“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!” – William Golding
Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness is a point-and-click-style survival horror puzzle game that tells a chilling story of a former clown being reunited with his old circus colleagues and friends.
Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness follows Oliver Mills, a former clown who has spent the majority of the last eight years in an asylum. He worked at Vlad Circus before it was burned to the ground in 1921 by the owner Vlad Petrecu’s brother Josef who was later sentenced to death by electrocution. The game centres around a reunion organised by Vlad with the aim of getting the troupe back together but the reminders of the past trigger something in Oliver and sinister hallucinations begin to appear.
The narrative is intriguing right from the start and full of mysteries and twists. It is told largely through conversations, monologues, a journal and environmental storytelling. The descriptions are detailed and often disturbing and the dialogue is believable and varied, giving a good indication of the different characters’ personalities and pasts. The cast of eclectic characters includes a bearded lady, a psychiatrist, former contortionist conjoined twins and a monkey! Each NPC has their own back-story which is revealed through the gameplay adding an extra layer to the narrative and increasing the player’s sense of immersion.
Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness takes its gameplay from a range of genres. Despite being best played with a controller, its puzzle aspects play much like a point-and-click game with a lot of inventory-based conundrums. Objectives include things such as finding keys, fetching a medicinal tea or a pregnant lady and making a stew. The puzzle solutions, whilst sometimes tricky, are very logical and incredibly satisfying to solve.
Typical of any survival game, inventory space is quite limited. However, it is possible to extend one’s inventory by finding empty bags and any dropped items, along with their locations are listed in a journal which also contains a map, a well-written and highly descriptive account of the story so far, as well as a list of objectives. Resources must also be managed, meaning that the lamp must be refuelled with kerosene, the bladed weapon must be sharpened and the guns need ammo.
The game has two difficulty settings, story and challenge with danger coming in the form of sinister hallucinations that attack Oliver, and rats, lots of rats! In story mode, combat is sporadic and not too demanding. Being around hallucinations and taking ‘damage’ results in Oliver’s stress levels rising, but he can be calmed by taking a moment to pray on a rosary that he carries.
Set primarily in Vlad Petrescu’s mansion, Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness is depicted in intricate 2D pixel art in muted colour palettes. The game makes use of atmospheric lighting and features more detailed portraits during dialogue. Eerie piano music plays unintrusively in the background as Oliver explores while low droning sounds repeatedly build to a crescendo adding drama and a sense of impending doom. The soundtrack really helps to bring the different scenarios to life especially when teamed with immersive and often startling sound effects. The overall aesthetic is very creepy, with some disturbing and visceral images and descriptions that start to appear quite early on in the experience creating a foreboding atmosphere.
Vlad Circus, Descend into Madness is a fantastic game that will take 4-6 hours to play. It features the best elements from a range of game genres and blends them seamlessly to create a unique and atmospheric experience. Horror is delivered through creepy narrative elements, disturbing hallucinations, visceral imagery and the occasional, well-implemented jump scare. The story is engaging and intriguing, keeping the player on their toes with unexpected twists and turns. The wonderful pixel art does a great job of depicting the story and interesting characters and the sound design is immersive and helps build tension. Overall, this is a brilliant example of a light survival horror as well as point-and-click style gameplay and an extensive narrative. It will appeal to a wide range of players and I highly recommend it.
Looking for more horror games? You might like these reviews:
Midnight Scenes – 4 Short Horror Games by Octavi Navarro – Martha is Dead – Disturbing New Psychological Horror – Sunshine Manor: A Bloody New 8-Bit Horror RPG