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Riddled with localisation problems, Lux-Pain still manages to pull off a gripping story that intrigued and disturbed me. Although the mechanics of scratching on the touchscreen to uncover the mental parasites infecting people is one-dimensional; the actual story tackles adult themes in a previously unseen way. I was addicted to uncovering more of this tale and it had the power to get inside my mind and produce a memorable experience.
What I find most disturbing about horror films and books isn't the graphic violence or obvious shocks. It's the slow, subtle and rising menace of fearful situations that really gets me. The Blair Witch Project isn't the greatest horror film, but its lo-fi style and the way it never revealed the antagonist was the key to being a success.
Set in a near-future city, Lux-Pain works a similar magic with its graphic-novel presentation and adventure game mechanics. Racked with a rash of strange suicides and violent hooligan behaviour, Kisaragi city is haunted be mental parasites called Silent.
Knowing that an evil parasite could strike at any moment and turn friends and acquaintances into killers gave the game a dark edge that was unnerving at times.
Playing as a psychic investigator I quickly found myself undercover at the city's high-school. It's here that the sugary-dialogue sits at odds with the rest of the game. Having long conversations with vacuous schoolgirls seems a million miles away from a story that should chill your spine. But this juxtaposition of style works really well in the end.
Revealing the thoughts and memories that these worms feed off is where the game takes a darker turn. Most of these fragments are negative and disturbing with many highlighting how insecure many of the characters really are.
The process for reading minds or recovering these thoughts is a simple one, involving just rubbing the screen with the stylus. But it's when the fragments play back as disembodied words that the atmosphere comes into its own. Playing this at night as the change from everyday conversations to psycho-horror happens was uncomfortable.
One moment I was talking to a school friend and then the next I was working feverishly to prevent him from turning violent and attacking his own father. Other incidents were even more dramatic. One poor individual gets so bad that he tries to throw himself off a building. Only by reading his mind and trying to extract the infection was he saved. Although all the game does is show stop-frame animation or plain text, the way situations are conveyed carry real weight and drama.
The way these evil parasites affect the characters gave me no choice but to sympathise with them. Although the banal dialogue grated at times it gave context to the mind-reading part of the game. The quiet points giving the battles with Silent or the dramatic shift in personality all the more impact. Knowing that an evil parasite could strike at any moment and turn friends and acquaintances into killers gave the game a dark edge that was unnerving at times.
Implying violence or depravity rather than blatantly showing it is a masterstroke. Clever touches like this have the potential to give you nightmares.
What got me really spooked was the way the game put across the thoughts and memories. Fragments of sentences and odd words don't sound particularly menacing in theory. But when tense music builds the atmosphere and the phrases suggest a thirsty desire for violence, it really starts to get inside your mind. Implying such violence or depravity rather than blatantly showing it is a masterstroke. Clever touches like this have the potential to give you nightmares; and I genuinely did wake up one night convinced my dreams had been manipulated by a parasite.
That's the trick to this game. There's nothing overtly supernatural about what's happening in the game's world. The parasites are an invisible force and the influence they wreak could easily be explained as merely irrational behaviour. After all, mass suicides and unexpected violent behaviour aren't exactly uncommon in this world and this believability makes Lux-Pain worth experiencing despite its flaws.
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