Fair warning, I can’t review this one without spoiling the biggest, most compelling part of it. So if you want to play without spoilers, after upvoting this article, click here to download the game and don’t read any further. Git. Git from here! Alright, everybody averse to spoilers gone? Good.
Calm Time is a pixelated first person horror game in the time honored tradition of indie horror classics like Imscared and I See You. It’s sort of a lazy style but the minimalism invites your imagination to fill in the blanks, a tactic often employed to great effect in horror games and films.
The setting is a dinner party you’ve thrown at your lavish country home. Many friends and acquaintances are in attendance, and you’re able to make pleasant chitchat with each of them. Eventually you discover a guest needs your help in the kitchen. This is where, for no apparent reason, the game requires you to stab her to death.
No motive is ever supplied. You just cannot proceed without killing her. She screams, alerting all of the other guests, who then flee this way and that. There is no other way to advance the game narrative except to chase after them one by one and stab them to death.
It’s very jarring to be in the shoes of the murderer, who suddenly lost his mind. Or perhaps he has motives that are simply never revealed to the player? Anyway it never actually forces you to kill anybody, you just have to do it or the game doesn’t progress. It’s pretty fucked up.
They don’t just die in one hit either. They limp around bleeding, screaming for help, begging you not to finish it. This belabored realistic death aspect makes it all the more distressing. In particular because many of them go to great lengths to find hiding places, and you must ferret them out.
It subtly shapes your mindset into a sinister, predatory one as you play. A game of cat and mouse. Though you’re initially an unwilling participant along for the ride, soon enough you get into it, trying to work out where someone would most likely hide if they were trying to evade your notice. All the while, the tone of the game is deceptively placid and soothing, as if your character doesn’t fully realize the gravity of what he’s doing.
But there is someone who notices what you’re doing, and doesn’t approve. The ghost of a woman you later discover you kept chained up in the basement until she died. Your first victim perhaps, determined to stop you from victimizing others. She appears unexpectedly here and there. Standing there, silently judging.
I’m still unsure what to make of Calm Time. The narrative twist that you, yourself, are the monster is overdone but so wonderfully executed here that I am hard pressed to care. The horror comes from knowing what you have to do and forcing yourself to go through with it to reach the end of the narrative.
It’s really something else. I can’t say I “enjoyed” it. But then, it’s horror. You’re not supposed to. It left me feeling guilty and hollow, wishing there was something I could have done to self-sabotage. Wishing that ghost girl could have stopped me sooner. If only. If only.
Art is not just what is beautiful, but whatever provokes the intended reaction. In this case I regard Calm Time as a complete success. It won’t tax your GPU or win any industry awards, but if you’re like me, it will inspire more than a few feverish nightmares. I give Calm Time a 9/10. As indie horror goes, it’s among the very best.
All images courtesy of GoosEntertainment.