The retro-styled graphics in Holstin are almost too convincing for their own good. At least, that’s my excuse for spending several hours on a demo that others have speedrun in less than five minutes. Running out of lightbulbs didn’t help, either.
This PC survival horror game’s Eastern European setting lends it a character all its own. The premise is that, following the disappearance of a friend, your protagonist sets off to the Polish town of Jeziorne-Kolonia. There, they discover things are a little off — the streets aren’t empty as such, but something unpleasant and slimy has taken root. And the inhabitants themselves are slowly losing their sanity, as the demo reveals.
Dubbed “The Janowski House,” the Holstin playtest demo introduces you to two of them. There’s a small child who, while amiable enough, can apparently exist simultaneously in three closets. And then there’s a neighbor who, clad entirely in red, insists that you’re her son.
At least, you meet them when you get to grips with the game. Because while Holstin looks as if its world exists entirely on a 2D plane, it sports a 3D game engine. Hold down either of the shoulder buttons and the camera rotates, revealing the room around you.
Coupled with Holstin’s use of real-time shadows, it’s pretty impressive. That’s why I forgot that I was exploring a 3D space, one with four actual non-illusory walls. I had thought I was being thorough, picking through every room in search of a specific object.
The map continued to mock me, insisting via its red color that I hadn’t collected every object in a room. I was minutes from grabbing a blue marker and just filling in the room myself when, meddling with the joypad, I tapped the shoulder button.
Suddenly, a three-dimensional world (which the game had earlier underlined) was revealed. And a few minutes later, I was shoving the sought-after item into my pockets. Neither of the NPCs, despite their off-putting manners, objected to my pilfering.
That said, they were disconcerting enough that I almost wished they’d come at me just to break the tension. But while there will be combat in the final game, there’s no fighting in Holstin’s demo. Instead, it’s all about the slime tentacles. No, really.
These oddities block your way, and while light can be used to temporarily banish them, you’re probably the only horror protagonist who doesn’t carry a flashlight. Instead, you have to juggle power fuses and meddling with table lamps just to unblock specific areas.
If you asked me to put together a horror game survival kit, a big bag of lightbulbs wouldn’t be high on the list. But what sounds like a relatively simple task — use light to force the tentacles to retreat — turns out to be a real brain-scratcher.
How, for example, do you turn a tentacle-erasing lamp on when it’s already surrounded by tentacles? I’m not going to spoil the answer, but it felt so satisfying to finally see those tentacles retreat. Plus, I really like typing the word “tentacles.”
It’s early days for the game, but based on the demo, Holstin has real promise. It’s been mentioned in the same breath as Silent Hill 2, but for me, it’s not the game’s setting that invites that comparison. Instead, it’s the game’s characters who, like those of Silent Hill 2, are off in just the right ways.
So if developer Sonka can lean into the character-heavy aspects of Holstin, it could have something special on its hands. And a big red flashing message that reads “THIS IS 3D, YOU HAM-BRAINED IDIOT” wouldn’t go amiss either.
You can wishlist Holstin on Steam and, by clicking on “Join the Holstin Playtest,” try the demo out for yourself.