A horror trilobite- The Uninvited, Macventure series
If Alone in the Dark is the grandfather of modern survival horror, then The Uninvited would be AITD’s grandfather. Developed in 1986(a full 6 years before AITD) by Mindscape for MAC and ported to MS-DOS Apple II and NES later. It is a first-person perspective horror game, as opposed to side-scrolling that were popular among most point and clicks at the time. The Uninvited is one of the earliest examples of horror games that lacked any kind of arcade power fantasy that characterized most other examples of retro-horror games. I got it on Steam and it came with both the original black and white MAC release and the colored Apple II. As far as I know, those are the only two differences. You are an unnamed protagonist who gets into a car crash in front of a derelict mansion. You awaken to find your car on fire and your little brother missing, you get out of the car and into the house in the hopes of dining your sibling. That is the entirety of the plot as it directly concerns you. You do get indirectly caught up in a larger story about two warlocks, but it is never elaborated on too much and mostly serves as a reason for all the ghoulishness of the mansion the grounds it takes place on. Being an adventure game in the 80’s this game is fucking brutal and will kill you endlessly in incredibly contrived with little provocation. You can actually die seconds after the game begins if you do not immediately escape your burning car. Most of the death’s themselves are fun with some unsettling imagery and interesting text to accompany it.
The Uninvited also has a sort of timer in the background that slowly counts down over the course of the game. You are made aware of it when your protagonist makes increasingly desperate observations about evil seeping into his soul. This is not scripted and is constantly running and if you do not complete the game fast enough, you will become possessed and get a game over state. While obviously frustrating, it does add a nice bit of creeping tension and if you know what you are doing it should not bother you to much. I put a lot of emphasis on IF because this game has a couple dozen puzzles and all of them are completely lacking any kind of terrestrial logic. This is an adventure game from the 80’s so that is not too surprising. Seriously this game has the most mind-fuckingly absurd puzzle solutions I have ever seen. I will give you one example. In the kitchen there is an imp with a key that will quickly scroll across the screen. In order to get the key, you need to smash a cookie jar, take the cookie and set it on the kitchen floor so the imp stops to eat the cookie. To smash the cookie jar you need a battleax. To get the battle ax you need to solve a puzzle distracting a hell-hound to get inside a building regarding ds;goirhjaerlgfdjh[eroigasd;lfgkjrteoisgh. It just keeps folding inwards on itself for what feels like an eternity. While most of the puzzles are not that elaborate, they all follow that same kind of splatter-shot mad-libs style of random madness.
Due to the timer, the longer you take to complete the puzzles, the less likely you are to beat the game before being completely possessed. In fact, if you don’t have the puzzles memorized and more or less know exactly what to do, you will run out of time. This is a game that is meant to played until you die, memorizing and writing down puzzle solutions along the way, until you have the whole thing down to an art then run through and complete the game. OR, you can be like me and skip that first chunk and just look up a walkthrough.
…These old adventure games were fucking insane and I have no regrets using a walkthrough.
Despite all of this, I truly enjoyed The Uninvited. I find it charming, compelling and downright creepy. Being in the first person helps give a greater sense of immersion than the kind of perspective you would see in a Sierra adventure game. The artwork is well done and shows off quite a bit of detail, especially for a computer game from the mid 80’s. There is no soundtrack, but it has a nice assortment of sounds for various moments that add to the atmosphere. Apart from fiendish things that want to kill you and the cookie key demon mentioned earlier, the game is almost entirely empty. This combined with the lack of music and large non-linear area gives off a real sense of loneliness. I found the UI of The Uninvited particularly charming and was probably my favorite aspect of The Uninvited apart from the art. It is astonishingly customizable, you can change the size of most aspects of it and move it around to align your fung shui. You have an inventory that you can freely move items around with items taking up realistic proportions (a battleax for example takes up more space than a cookie) Most of your interaction is done with mouse clicks aside from a few moments where you need to type in a magic incantation or something similar. You are able to interact, observe, open or use just about anything you come across in the house with varying results. Items can be used on one another or combined to make something else. A lot of the protagonists’ observations are humorous or insightful without being drab descriptions. The game is not above poking fun at you for goofball mistakes either. An example being, you need to click on a door and select open before being able to walk through you will get a text scroll describing you walking into a closed door. The game ends rather abruptly, with you walking into a room to find your little brother possessed, you exorcise the demon and then everything ends happily with the house purified of it’s evil.
Being such an early example of pure horror puzzle solving this game is obviously influential on the genre and a recommended play for people interested in the history of horror games or retro-adventure game aficionados in general. I really, really wanted to like this game more than I did. I feel like the bedrock for a truly solid and great horror adventure game that is held back by conventions of its time. I am referring specifically to the buggery madness of its puzzles. And the maze section, which I almost completely forgot. I think I repressed the existence of it. Seriously fuck mazes. One of the worst things you can add to a video game. A maze in a video game is like a well directed porno that decides to randomly decides it needs to chuck a pie pan full of dog shit at the woman for no discernible reason.
Still, the game can is not very long, with a walkthrough I beat it under an hour. The game can be bought on Steam for 5$ and is remastered to run on modern a OS.