Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch,
October 13, 2020
In a 2020 mid-pandemic world, game development can’t come easy. Already, games are created in wonderful and amazing ways, held together by duct tape behind the scenes. The difficulty that comes with working in teams, putting together a stable product all while being distanced in your own home is no doubt an immense challenge. Still, many games this year have managed to pull this off. As an outsider, this feels near akin to a miracle. Horror game Remothered: Broken Porcelain is, unfortunately, not one of those miracles.
Broken Porcelain is the sequel to the 2018 survival horror game Remothered: Tormented Fathers. Both the entry prior and this sequel are said to be inspired by the classic point and click horror series Clock Tower. Considering that, and the fact one of the game’s protagonist provides quite the striking resemblance to Jodie Foster’s Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, its clear developer Stormind Games really care about horror. However, that’s unfortunately all that can be acknowledged positively about the game at the end of the day.
Throughout your time with the game, you’ll be swapping perspective between two characters: Rosemary Reed, the returning main character of the first game, and newcomer Jennifer. The former takes more of a backstep in gameplay – she got her due already – but is still quite crucial in the narrative. Jennifer on the other hand is a freckly teenaged girl with some bite. She’s stuck in an inn, forced to essentially work as a maid for the very twisted people that are the head of the run-down establishment. It doesn’t mean she won’t put up a fight where she can. In the present, a mysterious old woman is recounting both Reed’s and Jennifer’s timelines, but she’s so scarcely present it’s hardly worth mentioning.
Jennifer’s story takes place in the 1970s. At the Ashmore Inn where she unwillingly resides, cruel older figures who bleed from their mouth and seem to be possessed by a bizarre plague of moths. The halls of the inn creak beneath your feet. You’ll often hear the muttering of your foes on the other side of walls. Just what is going on with that lady that owns an unintelligible amount of crows? It’s an eerie enough setting, for about thirty minutes.
A large part of her story follows you creeping through these halls, learning what you can and trying to escape with your life. Working out the secrets of the inn such as why the inhabitants are plagued the way they are, who the bouldering Mr X-like figure known as Porcelain is or who everyone in the game is revealed to be just isn’t that engaging at all. This is largely due to teetering on below average performances and narrative threads and reveals that just aren’t that rewarding or shell shocking.
The same can be said about following Reed’s story. Even though the game is marketed to be for both new and returning players (its in the first paragraph of its Steam listing). It really isn’t. Even as someone that played the original last year, I was far from engaged on the ‘let’s catch up with Reed and other characters from the first game’ cutscenes offered to me. With even my patience tested in these moments, I can’t see newcomers suffering through it much.
“What Broken Porcelain’s narrative also represents is the worst parts of horror.”
Rolling credits after near six hours, I left Remothered: Broken Porcelain worse for wear. Sure, questions left over from the first game are answered, with little now being left open. Still, loyal fans (believe me, they’re out there, somehow) won’t be pleased with it’s conclusion. They’ll be left with a shocked expression on their face and a “That’s it?”
What Broken Porcelain’s narrative also represents is the worst parts of horror. More often than not, depictions of brutalising young girls and calling them expletives over and over and over again are present. Little care is regarded to mental health issues explored such as PTSD and the writing even doubles down on the transphobic “cross-dressing murderer” twist of the last game. Yes, horror games and narratives are all about horrible people doing horrible things. However, when done right, good horror stories toe around or explore some of these ideas in unconventional and not so egregious ways. The writing team here don’t even try. We get it, you wanted to throw in a couple of uses of the word ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ for edginess. Jog right on.
Amidst all the mess, offense and confusion the narrative will bring, the game also has the nerve to try and depict a wlw romance. In flashbacks, you’re often shown scenes where Jennifer and her female friend gradually get closer. If done right, these could have proven to be nice, heartfelt moments of respite from the misery the story brings. Not in this game. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating to see as someone that identifies as part of the wlw community.
The other infuriating part of Remothered: Broken Porcelain is just how malfunctioning it is. This is a horror game. You’re meant to feel tense at the best of times, fearful of how to get out of situations. When a game’s this broken, it’s just laughable. That’s unfortunate to say the least, I never scathe games I’m reviewing this much. Though that’s also because none have broken me down and wrestled with me the way this has.
As it’s a survival horror game, you’re often faced with large, overpowered pursuers in-game. These can look like the interesting in design Red Nun, or the two primary runners of Ashmann Inn, each wielding a gun or axe. Also factoring that a large focus of the gameplay is stealth, you’re encouraged to be sneaking around these foes or distracting them with throwables so you can get the strike on them from behind. This is all good and well and could make for some tense gameplay but the AI enemies in this game are broken, bumbling idiots.
So easily can you evade these pursuers just by stepping inside a room and sitting back and watching them attempt to follow you through, getting stuck on the doorway for a good thirty seconds. Maybe they’ll even give up and walk away, despite staring straight at you and yelling their limited dialogue barks. So many times I found myself dumbfounded watching stuff like this happen. On one occasion I watched a foe somehow clip atop a table, walking in spot towards me and yelling at me. I couldn’t help but laugh, that innkeep was really trying their best with their broken programming.
Similar events happened in cutscenes. Lip syncs were out of place, scripted animations just didn’t work, music cues would repeat and character models could disappear entirely at a moment’s notice. I could even sometimes inadvertently toss throwables at a foe who was giving their villain spiel, all in the middle of this crucial scene. How are the bonechills meant to remain when slip ups like this occur?
With all of these faults, gameplay just never was thrilling or enjoyable in-game. Sure, there’s plenty of tools at your deposal: a rope can be tied to doors to slow down pursuers, a perk system is present. Though you can only activate them in a single location you visit in the game maybe twice. You’ll get forced to flee a lot. Though when the AI is a bag of bricks there’s never too much of a threat for your life, just an annoyance. Simply put: Broken Porcelain is a horror game without the scares.
Two hours into Remothered: Broken Porcelain, I hit a bug where the event I needed to happen to proceed to the next scene just wouldn’t trigger. I admitted defeat and began my review, fully prepared to be unable to finish the game. Then, a patch came in that let me continue (while still remaining otherwise as broken as ever). It’s good to see the developers reconciling and working on their mistakes, but the fact this came when I was playing a review copy after launch indicates this is a product that just isn’t ready. Originally due back in August and delayed til late October, the release was then pushed forward a week. Undoubtedly, this was to beat games like the soon to be released Amnesia: Rebirth and Little Hope to the punch, though I still don’t think the trigger was worth firing.
This is a horror video game that tries on so many fronts, but none of which really work. You have a story that is messy, offensive at times and downright poor. Gameplay and programming that is clunky that feels beyond repair. Choices that just left me scratching my head. Sure, a patch can fix some performance issues, but I can’t help but feel the problem in Remothered: Broken Porcelain lies in its fundamentally flawed design. Really, I can’t recommend this game to anyone, even months down the line.
It brings me no thrill to talk down on a video game like this. They’re a difficult product to make. Still, this was the most miserable and unpleasant experience I’ve had in gaming all year. Walking away from the franchise’s start in Tormented Fathers, I was pleased with it’s beginning but disappointed by it’s problematic end. I wanted this sequel to sway me in its favour and win me over. Instead, it lost me further.
With the dust settled, maybe Remothered: Broken Porcelain was enough of a horror game. After all, it did feel like I was going through hell to see its journey through.