Scratches: Director’s Cut is a horror game, but not the kind that relies on cheap scares to spook players. Instead, it depends on atmosphere and subtle details to unnerve, and, despite a few stumbles along the way, it does a great job.

The game stars Michael Arthate, a horror author struggling to finish his second novel. In an attempt to isolate himself from the world and complete his book, he takes up residence in a large estate in a small, rural town in England. Unfortunately for him,  the house has a long, dark history involving a grizzly murder by a crazed husband. Eventually he gets tangled up in a story that could’ve been ripped from one of his novels, which all begins when he starts hearing noises around the house: the titular scratches.

A point-and-click adventure game, the majority of Scratches unfolds as Michael explores the massive house, collecting items and clues along the way. What’s great about the story, which can be somewhat predictable at times, is how it unfolds. Since Michael is alone in the house, aside from the occasional phone call, there are no other characters to talk to. So the only way to learn what really happened in the house is by finding letters, journals, photos, newspapers, and other documents and piecing together the events yourself. This helps make the narrative feel much more organic, as you actually feel like you’re discovering what happened, instead of having it told to you via a cut scene or long, drawn out conversation.

The exploration takes place from a first-person perspective, and gives you a complete 360 degree view of your surroundings.  You can inspect various aspects of the house, and use objects found to interact with them. The major problem though is that there really isn’t a lot to do. You’ll spend the entire game scrounging around the spooky house, going from one point to collect something, then going to another to use it. It’s very repetitious and makes the game drag quite a bit at certain points.

 

This lack of action does have the side effect of making the creepy moments feel all the more unsettling. After spending so much time searching a seemingly empty house, when you come upon a disturbing journal about a mysterious and cannibalistic South African tribe or an incredibly eerie music box, it has a much greater impact.

The atmosphere is further aided by dark, but detailed visuals, and, more importantly, the sound. The music is sparse but effective, adding to the mood without ruining it, while the sound effects, especially the scratching, will make you want to exit that house as soon as possible.

And that’s where the game truly succeeds. The attention to detail is wonderful, and you’ll find yourself wanting to actually search the house in hope of finding a new piece to the puzzle. This also means that you’ll have to pay very close attention to your findings though, as clues will be subtlety hidden in photos and texts, making them easy to miss.

Which leads to another problem with the game: it’s hard. Very hard. Rarely does Scratches give you an obvious clue as to what to do next, instead it assumes you can figure everything else out on your own. And while this creates a strong sense of freedom, allowing you to tackle the game however you see fit, it also makes it incredibly frustrating when you miss a small but vital clue that prevents further progression in the game. There is an optional hint system, but this too offers such subtle clues that it’s rarely of any help when you really get stuck. Most players will probably have to resort to a walkthrough at at least one point in the game.

Difficulty aside, Scratches largely achieves what it set out to do: it’s a slow paced, atmospheric, and genuinely scary adventure game that really forces you to use your brain to succeed. There are a few other nit-picky issues — like Michael’s fading English accent or his inability to describe objects as anything other than "boring" or "uninteresting" — but they are easy to ignore when the rest of the game is s

 

For similar games, try Delaware St. John: The Curse of Midnight Manor, The Blackwell Convergence, and Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy.