Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival to Saturn held during the winter solstice, represents the birth of a new sun. The death of the past. He eventually formed the spiritual center of what we call Christmas. However, my time with the game of the same name didn’t feature cheerful elves, glowing candles, and cheerfully wrapped presents. Instead, I crawled through a dreamlike maze of an imaginary Italian town called Gravoi, dodging a horrible monster and trying to solve a mystery.
The next horror adventure game is a bit local in that sense: it comes from Italian indie developer Santa Ragione. Saturnalia (opens in a new tab) puts you in the shoes of a quartet of survivors, people brought together by chance, each with their own story to tell. You spend much of your time exploring the narrow and confusing streets of Gravoi trying to find tools, explore clues, and meet others who can shed some light on what’s going on. All the while, a shadowy creature is hunting you, and if it grabs all of your characters, the town procedurally resets, destroying your hard-earned knowledge of where things are.
This destruction of what you think you know permeates the game in every way – control goes back in time, the things you thought you knew are different when you return. I repeatedly found myself running screaming from a monster only to find myself in a familiar place, only to have it change on me.
As disjointed as it made me feel at first, the place grows inside you. Lovingly crafted with influences ranging from Sardinian architecture to Impressionist art to classic Italian horror films, Saturnalia draws you in and keeps you wanting to keep exploring. Keep digging. And keep trying to find a fucking key.
It’s not without fault – my first big scare in the game fell flat when I literally didn’t see the monster due to a funny camera angle it can be hard to analyze what’s going on with your inventory, and the multi-character system could use some tweaking. I didn’t understand what it meant to bring in multiple characters at once, what the phones did, or how to use Paul’s camera.
Hopefully when it comes out (exclusively on the Epic Store (opens in a new tab)) later this year, this stuff will have been tweaked. In the meantime, I’m going to look for a way to make this monorail work. In this scary mine. Nothing could go wrong, could it? Right?