Earlier in 2023, it was announced that Atari was reviving the series that many consider to be the very first survival horror video game, Haunted House, originally released in 1982.
The series has come back several times over the years since it’s original release, with four new entries being released before we arrived at this new one for 2023, but after getting to play the game at PAX West earlier this year, it was clear that this would be on a different level than all of the previous attempts to revive the series.
The premise of this Haunted House is essentially an isometric stealth horror game with a lot of fun mechanics and rogue-lite elements that make certain levels and item placements randomized to a mild extent, and after fully finishing the game, we can see if it fully lives up to what it promised and if the whole game holds up as well as the beta version we got to play at PAX a few months ago.
There is a light story to the game that lands very close to the original Haunted House, but with a little more character being put in, since you play as Lyn, the niece of Zachary Graves, whose mansion you also also explored in the previous games. Lyn comes to the mansion with four of her young friends to find out what happened to her uncle and find out why she hasn’t heard from him in so long.
The characters and art style here are a great balance between being cute and fun, but not going too far into looking wholly cartoonish or devoid of detail in their design, and everything in the game is fun to look at in general. The story does progress as you get closer to finding your uncle, and you also end up having to collect pieces of a broken urn to complete the main objectives, just like you did in the original Haunted House. Along the way, there’s a few twists and turns that will change your objectives and surprise you along the way, which tends to just lead to an extension of how much you still have to complete, but it all flows pretty well and has a satisfying ending.
The enemy designs and abilities are also a great balance where they’re creepy enough to feel threatening and make you uncomfortable, but still a bit cutesy to a certain extent, and it strikes a nice balance and makes all of them feel like a genuine threat if your stealth is broken.
Moving on to the gameplay, that’s where this game really shines, with the stealth elements and all its mechanics leading to fun gameplay that also doesn’t go too far down the route of randomization like some rogue-type games do. You’ll need to use your lantern as well as many different items to complete all your objectives, with several different enemy types that all have different abilities, vision cones, and hearing levels which require you to use different strategies to avoid or get rid of them.
You’ll be able to avoid most of them by sneaking, which requires the lantern to be turned off and to walk much slower than usual, but you can also walk or run, creating various levels of noise that can alert nearby enemies, but you also have the ability to do a stealth takedown and eliminate most enemies by sneaking up right behind them and blasting them away with your lantern. This adds a great level of variety and challenge to the gameplay, as many enemy placements are set up in a way that it’s impossible to sneak up on them, and tracking each enemy’s patrol is vital to being able to sneak up on them, if that’s the route you choose to go with.
The items you obtain can do anything from distract the enemies, make your walking silent, and heal you, among other things, and they end up being the key to success in certain areas and again certain enemy types. All of these elements come together to make an experience that stays fulfilling, challenging, and fun throughout as you rush to complete the game’s three main mansion wings and all the secrets that lie within.
As you progress through the game, you also have the opportunity to unlock new characters that all have different base stats that you can use to better suit your gameplay style, and you can also upgrade each character by collecting upgrade points and choosing what you want to upgrade. There’s a lot of room for customization, and these upgrades become quite necessary as you get into the later levels of the game, which ratchet up the difficulty of your runs quite a bit, but it all feels satisfying to finally upgrade something that can help you clear the wing you’re currently on.
There’s also a handful of collectible items that give you extra items and upgrade points, which are a nice touch, but they are fairly few and far between, and are also randomized along with the level layouts, so we didn’t come across too many on a normal playthrough of the full game.
As you get towards what appears to be the end of the game, you’ll run into some unfortunate difficulty spikes that escalate very quickly and suddenly, as well as what feels like a cheap way to extend the gameplay further by making you replay the same wing of the house more than once, but also offering no checkpoints or ability to prepare yourself for this unexpected extra two stages of the game that appear right at the end.
It made the progression slow down to a point where grinding for upgrades became necessary, which hadn’t happened in the game up to that point at all, and although it did add some extra challenge overall, it did get frustrating and feel a little bit like a lazy way to pad out the gameplay.
This doesn’t break the game, but it may leave many players a bit frustrated towards the end and breaks what was otherwise a swift and satisfying journey through the mansion up until that point.
The game looks and runs very well on the console version we were able to test, and this seems to be the case across many platforms, as far as we’ve seen from other reports. The controls feel great and very accurate throughout, making the gameplay that much more satisfying and fun to play.
From a technical standpoint, there were a good handful of bugs when the game first launched, but many of these have been patched since the launch, making the experience more smooth in general. There were some bugs of getting stuck in walls or thrust into a scenario where enemies were automatically alerted and locked on to you before you even walk in the room, among a few other things that tended to just require a restart of your current run. How much these bugs would affect your progress varied on several factors, but they’re still frustrating when you encounter them.
Overall, the value this game provides for its relatively low cost of entry is extremely worthwhile, with somewhere around 6-8 hours of gameplay to get through the main game, with certainly a lot more left to do after finishing the main story, if you want to get all the upgrades and collectibles.
Haunted House 2023 shows a lot of love for Atari’s history and legacy while also being one of the best games they’ve released in modern times. It’s easily the best Haunted House game to ever hit the market, and it’s available to play on all modern platforms. We highly recommend it to anyone looking for some spooky fun over the holidays this year.
(8.5 / 10)
A review code for the Xbox Series platform was provided by the publisher