Standard Review: Scratches: Director’s Cut (PC)

Scratches: Director’s Cut is an updated port of an Argentinean point and click horror game, simply titled Scratches, that was originally released in 2006. The Director’s Cut of the game was originally released in 2007 and was released on Steam in 2011, only to later be removed. Looking it up, I was intrigued by what I heard about this game. There was very little that was mentioned about this game beforehand, but pretty much everything I heard was something good. Specifically what I heard that caught my attention was that it was a game that managed to scare people without including a single drop of blood. Yes this game is a T rated horror game, and not only does it have no blood, but there are not even any enemies or ways to die. Despite this, Scratches does an excellent job at building up suspense and being legitimately scary at some points.

Admittedly, I would not say it is the scariest horror game I have played, and I have not even played that many, but it does have a story that is very compelling and suspenseful. Unfortunately it is also pretty slow and takes a while to build up to where it gets really exciting, and considering that the gameplay is rather poorly handled, it means that it will not catch your attention right away. To add to this, the game is pretty short lived and somewhat uneventful. Overall Scratches is good for what it is and what it accomplishes. It manages to provide a compelling and creepy atmosphere without any violence despite being a bit slow.

Scratches | Title screen

The story of Scratches stars Michael Arthate, a horror writer who moves to his new Victorian era house where he will be staying for three days to work on his new book. After looking around through various things in the house, he starts to discover a lot about a murder that has occurred in that same house ten years prior, and he is woken up at night to hear these mysterious scratching noises from further inside the house. That is the basic gist of the plot. The story told in Scratches is simple, yet it starts to become more compelling the further you go through. You start to learn many different things that lead to what has caused the murder and that throughout the game; you never quite know if you are really alone in this house.

What is great about the story of Scratches is just how subtle it is. In a weaker horror story, there would have been multiple instances where something appears out of nowhere and tries to kill Michael. In Scratches, you never even know for sure what you are up against until the very end, which causes you to slowly become more paranoid at what it is. In fact, the moments that really scare you in the game are little things that would not be nearly as effective in another game. It is because of Scratches’ subtlety that it ultimately feels more realistic and that the proper suspense is built up. At the same time however, this could also be a deterrent for some.

Scratches | Mask

The plot of Scratches occurs much more similarly to a horror movie than a typical horror game. While most horror games have something right from the beginning that attempt to draw you in, Scratches starts out admittedly rather boring. It really is not until halfway through day two that things start to really get exciting seeing as how much the game needs to tell you beforehand. This Is not necessarily a bad thing seeing as how that is what makes it effective in a way, but unlike a horror movie which is meant to be viewed in one sitting, Scratches is a video game that will be played in multiple sessions. Again, this is not an invalid manner of storytelling, it is just a style that is not really normal for video games and some may find it off putting.

Also one aspect that I found rather irritating was the game’s characters. It is a good thing that the game had a greater emphasis on the mystery and atmosphere than the characters themselves, otherwise the story would have really suffered. The reason for this is that every character in this game is incredibly grating and unlikable. The two that get the most screen time are Michael and his friend Jerry, who got him the house in the first place. It gets incredibly annoying to hear Jerry basically berating Michael for his increased paranoia based on what is going on, and it is even more annoying that Jerry is almost never helpful in anyway. On the other hand, Jerry does eventually bring up a good point when he says that Michael is too obsessed with the mystery and should report it to the police, which Michael never does. Dealing with two increasingly incompetent characters only serves to grate on one’s nerve as opposed to actually contributing to the plot.

Scratches | House

In terms of graphics, Scratches looks rather uninspired by 2006 standards. The graphics seem to more so resemble a Playstation 1 title than anything. It also always seems obvious that the backgrounds are pre rendered and they all look pretty grainy. That is not to say that I dislike pre rendered backgrounds, I just do not like how they in this game seeing as how the textures start to look grainy as soon as you get too close to something. I can at least commend the artwork itself, as it was pretty well drawn.

The game’s voice acting is really good and lends itself to the game very well. The Sound effects also do a great job at enhancing the experience and making each action feel more realistic. The music is absolutely amazing in an atmospheric sense. In fact, I may even go as far as to say the game would not be nearly as scary with a weaker soundtrack.

The gameplay, however, is where one will notice what the biggest issue with Scratches is, even more so than then slow pacing at the beginning. The issue here is that Scratches, being a point and click game, is based entirely around collecting objects and figuring out how to use them to solve puzzles. This sounds simple enough, but Scratches screws it up in the absolute worst way; the puzzles are nigh impossible to figure out on your own. There have been some games I have played in the past that required use of a guide to continue forward, but with Scratches you will need it just to solve a single puzzle. The amount of trial and error that would be involved without a guide would be insane. The reason for this is likely because of how many small areas you can search in the house and the amount of combinations that you could try to experiment using the items with.

Scratches | Dining Room

At the start of the game, I spent an hour and a half trying to advance the plot of the game without a guide. It turns out that the progress I ended up making during that hour and a half would likely have been made in five minutes had I used a guide. After that, the rest of the game took me about 5 hours to complete. So chances are, if I tried to go through the game normally, I would have ended up with ten times the amount of time I actually did spend. The worst part is that the puzzles earlier in the game are still noticeably less cryptic than later in the game. Due to the cryptic nature of the game, you will be doing nothing other than looking at your guide to find the solution every time a new puzzle pops up. As a result, you are basically doing nothing other than going through the motions and observing the surroundings.

If it were not for the game’s excellent atmosphere and story, then this game would be worthless. That is pretty much par for the course when dealing with a story driven game, but that might mean a bit more than you think considering that you will barely interact with the game. Also with less gameplay to entertain you, it ultimately leads to the lull in the first couple of days being more noticeable.

Scratches | Murderer

Regardless, Scratches did accomplish an impressive amount and is a unique and interesting game. The story is well put together and manages to successfully be creepy without the use of violence or jump scares. While I cannot recommend it to everyone due to appealing based only on story and being a bit slow, it will still leave you satisfied with the final result once you are finished.

This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on May 12th of 2014, and has since been re-edited with enhanced presentation.

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