This is one asylum you might want to leave abandoned.
In Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum, you’re immediately thrown into the shoes of an average citizen suffering from recurring nightmares. Always, the threat is the same: you see yourself falling down an elevator shaft while being chased by an unknown entity in a seemingly abandoned mental institution. When suddenly it appears your dream has become real, however, you set out to investigate the cause of it all.
Unfortunately, like the bad dreams in question, Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum‘s problems hit players right from the beginning. You’ll only get the chance to interact with a few characters, and while their voice work is nicely done, the character models are downright ugly. Mouths flap open like fish out of water, with no attempt to match movements up to the voice work. Furthermore, these character interactions are few and far between, leaving the storyline to supplemented with minor scraps of info from newspapers, letters and pamphlets. The result is an experience that jars and confuses before it can even absorb.
Where gameplay is concerned, you’ll spend the majority of your time backtracking through the asylum’s many environments. Whether it’s the patient rooms, cemetery, or gardens, the monotony makes everything bleed together all too quickly. The flow is further muddled by the hidden object scenes, many of which overstay their welcome and suffer from poor graphics and imprecise object naming.
Worse still, Lazy Turtle Games mistakes the game’s dark, spooky atmosphere, as permission to try getting away with poor lighting and muddy visuals, making it hard to spot items in the shadows. In other cases still, there may be two or more of the same object in a scene, leaving you to randomly guess which one is the right “bottle,” for instance. Often, I resorted to distinguishing objects using the hint feature. Luckily, this recharges rather quickly on the easier difficulty setting.
Now I’m not blaming the game for being what it is. As with any HOG, most of the game’s key items are found via these scenes. However, it would have been great to see an in-game map or even fast-travel option available throughout. In their absences, the lack of rhyme or reason will have you hunting (quite literally) in the dark for something you can interact with. The fun of combining objects and watching them work is eliminated by the need to click around illogically.
This confusion also extends to inventory management, where you’re sometimes left with more than a dozen key items at once. The gameplay’s lack of linearity means that you’ll wind up carrying around items that you won’t need until a few chapters later, all while trying to find a spot to use them. What could have been a slow building experience with interesting interactions often becomes an insular attempt to catalogue what you have.
As you play through the game’s five chapters, you’ll mostly complete a variety of fairly simple puzzles, like tile sliding or swapping brain teasers. Strategic thinkers be warned, however: most of the challenge comes from trial-and-error – as with the instance where I found myself picking a lock composed of four completely random numbers. Here, the puzzle skip meter recharges quickly, while you can even use the in-game strategy guide if you really get stuck. This is perhaps the game’s biggest coup for this really interested in the atmosphere. As a bonus? You’ll receive the guide even in the cheaper, standard edition of the game.
It’s unfortunate that the storyline in Abandoned: Chestnut Lodge Asylum falls flat so quickly, as an in-depth, truly chilling tale might have been enough to save the game from its dependence on poorly organized hidden object scenes and the associated backtracking. There’s a ton of potential here, what with great voice acting and some genuinely creepy environments, but the game’s flaws outweigh any positives you might find. Do yourself a favour: don’t drive yourself crazy with this one.