players that aren’t fans of simulation-style games may find the shift tasks dragging on multiple playthroughs.

 Design 9/10: While the accessible area of the game is confined to a short portion in the player’s apartment and the mortuary grounds, the space that is given feels well fleshed out with all aspects of the building being utilized throughout the shifts.

 Tension/Horror rating 10/10: The supernatural interactions are not only some of the most unique and ambitious parts of the experience. Each interaction varies from a short but well-designed jump scare to an in-depth storytelling journey as the player explores their characters’ inner turmoil and past. These interactions would be impressive even if they weren’t so numerous and varied. After six playthroughs I’m confident there is something new I could experience in a shift.

 Sound Design rating 9/10: Sound design is one of the often overlooked portions of games that shines in the horror genre and Mortuary Assistant nails it. From the backdrop of a quiet mortuary with subtle sounds designed around the movement and mechanics of the job, the high sharps cut through the calm artfully, leaving a feeling of tension across the once peaceful backdrop.

Weaknesses:
While almost every aspect of the game shines, there are drawbacks to the game. The biggest of which would be found in the game’s resolution. Mortuary Assistant has five unique endings available to the player, but only a couple feel like a completely new outcome. The endings are pretty general in their execution aside from one and can leave the player wanting better execution and resolution for the story.
The opening cut scene for the game feels a bit stiff and juxtaposed to the fluid mesh of the rest of the story.
Not necessarily a weakness but I would have loved to see more interactions with the corpses while investigating them. Generally, when an interaction occurs, the game almost waits for you to pull out of the investigation portion of the body before anything happens.

With a setting that plays on people’s base fear of death and the general creepy feeling surrounding mortuaries, a story that explores the darkness of guilt and fear of loss (both of family, and control), and a design that breathes fresh air into a genre as a whole, I fully recommend picking up a copy of DarkStone Digital’s The Mortuary Assistant. I cannot wait to see what their next project will be. I have heard talks of a movie adaptation on the horizon for the game, but I worry it may feel too close to existing films since the game already feels like a recreation of The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Only time will tell.

Overall Score: 9/10

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