When it comes to psychological horror, you can expect all types of media to focus on trying to frighten or disturb their target audience with a focus on their mental, emotional and psychological state. They’re designed to induce fear and prey on unlocking the darker side of the human psyche. However, when it comes to SHUT IN, developer Cael O’Sullivan takes a different route by adding humour into the mix.
You may not think that humour and psychological horror go hand in hand unless you’re some kind of psychopath. But SHUT IN does it in a dark and clever way that creates a fantastic balance with its theme of tackling mental health issues. Specifically the likes of depression and anxiety. And whilst it may not be an accurate representation entirely of the subject, it definitely grants the player the opportunity to better understand what it might be like to suffer from mental health issues.
SHUT IN is by no means a realistic horror title where you slap on a VR headset and awake in a whole new world. It is a small indie title created with pixelated graphics in which you scroll side-to-side, room by room to try and essentially find a way out of your house. It classes itself as an adventure game, but I’d say it’s a more complex take on an Escape Room title, just on a grander scale.
It all starts with waking up and trying to get out of bed, and that’s a struggle in itself. You’re at a constant battle with the narrator who tries both to encourage you, and shoot you down at the same time. It’s like having those two little voices on your shoulders, with everything you do a conflict for both. One pushing you on to strive to complete your daily tasks like brushing your hair and getting changed, and the other who just tells you to give up and go to bed, because you can always try again tomorrow.
And that’s the daily struggle that the developer is trying to get across that people with mental health issues have to contend with. But, with a bit of oomph, you will get out of that bed, and start making your way around the house collecting items and progressing to the point where you’re ready to leave your home. That is unless the numerous puzzles and obstacles before you prevent you doing so, and you just end up crippled with anxiety and decide to give in and return to bed.
As you progress through SHUT IN you’ll discover items that can be used to help you solve puzzles. Some will work well, others not so. And the voices in your head that narrate the game will berate you for even trying. Using the wrong items or performing the wrong action can often prevent progress too, often leading to death, in which the game just whimsically tells you that you’re dead. But it’s ok because you can try again tomorrow. And you’ll just repeat the same steps again until you get it right. Unless you’re me and don’t learn your lesson about fiddling with a dodgy lamp and die from shattered glass in your face or electrocution repeatedly.
SHUT IN actually provides a pretty accurate summary of the way life works, because we all make mistakes and learn from them, and nine times out of ten they won’t actually lead to death, even if it feels like it some times. And you will get the hang of the puzzles eventually and work out how to solve them because although it’s easy to get them wrong, they are all pretty simple. It’s not like some titles that offer up challenges that leave you scratching your head, questioning how the heck you were meant to know the answer when you eventually Google a walkthrough.
After all the trials and tribulations you face, both listening to and ignoring the voices in your head, you will eventually make it to the end of SHUT IN. But even then it’s like the game doesn’t want you to win and go outside, The feeling of anxiety builds and the voices try harder and harder to make you change your mind. Ignore them for long enough though and you’ll make it to the anticlimactic ending, being told that we’ll have to do it all again tomorrow, just like life. Each day is a daily struggle and this game captures that perfectly.
The one thing you will get when you finish SHUT IN, since a sense of accomplishment doesn’t seem to exist, is a stats rundown of how you’ve done. I completed it in around 42 minutes, so it’s not exactly a big game, but it reveals if you completed all your tasks, found all the items and such. Which gives the game a sense of replayability to go back and do it all over again to get everything done.
SHUT IN overall thoughts
Developer Cael O’Sullivan has done an excellent job creating SHUT IN. It tackles the subject of mental health in a really clever way, giving off that sense of dread people with depression and anxiety face every single day, and it does it whilst striking the perfect balance with its dark comedy. It keeps everything simple, from the gameplay actions to the graphics, and it all ties together so well. It’s definitely worth checking out if you like puzzles and escape room games, or even if you’re just trying to get a sense of what living with mental health issues may be like. If not today, well, maybe tomorrow?
SHUT IN is developed by Cael O’Sullivan and published by Hidden Track. The game is available now on Steam which you can find HERE. And if you don’t feel like trying it today, why not read some of our reviews HERE to pass the time until you try again tomorrow?