[Disclaimer: indie games that I review are done so differently than larger development team games; “AAA” games. This doesn’t mean I don’t hold them to high standards, but rather, I take into consideration different variables, such as the size of the actual development team, or the type of finances that were available]
I have been very intrigued by the concept behind The Letter. I’m a sucker for horror games, and The Letter fit that mold: a young man wakes up to an empty home, finds a warning letter from his father to not search for him, otherwise the son would not survive. I’ve also been interested to see how the final product of a 3D adventure/horror game would compare to my expectations – produced by a very small group of developers. So, now that the game’s release is upon us, how does Treefall Studios’ title hold up?
Visuals – 6/10
The graphical quality is fairly well done, with decent lighting effects. The game runs smoothly, and there weren’t any bugs/glitches that I could find. The best level, by far, is the “second” level, which is a construction site. Navigating the fairly large area with a flashlight is really well done, and creates an unsettling mood; you’ll come across large metal storage containers with your instructions written on their side, a teddy bear sitting in the middle of an abandoned warehouse, and even a beating heart hidden just out of sight behind a pile of debris. These little touches are well done and add to the experience. However, the first and third level are a little less appealing than the construction site, though they do serve their purpose.
The construction site is fairly large, but I would’ve liked to see a little more. What I did see was well done, and the choice to make the level at night was a very good decision. There was a sense of claustrophobia with the darkness surrounding the player, the only light being the focused area of the flashlight.
Although there weren’t any glitches or bugs that hindered gameplay, there was one glaring technical flaw: the grass. The grass would only load and appear on screen within a small radius of the player, and was very noticeable. For instance, when I was walking through a small area with dead trees amongst dried grass, the trees were preloaded and visible, while the grass was visible for only a small distance, quickly turning into bare earth. Other than these two issues, the game runs smoothly and the visuals are decently crafted.
Audio – 3.5/10
In any horror game, the music and audio cues are extremely important; more so than other games in different genres. Music/audio help to set the tone and create whatever mood or emotion the developer wants the player to feel. The music for the construction site is very well done, with an ambient composition and good blending with gameplay. Though there weren’t any “baddies” in the level and it was solely exploration, I still felt a sense of tension, which was due to the music working alongside the darkness surrounding the player. In addition, the few audio cues found in the level were very well done. [SMALL SPOILER ALERT] An example of this are the few teddy bears strewn around the map. I walked into an abandoned warehouse and right in the middle of the building was a teddy bear sitting on the ground by itself. I, of course, walked up to it to see if I could interact with it and was rewarded with a startling whisper, quietly pleading, “help me.” I was creeped out, and this audio usage was utilized incredibly well.
As good as the music/audio is for the construction site, the other few levels were not nearly up to par. The music set the tone, but it wasn’t the right tone for a game like this; the compositions were something you might find in an action/adventure game during exploration (basically, music that is supposed to fill space in the background). The quality of these compositions were a little subpar as well. I was severely disappointed, especially after seeing what the small dev team was able to pull off for the construction site.
Gameplay – 6/10
The gameplay found in The Letter is actually pretty tight, though it is missing some key features. It is a first person exploration game, so the player uses the left stick to move forward while the right stick is used to look around. The player can also jump and interact with objects in the level by pressing either the B or A buttons, respectively. A very simple, standard affair, but it works just fine. What I didn’t like about the control scheme was that it was inverted when looking around with the right stick. I went to change this, as I don’t prefer that layout, only to find I couldn’t change or adjust the controls in any way. The default control scheme is a preferential issue, so I didn’t factor that in, but I really would’ve enjoyed having the ability to adjust or change the controls.
As for the actual gameplay, it is also very simplistic in nature: find the objects needed to proceed scattered around the map. There aren’t many puzzles and there are no enemies chasing you around, but rather, only simple exploration. I was ok with this, as the construction site was planned out well and I spent the most time playing in this area, finding items and exploring. However, the game is very short, my first play through lasting only about 30 minutes. This fits the $1.99 price tag, but I was a little disappointed with the length. Treefall Studios has promised additional content to come, so that will definitely help.
Entertainment Factor – 5/10
I was fairly entertained with the game, especially on the construction site level. Through its flaws, I enjoyed the feel of the game, and it gave a glimpse into what the studio will be able to do with future titles. There are no online features in the game, nor are there other “modes” to play, and the re-playability is low once the player has finished the short story. Also, there is no usage of the GamePad other than displaying some text at certain moments in the game. I hope to see more level design similar to the construction site in the future with more reason to play it again, as there is still potential to be found in this title.
Overall, my experience with The Letter was right down the middle: not great, and not terrible. The only facet of the game that greatly disappointed me was the music usage, as it didn’t fit the gameplay or the atmosphere of the game itself. What this game effectively does show, however, is that Treefall Studios has great potential to make some really good first person games in the future, and I will be looking forward to those games.
Overall – 5/10