Few things beat a good horror title. Not in the sense that they have to be frightening or tackle taboo themes, but rather due to how dark and surreal they can be. This setting has the potential to convey bizarre and intriguing creativity, which I often find to happen within the puzzle genre. Phantasmagoria 2, Gabriel Knight, and Fran Bow are only some examples of such beautiful imaginative works, and I wonder if that has to do with the ability to slow down and take in the environments. This is why I jumped day one on Creaks and brought my sister along for a nice and spooky eve together. Just to find ourselves more bored than anything else.
Symbolism cannot carry a story
It is hard to really talk about any plot here, as it is barely present. The game starts with the protagonist simply sitting by his desk when the light flickers. As he is attempting to fix it, he discovers a secret tunnel that leads to a strange construction that is made out of various junk you would see in an old attic or basement. From here, the unnamed hero decides to explore this world and soon after stumbles upon an anthropomorphic bird who tries to fend off a giant monster destroying their home.
This is the overall premise and the story regrettably does not evolve much beyond you trying to take down this colossus. It might sound like it is not even a focus, but Creaks provides constant encounters to indicate what your key goal is, but with no interesting events. Roughly half of the journey revolves around locating the right book for example, with every scene being solely about how you are always so close to reaching it.
Although, it is here where you will notice how much symbolism takes place in this tale. Rooms are made out of strange tools such as skis or clothes, and the monsters turn into everyday objects like chairs or drawers whenever they are entering illuminative rays. There is a neat take on how things are different in the dark versus in the light, but it is never analysed for intriguing insights or theories, making this a lacklustre setup.
Because of this, I felt there was always something more the developers wanted to do with this idea, but never got to. What is here does provide a lovely atmosphere and the characters you meet are charming and personal, but since none of these themes is elaborated upon for further discussions, it all becomes underwhelming. This universe is definitely fascinating, but unfortunately without much substance.
Story Score: 3/10
Dearth of variety
Going deeper inside this strange underground world, Creaks takes on the linear side-scrolling puzzler genre where the protagonist cannot do much besides interacting with things, jumping over gaps, and climbing specific objects. Simple concepts like these make the game focused on having you study the stages’ designs since it is mainly about how well you can decipher the environments for progression and not so much about your acrobatic strengths.
Oddly enough, this is where this title both shines and fails. Each room is presented as an individual puzzle where you need to reach the exit, with creatures known as Creaks being placed around. They come in a diverse manner, such as the charging dogs or the nonchalant jellyfish. Yet all of them are used for solving predicaments, as they will turn into different types of furniture when light hits them and thus can do menial tasks like holding down buttons or being used as a staircase. The mechanic of changing the layouts is always interesting and functions greatly alongside this, with the autosaving and ability to zoom in and out being welcoming additions.
What is then a terrible shame, is how this adventure quickly becomes repetitive. A big reason for this is that the varied foes are rarely used simultaneously for a solution, making their concept dragged out and almost feel like tedious context-sensitive moments. This breaks my heart to say, as the challenge can be solid. Regrettably, with how often you see the same setups being reused and some stages taking a good amount of time to get done, the playthrough can be truly tiresome and dull.
I do admire this use of pareidolia, but it is not enough alone to make it engaging. For a journey that barely lasts three hours, it felt much longer because of how redundant and prolonged the brain teasers became. This also hurts the overall difficulty, as some parts can be overly simple due to how many similarities you draw to a previous room, to the point where I swear some layouts are the same. Even with its highlights, the downs are too severe to be overlooked.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
Surreal, crocked, and cute horror
Creak’s hand-drawn art is simply gorgeous. With its shaded pencil strokes and intriguing designs where everything is curved and rough around the edges, you can really tell that a lot of work was put into this. All of this is made more impressive by the smooth animations, almost making the characters feel like puppets coming to life with tons of expressions to them. I even enjoy how the protagonist will scratch his head when interacting with something he cannot influence, signifying confusion.
Every area is made out of strange everyday objects, such as windows covered with kitchen tools or a single background dedicated to a ginormous organ. This is a bizarre ecosystem that is as interesting as it is diverse, with the outside being hollow and foreboding. Frankly, it is bewitching how colourful and creative horror can be while the main theme ties it all together, just like here. Even the rocks have surreal look to them, which is remarkable attention to detail.
Unfortunately, while the enemies are imaginative too, they are not varied enough to be memorable and become reused to a fault. I will also add that the styles of the optional pictures to analyse are all over the place. Admittedly though, I have no idea if this was meant as a commentary on art or just an experimental choice, and they are at least fascinating elements. However, they break the immersion whenever present due to not fitting in with the visuals in general.
Then we have the audio and it is superb. Every single sound has an echo to them, adding to the atmosphere of being in a claustrophobic tunnel, with all the environmental effects being iconic and adding to this grim ambience. The subtle implementations, such as how the xylophone bridge makes clings when you step on it, are also commendable. In other words; a fine set of headphones is recommended for the best experience.
Yet, the crowning achievement of this project is its strange music. Containing anything from harsh industrial to a gentle piano, this is a solace soundtrack that differs in tone depending on your location and the events constantly. Every melody is hypnotic and mysterious with fantastic rhythm and notes to them, making it a diverse and surreal set of compositions that are beautifully used to strengthen any setting this adventure brings. Honestly a masterpiece on its own.
Presentation Score: 8.5/10
Within each level, are secret rooms that I never understood truly what their purpose was. They seem hidden without providing anything substantial to you, which I could say similarly about the pictures scattered around. These can at least be activated for some minor motions and some also provide small minigames. Although, they come and go so quickly, that they leave no impact. If they added more to the plot or setting it would have been nice, but no such luck. They are not even challenging to find.
Extra Score: 2/10
I hate how frustratingly torn I am on Creaks, as it has mesmerizing visuals, an intriguing theming, solid puzzles, and a phenomenal soundtrack! Nevertheless, the repetition, poor utilization of variety, lack of depth to its tale, and shallow exploration, make this title feel unfocused and become hard to enjoy despite how great the overall concepts are initially. Like a shimmer of light in the darkness; I can see some good things here, but vaguely so.