It’s October, and that means all sorts of indie horror games are going to start popping up just in time for Halloween. FAITH is one such game and it takes the retro aesthetic even farther back than usual with graphics inspired by the likes of the ZX Spectrum and plenty of computerized ‘voice acting’ that would feel right at home in an 80’s arcade game (Sinistar comes to mind). Starring a priest who has returned to the secluded site of a failed exorcism, FAITH wields its minimalism like a rather sharp knife.
This is a fairly short game, but it’s also a respectably dense game, packed with enough secrets, lore, and alternate endings to more than double your playtime if you want to see everything. Whether it tasks you with wandering through the woods alongside a retro rendition of “Moonlight Sonata” or creeping through a house in dead silence, FAITH knows how to use emptiness and absence to create constant tension.
The bulk of FAITH is divided between the woods and then the house, two rather distinct sections. Once our protagonist parks his car on the highway the game begins. FAITH is made up of single-screen rooms and this starting ‘room’ provides nothing in the way of landmarks aside from a few trees and the road itself. Following the road is a futile effort as you’ll only end up walking forever until you eventually find your way back to your car; entering the foreboding woods to the north is the only real choice you have.
These pixelated patches of trees and grass capture the feeling of being lost and alone in the woods rather well. There are no trails to be followed, the ground is pitch black, and if you try to retrace your steps you’ll soon realize that the plants and rocks have changed. Are you on the same screen you were on before with randomized objects or is the game completely changing your location with every screen transition?
Every now and then you’ll come across an actual landmark of sorts, such as a dead tree or a well, and you can point your cross at them to perform an exorcism, freeing a ghost and revealing a note with some background information. You may even find the house itself, but you won’t be able to enter without a key and if you only found the house by accident you may very well simply die before stumbling upon it again. This first segment is a puzzle and FAITH tasks players with figuring out how it all works.
Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a horror game if you were truly alone in the woods. Aside from the occasional deer, there is one more occupant to be aware of. This abomination resembles a naked human skittering on all fours and its presence is announced via its arcane, arcade dialogue cutting through the classical music. Even though you can temporarily fend it off simply by pointing your cross at it, the monster moves very quickly and can easily kill you if you let your guard down.
This is the closest FAITH ever comes to having a jump scare and it works well thanks in large part due to the randomness factor. The monster can only show up once per screen transition as far as I can tell, but when it shows up or even if it shows up is entirely random. You can go several screen without any encounters or you can be attacked relentlessly. The one drawback to this randomness is that it seems to be a bit too random in some ways. I’ve had the monster immediately spawn next to me upon entering a screen and a second before leaving a screen; both scenarios give players no time to act and lead to an unavoidable death, which mostly just results in mild annoyance.
Once you make it to the house the music completely stops and the feel of the game changes substantially. You’ve gone from wandering around a wide, open space to being trapped with something you have yet to see in a very confined area. There are three floors for you to explore and the lack of direction allows tension to grow as you enter each room wondering what, if anything, will happen in it. After having become accustomed to the outside music occasionally being interrupted by the monster’s voice, the house’s perpetual silence felt particularly eerie and really drove home the sense of isolation.
You eventually encounter Amy, the possessed child you’ve traveled all this way to exorcise, and this confrontation initially goes rather poorly. The exorcism plays out as a sort of extended boss fight across the house. For the most part, Amy sticks to using appropriately ghostly types of attacks such as sneaking up on you, making clones of herself, and summoning other spirits to do her bidding. The fight is divided into several phases with each new phase marked by a checkpoint and a brief cutscene. These cutscenes are all in first-person and, while they maintain the general sense of minimalism present in the rest of the game, they have a little more detail and surprisingly smooth animation to amp up the sense of menace.
Though this encounter usually maintains a good balance between entertaining and tense, the final phase is too difficult for its own good. Without going too far into spoiler territory, this finale to the fight involves sets of very fast attacks which, like every other attack in the game, kill you in a single hit. Between your slow movement speed and your large hitbox it can feel impossible to dodge out of the way in time if you’re standing in the wrong spot when the attack starts coming at you. While I was able to make it through every other phase of the exorcism process on my first or second attempt, overcoming this final task came down to a matter of pure memorization. The cutscene at the start of this phase is the most interesting one, but I was simply sick of seeing it and happy to move on by the time the fight was over.
If you know where to go, you could probably beat FAITH in under 15 minutes, but this is where the density of its narrative comes into play. The various notes, documents, and other such scraps of paper you find every time you purify an object in the house or the woods all interweave to shed some light on the story and characters, but they aren’t the only sources of information. The words spoken by the monster in the woods when it appears, when you scare it away, and even when it successfully kills you sometimes contain further clues.
The house itself is littered with scraps of passive storytelling as well, such as the presence of a sewing machine downstairs and the amount of beds in the house along with their respective sizes. At least a few other secret pieces of information also exist which you need to put some more effort into finding. In addition to everything else, there are five endings, each of which sheds some additional light on the situation and a generous checkpoint near the end makes it easy to obtain all five. There remains an element of mystery no matter how much information you uncover, yet these various scraps serve to give you a much better sense of the characters and to make you aware of characters you would otherwise not even know about.
FAITH is definitely not the scariest game out there, but it accomplishes a lot with its chosen style. Even with a few gameplay bumps along the way, the miasma of mystery surrounding it and the tension it creates through sound, silence, and stillness make it a great, compact little addition to the season.