Unholy is an upcoming horror adventure that plays with the biggest fear of every parent – the tragic loss of a child. Main character Dorothea Linde is going through this painful experience, and in a moment of weakness decided to accept the help of a stranger who offered a glimpse of hope, no matter how twisted and farfetched the process may be. This is the premise for a journey where grief and outright horror come together, merging in a way that may recall other hits such as Silent Hill 2 or Layers of Fear.
Two Sides to Every Reality
The brief hands-on demo that we could try shows that Unholy is a game with tremendous potential, but also left us wondering how some of the more advanced mechanics will work in the final version. When the focus is on slow-paced exploration and world building, the atmosphere is fantastic, with great care put into the locations, but there’s more than that.
Our family’s house, one of the first places we get to visit in this post-soviet Eastern European town, is still filled with memories of our son, Gabriel, but the first thing that catches the eye is the painstaking detail to the environment, with buildings as high as the eyes can see, and a remarkable feeling that we are indeed walking around in this neighborhood. Kids are having fun and telling jokes in the playground, a couple of mothers notice our presence and discreetly chat about the tragedy that took our son, one of them even going to the extent of asking the other one if we are still standing behind them. It’s all scripted, the sense of scope may be nothing more than a façade, but the effect works wonderfully in terms of mood and immersion.
While in the apartment, following the clues to discover your father’s journal, the superbly rendered rooms are filled to the brim with items, in a somewhat messy condition that is the more realistic for that. You can take a breather to turn on the television, play a record, or drink a glass or two of what I assume is vodka, but I’m not making any bets here. The house is small but cozy, but when you enter the limbo reality called in-between, everything becomes drenched in a blue tint, the record music becomes agonizingly creepy, and the television even goes The Ring on you. The atmosphere of dread is unsettling and it’s only just beginning.
Just like the best horror movies about supernatural children, Unholy throws various visions of Gabriel at us, fueling our curiosity for the unknown and revealing the reasons for the tragedy one crumb at a time. The plot keeps things under secrecy and gives us a few hints here and there, allowing us to make sense of the events as we go.
Playing with Emotions
Stepping into the unholy world, which is in fact the third plane that Dorothea gets to explore, opens other kinds of gameplay that we’re yet to fully experience without any constraints. This is the time for stealth and some shooting with Gabriel’s now-ethereal sling, emotions acting as your means to create various dynamics, from damaging enemies to solving environmental puzzles: anger, fear, sadness, and desire.
There is another system at work in this place: masks. Everyone in this place wears a mask and this is your cue to impersonate opponents, Hitman style. Masks also come with abilities and it’s up to you to unlock new ones and create a powerful build.
The real-life sections are spine-chilling and immersive in their own slow-paced way, the in-between may be the catalyst for a few unwarranted underwear changes in a Stranger Things upside-down kind of way, and the unholy world is a dreamscape of slithering tree branches and frozen entities where you may or may not find Gabriel… or whatever else there is in store for you.
Unholy is shaping up to be a very exciting journey with equal portions of psychological horror and jumpscares, and I’m eager to partake in Dorothea’s quest when the game releases later this year. I’m a sucker for a chill down my spine, and everyone knows that no one delivers it better than ghost kids and alternate dimensions.
MP1st was given access to a preview build of Unholy for our hands-on session. Unholy is set to release later this year on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series S/X.