I’ve been playing a lot of retro games lately and there’s something especially haunted about old PlayStation games that high definition graphics can’t recreate. That’s why I’m always thrilled to see horror games in PS1 style, and The Tartarus Key does an incredible job of recreating the visual aesthetics from the fifth console generation–but it’s not a very scary game.
The Tartarus Key is a first person puzzle game. While it pays heavy homage to Resident Evil visually and with some elements of the setting, it’s not a survival horror game at all. There are no enemies to fight in The Tartarus Key, just a series of puzzles to solve. That’s not to say that there aren’t any stakes, because the characters you meet will often live or die based on your ability to correctly solve whatever puzzle is threatening them. The Tartarus Key does a great job creating a retro horror atmosphere, but I’d say it’s more relaxing than it is horrifying.
As with all puzzle games, your mileage may vary. You might be great at a particular type of puzzle while failing at another. The Tartarus Key has a range of puzzle types, so there are probably at least one or two puzzles here that you might find to be headscratchers, despite your puzzle prowess. However, each puzzle in The Tartarus Key is self contained, meaning you won’t have to carry one item from one room to be used in another. In fact, you can’t take inventory items out of a specific puzzle room, with your inventory changing based on what room you’re in. This actually reduces the potential difficulty for The Tartarus Key a ton as you don’t have to run back and forth between puzzles trying to find a solution.
Despite its horror look, even the dialogue and interactions in The Tartarus Key aren’t geared towards horror. In fact, a lot of the dialogue between characters is full of quips and jokes. It’s the main character’s way of dealing with the stressful situation, but a lot of the humor didn’t land for me. The characters aren’t entirely unlikeable, but the stakes were so low that I found myself skipping through conversations so I could get to the next puzzle as quickly as possible.
I really enjoyed the time I spent with The Tartarus Key, but I do have a heavy bias towards puzzle games already. Despite its horror themes, The Tartarus Key is an atmospheric, but non-scary puzzle game. The types of puzzles I found through The Tartarus Key were very similar to those I found in community rooms for Escape Simulator–which is a great thing, because I spent a long time going through Escape Simulator community rooms. Unlike Escape Simulator there isn’t a workshop and you can’t play online with friends in The Tartarus Key. However, I did enjoy The Tartarus Key for its absolutely fantastic retro aesthetic and atmosphere.
A Steam Key was provided to us for this review.