The Tartarus Key is a horror puzzle game developed by Vertical Reach. You play as Alex Young, a woman locked in a mysterious house full of deadly traps and elaborate puzzles. She stumbles across other people trapped in the house. Due to the precarious situations the others find themselves in, Alex is the only one who can save them. None of them know why they were taken or who trapped them in the house.
The puzzles are a good mix of key hunts, clue collecting, and piecing everything you have together. Clues are contextual to each room. Everything you need to solve a puzzle is always in the room with the puzzle, to the point where items you pick up in a room do not transfer to other rooms. So your inventory will always consist of what you found in the room you’re currently in. While I enjoyed the creativity and variety of the puzzles, there were a few times I didn’t understand how to use the clues I was given to reach the answer I got. In addition, interactable objects can sometimes be easily missed due to small hitboxes.
The graphics have a PlayStation One-style charm to them, with low-res textures and wobbly polygons. While I love the style, sometimes objects and characters can get a bit too wobbly, becoming distracting to look at, which diminishes the charm. The low-res graphics make a few puzzles difficult to solve since it can be hard to tell what something is and how you’re supposed to interact with it.
A few issues distracted me from the intrigue of the puzzles and the horror of the situation. Sometimes sections of dialog have no music or sound effects. Characters are often long-winded, repeating things they already said and filling space with seemingly irrelevant and uninteresting dialog. Alex often undercuts the suspense of the situation by halting gameplay, having her portrait pop up on screen, and either address how she feels or state exactly what happened when something spooky occurs, like when a door slams behind her.
While it has a few issues with overly chatty characters and unintentionally muddy graphics, The Tartarus Key was an enjoyable time. If you’re looking for a puzzle game with just a touch of horror, this is worth the five or so hours it will take to complete, longer for players who want to see other endings and fully exhaust all dialog options with everyone.
The Tartarus Key is available May 31 for $19.99 for PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X | S.
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