Halloween is a day known for its visual scares — girls with long, black hair down to their knees, ghosts and goblins, and all manner of psychopaths. Nonetheless, remove the zombies from sight and you’ll still have the groaning for brains, the scrabbling at loose earth, and the muffled dragging of feet.
Papa Sangre 2, out this Thursday from content design and creation company Somethin’ Else, is a horror “video game with no video” that reminds us of just how powerful — and frightening — isolated sound can be.
“The challenge there is how do you give people signals?” Nicky Birch, the head of products at Somethin’ Else, told GameZone. “How do you tell people what they need to do in a game when they’re used to just looking at a visual and pressing a button? … [That comes from] clever scripting and great sound design, and that’s really the challenge and I think also the beauty of a game like Papa Sangre.”
In Papa Sangre 2, you’re already dead. That’s scary enough as it is, but players must brave the world of the dead to travel back into the land of living, using only the sound of Sean Bean’s voice to guide them. Wait, what?
Yep, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings actor Sean Bean. That should be reason enough to convince you to play.
“What I love is the fact that Papa Sangre has gone from being kind of Mexican Day of the Dead to very British with Sean in it,” said Birch. “And lots of the references now are very British, so there’s lots of discussion about kind of ‘end of the pier,’ which is I think a very British thing here — walking down the pier on the seaside.”
At eight hours, Papa Sangre 2 is a surprisingly long walk, with 18 levels to explore. This time around (the original debuted in 2010), Somethin’ Else has remodeled its audio engine, which it’s used for three titles now (including The Nightjar). That means it can fit more specialized sounds — up to five when the engine could previously only handle up to three — for more drama.
“There is a scene where there is a burning house, and it really feels like you are surrounded by walls on fire because we’ve got a high number of sounds at any one time,” said Birch.
The gameplay is also more advanced. “Obviously, [mobile] devices have come quite a long way since Papa Sangre 1 was out, so really what devices are able to do in terms of memory usage and also just in terms of technology has really changed,” Birch explained.
“So for example, we now use the gyro function, which means you can use the phone — you can move around the phone if you want to move around the room. … So when you move the phone left, everything in the room stays where it is as if just like when [your] head is moving around the room. All the noises stay in the same location. They don’t move with you. And that really makes for a really immersive game because you really feel like — particularly if you’re able to move the phone around — it really feels like you are exploring a world. If you do this with your eyes shut, it’s really powerful.”
Somethin’ Else was pleased with the reception to the first Papa Sangre — especially with how accessible it is to people who are blind — and hopes this one will go beyond that success.
“It was a really what we call a critical hit, a minor international hit, but you know, sales were good,” said Birch.
“They were positive enough for us to do a sequel.”
She said, “I think it’s often regarded by many as the best audio game out there.”