Hands-on Preview from PAX West: Atari’s Haunted House 2023

haunted house

This year at the PAX West gaming expo, there felt to be a general shift in most of the games being showcased, moving towards games that fall within a few specific categories or genres, and a noticeable decline in horror gaming content.

Maybe it was just an off-year in this regard, or perhaps there’s an ongoing attempt to make the event more family-friendly as some have suggested, but there were still a few nuggets of upcoming horror experiences featured there, including the time we got to spend playing the new re-imagining of Atari’s classic Haunted House and chatting with the producer of the game.

In the more than forty years since the release of the original Haunted House, the series has had three different reboots and re-imaginings already, making this new game in 2023 the fifth entry in the series. The original Haunted House is considered by many (myself included) to be the first survival horror video game of all time, and having personally played all the previous attempts to breathe new life into the franchise, I have to say this new rogue-lite stealth-based approach for 2023 feels like the best one to date.

The game feels like a great combination of a 2D isometric stealth game combined with a little bit of Capcom’s Sweet Home, a touch of Luigi’s Mansion or Grabbed by the Ghoulies, and some fun, lightly randomized mechanics and puzzles/objectives. All this mixes together into a package with a fun hand-drawn art style that aims more towards being spooky or creepy rather than full-on horror aesthetics, and it feels like something unique in the current stealth horror gaming market.

In the time we got to play, the stealth mechanics were tense and lots of fun, and as you progress, you rescue your kidnapped friends, who become playable characters, all with different strengths or abilities, giving some extra variety to the gameplay overall. There are also boss battles at the end of each of the four major areas that will test your skills and allow you to proceed to the next area, giving some extra variety to the gameplay and progression overall.

While making your way through the game, you’ll also be able to obtain some upgrades that are more permanent and will stay with you on all subsequent runs, as well as some upgrades that will only last through the current room you’re in or the end of your current run, as many rogue-lites do. It still maintains some of the core ideas behind the original game while updating it to account for what players will expect from a modern gaming experience, and it’s already feeling like a success on that front.

haunted house

The items and abilities of your character contain many options to distract or temporarily disable your enemies, with the only permanent way to get rid of your enemies being a true stealth knockout by sneaking right up behind them, which can be much trickier than you might expect. All enemies have visible vision cones attached to them as they move around, which help you navigate around them to plan your best strategy for each room, choosing to avoid or take out enemies while also accomplishing whatever the current room’s objective is.

There’s also no radar to help you see the layout of the rooms or enemies, so all stealth and exploration is done in real-time using various indicators and putting yourself into potentially dangerous situations. The room objectives needed to progress will vary from item collection, activating certain beacons, and several other types of objectives, which will be randomized for each room. This keeps things fresh and challenging, and doesn’t allow you to just simply memorize patterns and layouts on repeat playthroughs.

The rooms will also be full of traps and obstacles along the way, on top of the randomized enemy and objective placement, and you’ll even need to watch how closely you walk around tables, chairs, vases, or other objects that can create noise, as they’ll ruin your stealth and get you spotted by enemies very quickly.

haunted house

There’s a number of easter eggs that reference the history of Atari and its games, as well as the narrative story being related to the story of the previous Haunted House games, just for a few extra touches to tie it to the franchise as a whole. From our conversation at the show, the publisher is aiming for a release on all modern platforms (PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC) as well as Atari’s own VCS console later this year if all goes well, and we’re definitely anticipating more news from this title as soon as we can get it.

You can watch the Haunted House reveal trailer below if you haven’t seen it yet.

Stay tuned for more info and impressions on the game as we near the release later this year and we can get our hands on the full version.

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