If there’s one genre that’s got a tradition of having scary games (apart from the survival horror genre, for obvious reasons) it’s our genre of choice: adventure games. Oz Orwell and the Crawling Chaos, a new effort from Midian Design, who also brought us Odissea, happily continues that tradition.

To briefly refer to my earlier review of the aforementioned Odissea, I am happy to report that the control scheme isn’t at all bad in Oz Orwell. It’s good to see that the developer has worked on improving that aspect of the game, which now feels very intuitive. The same can’t be said of the puzzles, however.

But before diving into the puzzles, let’s first look at the game’s story and setting. You play as Oz Orwell, a paranormal investigator. He’s visited plenty of supposedly haunted houses, and has written about his encounters with ghosts there on his website. All the accounts he has written about thus far are faked, but his adventures in this particular house are scarily real.

That scariness best comes across in the first part of the game, where Oz visits several rooms, each one harbouring a dark and eerie secret. The fact that you’re exploring this unknown mansion together with Oz, not knowing what scary find you’ll come across in the next room, effectively gets across the fear factor. That is, until Oz, after having just left a room saying he definitely doesn’t want to go back there, will happily re-enter that room if you tell him to, even if it has nearly given him a heart attack moments before.

As I mentioned, the sense of exploration initially comes across rather well, but later on it turns into incertitude. At several points in the game, it’s not really clear what it wants you to do next. But even worse is the pixel-hunting. A significant portion of the game takes place in a black and white parallel universe, which in itself looks good, but from an adventure gamer’s point of view is highly impractical, because objects are very hard to spot, and some of the objects are only a few pixels in size, making them nearly impossible to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

A rather more serious shortcoming, in my opinion, is the difficulty of the puzzles. Here though, your mileage may very much vary, but I prefer logical solutions to puzzles, rather than guessing at the diabolical machinations of a developer. Especially in a scary game such as this, breaking immersion by reminding the player that this is a game, by whose rules you have to play, is deadly.

The reason I care so much is because the game does have its moments. The polished graphics, as well as the minimalistic but effective music, contribute to the all-present foreboding atmosphere. The story, on the other hand, is at times as illogical as the puzzles – I think the biggest problem here is some nuances having been lost in the translation from Italian to English, and a general lack of fleshing out – although it does feature an interesting (if slightly clichéd) twist at the end.

Ultimately, whether you will enjoy the game will probably depend on two factors. First, your appreciation of the genre. If you like unsettling, Lovecraftian games, you should be able to find enjoyment in Oz Orwell’s first adventure. Secondly, you need to be patient with the puzzles. If you thought the puzzles were the best part of Sam & Max Hit the Road, you should love this. As for me, I’m eagerly awaiting what Midian Design will do with the sequel. They’ve already shown improvement with this game over Odissea, and if they keep it up, they could well end up making fully satisfying games.

Jan’s Score: 3 out of 5 starks

Note: Oz Orwell can be bought for $4 from Midian Design ‘s own website. The studio offers also the sci-fi adventure game Quantumnauts, Odissea, and several others.