The Slaughter: Act One is the newest game from Brainchild, which is actually a one-man studio – Alex Francois, to be precise. It was Kickstarted by 403 backers who raised £8,170. Brainchild also created Orbit HD to further fund The Slaughter and Ink Blotter, a free app for iOS. Francois created every aspect of The Slaughter himself – art, writing, music, and programming. Watch the trailer:
“A serial killer is terrorizing the streets of Victorian London, and private investigator Sydney Emerson has hit a new low between finding lost dogs and receiving alleyway beatings. A turn of events sees Sydney forgoing his selfish nature and thrusting himself into perilous and increasingly surreal situations, treading a fine line between dreams and reality. Explore the foggy streets of Victorian London in all its decadence and depravity, searching the slums, taverns, brothels, and even Sydney’s abstract dreamscapes for clues, while meeting a host of interesting, insane, and eccentrically British characters along the way.”
You start the game getting beat up for being in someone else’s dream, which is one of the rudest things in the universe. Sydney has a wonderful sense of humor, as does the entire game – something I absolutely wasn’t expecting going in because of the dark plot summary. I really appreciated this. Don’t get me wrong, I love the horror genre, but the silliness and Sydney’s jokes made it even better. Elsewhere, in places where Sydney isn’t getting beat up, the serial killer (called The Ripper – it’s not 100% clear that it’s Jack the Ripper, but I’m assuming it is) has already killed three prostitutes in a nearby neighborhood, so tensions are high. Sydney gets rescued because the guys beating him up see someone approaching in the alley, think it’s the ripper, and run for it. The dreamscapes mentioned in the plot summary are delightfully bizarre, and I really hope there are more coming in acts two and three. All of the characters are really memorable, and I can’t wait to see what else they have in store – I loved feeling like I was building relationships and strengthening pre-existing ones (Cedric is awesome!).
A note about the portrayal of the prostitutes: Sydney is nothing but respectful to them. He even apologizes for making a joke to one about her profession and says that it was ungentlemanly of him to do that. He gets along with them throughout the game and wants to help them out – and they help him out a lot too. Anyone who doesn’t respect them is portrayed as in the wrong. I thought this was awesome.
Graphics and Sound
The game has no voice acting, which reminded me of early LucasArts games – it’s not a detriment. There are a few typos here and there, but the developer is patching often, so I’m sure these will be cleaned up soon, and there’s nothing super distracting. The soundtrack is super varied – there’s piano, violins, and even jazzy tracks. I liked it so much that I ended up grabbing it from Bandcamp. The sound design in general is really great – stairs are creaky, you can hear trains in the distance, and a lot of other small touches that make the world feel real and lived in (another thing that adds to this lived-in feeling is the stories the bartender tells if you ask him for gossip – nothing you can investigate, at least not yet, but it’s stuff that makes it feel like a real town with goings-on independent of the player).
The graphics are really excellent, especially if you’re a fan of pixel art like I am. The opening sequence in particular (seen above) is gorgeous – there’s even rippling water. There are parts where the staging is particularly film-like, which I thought was really cool – internal thoughts are presented like silent movie title cards, and there’s even a few transition wipes, which delighted me. There’s a parallax effect at work in some scenes, and sometimes there’s even things hanging on the fourth wall (like a bathroom mirror). There are small details that I really appreciated too, like a cigarette being put out and the ember fading, and your map getting raindrops on it while it’s raining. The map also has tiny birds flying over it! It’s a good map. The lighting design is excellent as well.
If you’ve played an adventure game before, you’ll be right at home here. Right click looks at items and left click interacts with them. If you get stuck, you can take a peek in Sydney’s journal, which collects important papers along with a hint button. The puzzles, however, are quite logical, and I only got stuck once (and only because I hadn’t noticed that I could pick something up). There’s a great bit where Sydney gets drunk, the interface skews visually, and he reacts much differently to everything. Exploring is fun and feels natural, and I really loved that I could pick up items before I knew I needed to use them somewhere (this prevents backtracking). It took me three hours to finish.
The Slaughter: Act One is a super impressive adventure game debut for Alex Francois – especially considering that every bit of the game was created by just one person. He’s very talented, the game was fantastic, and I can’t wait for act two!
You can get The Slaughter: Act One for $8.99 on Steam, and for two dollars more you can get it with the soundtrack. You can also get it from Humble on the official website. Follow Alex on Twitter and subscribe on YouTube. The game will be coming to Mac and iOS in the future.
[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]