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Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn (PC) artwork

Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn (PC) review

"Australia: 'Everyone online says I'm full of scary things.' Sweden: 'Hold my mead.'"

Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn (PC) image

Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn loves to condition you. It barrages you with horror tropes to trick you thinking you know what to expect, then defies those hunches and predictions with sometimes terrifying results. At times when you think something is outside watching you rifle through abandoned cabins, it'll turn out the coast is clear. Later on, though, you'll believe you're well and truly alone, only to run headlong into a murderous she-beast or a malevolent spirit.

Right as the opening cutscene begins, the game toys with your expectations. Numerous horror video games open with the protagonist driving a car before either breaking down or pulling up to some creepy place. You might roll your eyes at this type of beginning, until the game reveals you aren't the driver, but a girl tied up in the backseat. Some prick kidnapped you and you aren't having it, so you kick him in the head and cause the car to veer off the road and into the woods. Once again, you learn that things aren't what they seem, and you probably shouldn't have kicked the driver.

And after you progress just a few plot beats from here, you'll definitely wish you hadn't kicked him...

Congratulations, you've completed the other horror game opening cliche: pulling up to a creepy place. However, this time the haunted location isn't a cabin in the forest, but the forest itself. You and the driver lumber around in the dark before getting separated, and that's when things get hairy. Strange noises call from the trees, along with the occasional grunt or even peculiar will-o-the-wisps that resemble video game checkpoints or items. However, if you try to grab one, you'll find yourself caught in some marsh muck. You'll only have a few seconds to take in the surrounding area before bog swallows you whole, prompting a "game over" screen.

Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn (PC) image

But the deep mud is the least of your woes, because at this point the noises in the distance make their presence known. Even if you manage to avoid getting sucked into the bog, you'll still have to deal with the ghosts of drowning victims. They rise from the murky depths, letting out horrible, gurgling growls wherever they roam. They also approach in creepy, otherworldly fashions, their bodies wobbling and wavering as if they're still underwater. And if one should catch you, you'll make sure it never does again. Not unless you want to watch the thing take control of your body and bend all of your joints in the opposite directions...

No matter where you go, Sweden's legendary bestiary comes out of the woodwork to make you a meal. Giants stomp out from darkness, feeding you between their rank teeth if they snatch you. A skogsrå gives you one hell of a chase, not matter how much you try to shake her. Trolls appear from the depths of a mine, leaping on you and scratching up your face, likely before dining on your remains afterward. So you run like mad, not knowing whether or not it'll do you any good. You'll occasionally see the screen flash red as your foes gain on you and take a chunk of your health. You fear that your attempts to evade death won't be enough, and you start to form strategies in your mind regarding how you can avoid getting into this situation after you respawn.

Only the enemies stop pursuing you after a bit. They skulk off into the woods, once again crying out and not doing much. Things have quieted down, and now you hope they remain that way. They never do for long, though...

Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn (PC) image

At one point after tons of fleeing and crying, you reach an empty village. You hear the voices of people who have turned into trees everywhere, accompanied by ghostly screams and cries in the middle of the pitch black night. During this segment, you hit the game's tedious middle, where you embark on a few fetch quests, guided only by signs and a few maps planted in the ground. Worse yet, your only flashlight is gone, and your sole means of lighting the darkness is a collection of matches. In other words, your light sources is not only finite in number, but limited by time. After striking a match, it'll eventually burn your finger tips and wink out. You'll need to scour these homes and other places for extra matches if you run low.

For a while, you hear strange noises and grow wary, but nothing approaches. You spot figures while rummaging around in a barn, but they're only present to torment you. You expect to run away from more terrors every time you step out of a building, but that never comes to be. Face it: you're being psychologically antagonized by sound effects that aren't attached to any actual foes. You've been conditioned again, except this time you're afraid of the usual "bumps in the dark." Numerous games use this means of driving scares, but few get them right. Unforgiving absolutely nails this concept, because up to now you've come to associate spooky noises with monsters.

You then go on thinking that the sounds around the village are nothing but tricks. Then you grab an event item and sprint to your next destination, stopped only by the gut-wrenching scream of a skogsrå you weren't expecting. And once again, you Left Shift in the opposite direction while trying not to have a heart attack...

Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn (PC) image

No place is safe, and every haven holds its own nightmares. You run into a tunnel while eluding a giant, and the thing gets on its stomach and crawls after you. You end up in the depths of a cave system, where items you took to be shining ores are actually portals that let zombie-like monsters crawl into our world. Every tight crawlspace could spell your demise, but you end up persevering until you reach an obstacle course set up by the aforementioned trolls. At that point, the difficulty rating cranks up significantly, because you aren't running away from just one critter this time. No, they're all around you, often drawn by your clumsy footing whenever you trip over one of their tin can traps. And just when you think you've given one troll the slip, another one pops out from behind a rock...

Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn constantly either leads you to false security or puts you on edge, only to blindside you with a situation that defies your expectations. Most of all, though, it's a game that abides the age-old standard that the genre seems to be forgetting. Creepy character models, perfect mood and atmosphere, sound effects and story events don't amount to much if you're not vulnerable. You aren't a warrior, but a frightened citizen with no means of offense, armed only with non-threatening event items and a box of matches. The nastiest thing a game can do to a vulnerable character is trick her into believing she's safe, when the truth is she's never safe. Unforgiving gets that.

Project Horror 2019

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JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (October 30, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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EmP posted October 31, 2019:

There's a few space typos in the first few paragraphs Scrub that; just went in and fixed them

I really dig this review, partly because it's a very good review (well played) and partly because I've been a sucker for the more kind of surreally laid-back Nordic takes on traditional horror, where these things don't get overblown reveals; they just exist you you're just forced to accept it. This game just got added to the list.

Throwaway recommendation - check out Oknytt if the point and click mood ever takes you.

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