In The Initiate, your wits will be tested as you try to solve puzzle after puzzle, sometimes not in the order you originally thought, as you try to figure out what in the blazes is going on. Using your inventory and memory, figure out why you have been chosen to undergo these trials, as they are called. Deceptive Games have delivered a surprisingly good game in a genre that doesn't get much credit or fanfare these days. Are you up to the call?
The Initiate can be purchased on Steam for $14.99.
You play as Nathan Rockford who, for reasons unknown, has been captured and released into a house full of daunting puzzles. You wake to a speaker blaring a cryptic voice welcoming you to your temporary new home and encourages you to solve his trials. Along the way, you will find out more about your own lost memories, the others that came before you, and about those who watch your every move. I don't want to get too much into detail, but you are at the hands of a group that rhymes with bolt. I was honestly not expecting much of a story to this game but was pleasantly surprised by how well it was told through the short ramblings of the voice and the notes you found throughout the house.
It has been a long time since I have played a puzzle based game that I didn't find easy. Don't get me wrong, it is not a genre that I go looking for, but have played my fair share. Not only were they well thought out, but numerous times I obsessed over things I was certain I would need, but ended up being for a later puzzle. At times, I had three or four different ones that I had to try to manage, remember where something went, or which room I saw that one little thing that I needed. The warning at the beginning to pay attention to everything is definitely warranted, and if it hadn't been for the wife and viewers helping me, I might still be stuck. I even solved a few puzzles by pure luck and would never be able to repeat them at will.
Probably my absolute favorite part was finding clues or combinations to things that I never found in the game. When I beat the game, which took about four hours, I felt satisfied and was left in a slight stupor. I try to work out my gray matter as much as I can, but The Initiate really threw me for a loop.
The description found on Steam states that 60% of items can be interacted with and I found this to be pretty accurate. There were times where I really wanted to pick something up but was unable to, yet the small vase next to it could be. Most of what you can inspect is useless and just adds to the frustration and anticipation of the game. Stuck on a puzzle, I repeatedly went back to anything I could inspect, sure there was something I had missed. I feel Deceptive Games struck a perfect balance of giving you plenty of toys to play with, yet not so much that you spend the majority of your time pointlessly spinning things around. This extends to the items you do actually need, as there were times I passed a picture frame and wasted a few minutes having to go back to an area numerous times until I picked the right one up.
I had never had any personal experience with an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) before this, but I was aware of what they were. Once you finish the game, you will be given a code and a website to visit. Once there, you will be given the option to partake in this game mode that the devs have cleverly put together. For anyone who isn't in the know, you have to use any and all resources you can think of to solve puzzles, riddles, or clues to progress through the game. This includes, but not limited to; Reddit, Google, Photoshop, WinZip, pop culture, or anything else the devs decide to use. Before, I was left bewildered when I read stories of people spending days, weeks, or months tracking down clue after clue, attempting to find out cryptic messages left on forums. After trying my hand though, I have an admiration for those who do this challenging contest all the time and have to admit it is rather addicting.
As an example, one hint was a message typed in the font WingDings. What the message said didn't matter, because it was actually an image, or a .bmp file, that you had to download and open in a text editor. First of all, I had no idea you could actually do this, much less use the random stuff there to figure anything out. Ended up that I had to turn that .bmp file into a different file type, which would give you an entirely different image. Then you had to use that new image to continue tracking down the solution. Something that I really liked about this particular ARG was that it still incorporated the game. Remember those clues which I found but didn't know what they were for? Well, they ended up being for the ARG and luckily for me, I nailed these ones rather quickly, and without help, I might add, as I had obsessed over these "random" clues. Just don't expect to beat all these extra puzzles in a short amount of time, as I had considerable help from those who had already figured them out. For research!
When I first read that this was primarily a puzzle game, I was not expecting high-quality textures or finely detailed items littering the world. These are just things you don't associate with this type of game, at least the ones I usually see or play. The artwork on the walls and framed pictures actually looked like something I would have laying around the house. Picking up items gives you a well-represented 3d model that you can rotate and flip so you can check for clues that might be hidden on or in them. The only lackluster part was the underground portion, but since you spend so little time there, I didn't mind the lack of fidelity in the rocks as there is everywhere else.
This is where the game gets its "Horror" tag, although it was more creepy sounds and the anticipation that something might jump out at you. Sadly, I was let down about that last part, but the sounds overall were superb. Creaks and groans sounded like someone was stalking you from above, while scratching and thunderous rumbling caused me to hold my breath on occasion. The voice acting, as little as there was, only added to the creepiness of the ambient noises.
However, the biggest knocks I have to give this game are the brain melting bass and lack of sound options. Upon loading up, without any adjustments, I couldn't keep my headphones on more than ten seconds before I couldn't handle it anymore. I had to go into my Volume Mixer in Windows to turn down the game. Turning it down to where the bass no longer bothered me, I found the voices in the game were almost non-existent. I settled for something that allowed the best of both worlds, but by the end of the playthrough, it had literally given me a headache. Please please please, for the love of all that you hold dear, put audio options in your games. I very nearly turned this game off before I made it out of the first room.
At first, the game ran perfectly and I was perhaps overly optimistic that I had found another indie game without performance issues. Unfortunately, after the first twenty minutes, I suffered major fps drops to the point the game appeared to freeze for a few seconds at a time. As the game progressed, this only became worse and even restarting the game didn't help. While I was streaming at the same time, I shouldn't have had any issues as more intense games run flawlessly. I still had this issue upon further testing, without streaming. Turning off a lot of the prettier options and reducing the texture quality did help, but shouldn't have been needed to have a smooth experience. Running an i7-6700k and GTX 970 is more than enough power for this title.
The Initiate suffers some hiccups that small developers are still plagued with today like massive fps drops and sounds being unbalanced. However, if you can tweak some graphical settings and manage to turn the volume down enough to not make your ears bleed, you will find a very rewarding puzzle game with an excellent ambiance. While the game is short, the additional ARG elements will add hours, perhaps even days, onto your game experience if you want the extra challenge. With continued support and more ARG hints coming at the end of September, this is a game that I will definitely be keeping a close eye on. Bravo Deceptive Games. Bravo.
|+ Well detailed items and textures||– Severe fps drops throughout playthrough|
|+ Incredible ambient sounds||– Lack of sound options/overbearing bass|
|+ Complex puzzles and clues|
|+ Additional ARG extends content|