Supernormal draws heavy inspiration from the canceled Silent Hills demo, PT. Much like that genre-redefining playable teaser, Supernormal aims to provide an atmospheric, unsettling experience within the confines of a single haunted house.
As our hapless investigator Wyatt, you’ll explore the stylish yet disturbing home of Mr. Sakamoto, searching for clues to the disappearance of his daughter Sophia. Bloody handprints, swarms of flies, and other signs of the supernatural await you as you comb every inch of the house, interacting with both everyday objects as well as more bizarre finds. The gameplay loop has you poking around the house, stumbling upon creepy triggers, and reporting back to your laptop home base to advance the story.
It’s a classic haunted house premise, echoing PT’s tight, tense atmosphere. Of course, attempting to capture lightning in a bottle twice is an immense challenge. Does Supernormal succeed in emerging from those formidable shadows? Read on to see where this spiritual successor soars, and where it stumbles.
A Picturesque Nightmare
One area where Supernormal undoubtedly succeeds is in crafting a visually striking and consistently high-quality world. The game employs a photorealistic style, putting you in a stylish Japanese home that looks like it could exist in the real world. Attention to detail is present in everything from the gleaming grand piano to the tasteful decorations adorning the walls. This realism makes the subsequent introduction of horror elements like blood sprays and ghostly figures all the more effectively jarring.
Shadows cling to every corner, and a pervasive gloom permeates the home. The lighting does an excellent job of maintaining tension, with most rooms steeped in darkness and your flashlight providing only a meager halo of light to navigate by. Flickering lights, shadows moving just out of sight, and the occasional stark glow of a TV switching on ratchet up the ominous atmosphere.
From a technical perspective, the visual presentation holds up nicely. On a high-end PC with ray tracing enabled, I experienced a smooth 60 frames per second throughout with no noticeable glitches or bugs marring the experience. The photorealism enables some genuinely terrifying moments as the malevolent presence makes itself known.
Supernormal certainly takes advantage of environmental storytelling through its exceptional graphics and lighting. You can almost smell the decay and horror seeping out of every perfectly-rendered crack and crevice. This visual mastery goes a long way toward crafting an immersive, terrifying nightmare house to explore.
An Ominous Soundscape
Supernormal’s audio design complements the visuals nicely, at least early on. The opening cinematic greets you with an ever-rising cacophony of unsettling sound effects and music, building to a nightmarish fever pitch during the conversation with Mr. Sakamoto. This overwhelming introduction sets expectations high for an ominous, chaotic soundscape to match the disturbing sights.
Fortunately, Supernormal delivers creepy audio cues aplenty as you begin exploring the Sakamoto house. The pitter patter of small feet, an unnatural voice whispering unintelligibly, heavy footsteps stomping up the stairs – sounds punctuate the darkness, raising goosebumps and putting you on edge. The groans and skittering movements of the malevolent spirit inhabiting the home are particularly well done. Hearing it shuffle and crawl mere feet away while you cower under your desk maintains a deliciously tense atmosphere.
However, two issues undermine the effectiveness of the audio over time. Firstly, your investigator Ward never shuts up with boring observations, breaking immersion. Secondly and more detrimentally, those initially startling sounds become predictable and repetitive after awhile, turning into white noise rather than anything threatening. With experience, you’ll easily differentiate important noises from pointless ones. This familiarity dispels much of the fear factor.
There’s no denying the excellent initial atmosphere cultivated through audio. But subsequent failures to build upon those unsettling noises into truly terrifying encounters makes the sounds lose impact faster than I’d have liked.
Hunting for Horrors
Supernormal’s core gameplay has you exploring every creepy nook and cranny of the Sakamoto house searching for clues to piece together what happened to Sophia. It’s a repetitive loop of poking around the house, finding triggers that advance the plot, then heading back to your laptop command center to review footage and notes. Rinse and repeat for the roughly 90 minute playtime.
It’s an inherently limited structure, but a few mechanics aim to mix up the offering:
- Voice Recognition – An intriguing feature on paper, the voice recognition allows you to verbally ask the ghost questions through your headset. Unfortunately, in my multiple playthroughs this flaky feature never worked properly despite recognizing my inputs. The few scripted voice interactions shown in promotional material seemed cool, but I couldn’t manage to trigger them organically during actual play. Chalk it up to the spirit world technological barrier.
- Flashlight – Your flashlight sputters when the ghostly presence is near…I think? Unfortunately it’s never explained why your light flickers, making this potentially meaningful mechanic meaningless in practice.
- Lives – Dying at the hands of the spirit simply respawns you with no progress lost, eliminating any threat or tension it poses. While avoiding frustrating forced replays is great, knowing it can’t truly get you removes all accompanying fear.
- Password System – Entering the password found midway through the game immediately fast forwards you to the finale when playing again, allowing you to skip the repetitive detective gameplay of re-searching areas already scoured.
While the cat and mouse hunt for clues fits the narrative well thematically, in practice the gameplay grows stale fast. With zero threat and very limited interactivity or variance, boredom and disengagement set in quicker than the horror does. The various mechanics try to spice up this repetitive structure, but fail to create lasting excitement or tension. It’s simply not enough ghost to sustain the lengthy, drawn out haunted house experience on offer.
A Disappointing Mystery
On the narrative front, Supernormal drops the ball nearly as much as that poor ghost girl drops unexplained blood around the house. The setup seems full of potential: you take on the role of Wyatt, a private investigator searching an eccentric musician’s home for his missing daughter Sophia. Bloody handprints, household anomalies, and a stalking spectral presence all point to sinister secrets waiting to be uncovered.
Unfortunately, things unravel the deeper down the mystery rabbit hole you go. The story leans hard on outdated stereotypes, attributing the dark events to the “untreated mental illness” of certain characters. It’s a stale trope that further stigmatizes conditions that are misunderstood enough in media. Environmental inconsistencies also poke holes in the plot’s logic – why is the dinner table suspiciously set for four people if it was just father and daughter? And if security cameras cover the whole property, why not just check the tapes?
Rather than seizing opportunities to expand on the mystery through exploring normally locked rooms or having access to the ample security footage, these potential storytelling avenues are dismissed. Wyatt’s baffling inability to call 911 or properly investigate beyond scrolling through online articles also elicits more eye rolls than intrigue.
By the finale, twists can be spotted a mile away thanks to heavy-handed foreshadowing. The ultimate reveal fails to surprise or satisfy. For a premise brimming with potential to weave an engaging, character-driven horror narrative, the ending feels like a whimper rather than a bang. I ultimately closed the game more confused by the muddy storytelling than the mysterious hauntings themselves.
Frightful Yet Fleeting Fear
Supernormal’s atmosphere is comfortably the highlight of the experience. The visuals and sounds combine to deliver a deeply unsettling, tense mood. Exploring Mr. Sakamoto’s dimly lit home forces you to move slowly, flashlight in hand, just waiting for the next paranormal encounter. Blood trails, violent destruction, and ghostly figures permeate the environment, instantly putting you on edge before you even glimpse the dangers.
When played alone in a quiet room with headphones on, those encounters can be legitimately terrifying. The first inexplicable events, like disembodied whispers and banging footsteps, sent shivers down my spine in the best way. My heart raced when I realized the ghost was scuttling rapidly across the ceiling mere inches behind me. These scripted spooks land masterfully, echoing PT’s most pants-wetting moments.
Unfortunately, the well crafted atmosphere and immersion crumble quickly as those unique scares become repetitive. With time, you’ll be able to easily anticipate jump cues based on audio or visual tells. The ghost itself also loses all threat; while unnerving visually, its lack of actual danger means you come to ignore its stalking presence. By the end, you’ll casually listen to its screams from the safety of your desk, more bored than frightened.
Supernormal absolutely nails the initial mood and has flashes of genius in its scariest beats. But the failure to iterate on those clever frights turns what should be an endlessly tense ghost story into one that overstays its welcome, leaving you more relieved than scared once the credits finally roll.
A Short Yet Sweet Haunt
Horror experiences always struggle finding the delicate balance between being too short to fully explore their concepts and overstaying their welcome. At around an hour and a half playtime, Supernormal arguably skews slightly too short given its premise. It’s over just as things seem to be hitting their ghostly stride. However, padding the runtime risks the repetitive gameplay growing entirely stale before the climax.
As far as replay value, there’s unfortunately not much incentive to return once you’ve uncovered the mystery behind Sophia’s disappearance. The randomized paranormal encounters will differ, but the core story beats remain static from playthrough to playthrough. It’s good for a few extra tense jump scares, but likely won’t reveal anything new narratively.
One way subsequent runs become more palatable is using the password found mid-game to immediately jump to the finale, circumventing all the drawn out detectiving. This allows you to skip the duller gameplay sections and get right into hunting some new ghosts. But beyond participatory tourism, Supernormal doesn’t offer much worth in the replay department.
While definitely on the shorter side, Supernormal’s length perhaps plays to its strengths more than weaknesses, delivering a tight, condensed horror experience before stagnating. Just don’t expect much new life once the credits roll the first time.
Does It Live Up to the Hype?
When any piece of media bills itself as the “spiritual successor” to something as genre-defining as PT, expectations understandably shoot through the roof. It’s an immense shadow to stand in. So does Supernormal emerge from those formidable shadows with its own identity and horrors that succeed? Yes and no.
There’s no denying Supernormal nails the atmosphere, at least briefly. The visuals and sound design are genuinely spectacular, creating an oppressively tense nightmare house that feels like the perfect setting for a slow-burn ghost story. Early story beats brim with potential, and the occasional scripted scare lands with mastery. The attention to detail in crafting a believable, stylish environment is stunning.
However, the failures to deliver compelling gameplay or an interesting narrative around that fearsome framework are what ultimately doom its aspirations. The repetitive main gameplay loop grows stale quickly despite some attempts at paranormal seasoning. Exploring loses intrigue once you realize the ghost poses little actual danger. The voice recognition, flashlight, and other mechanics flounder. Awful stereotypes and logical gaps plague the plot.
Supernormal comes agonizingly close to channeling what made PT so special, but can’t quite exorcise its own demons to reach those heights. It deserves praise for effectively spooking in spurts, but doesn’t sustain tension or innovation.
As a bite-sized, graphically impressive haunted house, I’d still recommend horror fans along for the ride – just temper expectations. There is no revelation on the level of Silent Hills here. Rather, Supernormal finds itself in that crowded category of spiritual successors that glow brightly at times with their own identity, but still ultimately pale haunted echoes to the beloved muse that inspired their creation.
Supernormal valiantly attempts to capture lightning in a bottle again, crafting a visually stunning and sporadically terrifying haunted house successor to PT's infamous thrills. However, flat characters, repetitive gameplay, and a lackluster story ultimately showcase a lack of ghostly imagination to match its aesthetic prowess. Die-hard horror fans will still find enjoyment in the nightmarish atmosphere and excellent set pieces. Yet Supernormal fails to sustain enough tension or innovation to emerge completely from its ancestry's shadows.
- Stunning visual presentation and graphics
- Effective use of lighting and detailed environments
- Occasional genuinely terrifying, tense moments
- Strong atmosphere and sense of unease at times
- Repetitive core gameplay loop gets dull quickly
- Flat plot and characters
- Reliance on stale tropes and stereotypes
- Story inconsistencies and missed opportunities
- Mechanics like voice recognition fail to deliver