A Wolf in Autumn (PC) review
You begin A Wolf in Autumn the way I spend my Saturday afternoons: locked in a tool shed, wondering how you got there. Intuition tells you to escape because that's what you do when you're in a locked room in a video game. Obviously, someone put you there for a reason, and that someone is your mother. Cue dramatic organ music...
A few seconds of tinkering with the game's mechanics reveals you can easily jimmy the door with a screwdriver that you find on the ground next to you. Once you step outside, you walk into something you don't often see in a horror game: vibrant color. Green, crimson and earth splash the world around you, brought on by dying, autumnal leaves and massive trees. The sizable trunks provide loads of cool shade, as well as atmosphere. Within these places the shadows are so dark that you practically need a flashlight to see what's on the ground. The premises infuse the experience with a beautiful and eerie vibe, arresting you with breathtaking wonder while frightening you with the implication that something more sinister lurks in the scenery...
A beeping machine sits in the middle of the yard, complete with a button that plays a message. Your mother's concerned voice instructs you to get back in the tool shed, warning you not to mess with the machinery strewn about the area or enter the nearby basement. Because you're a rebellious child, you're not going to listen to her. No, instead you're going to scour the locale and grab whatever random items you can find and use them on various bits of environment. You might notice a lock on a door, and try using an ice pick on it. Or maybe a hammer could knock off a padlock. Or pliers could help turn a valve that's missing its wheel. The bottom line is you set out to complete some of this busywork, and every time you advance through the escape room-like campaign you receive a new message from your mother.
"The trees have many eyes... and the wolves know, too..."
You noticed it before receiving this particular message, but now and then you can hear either the distant baying of wolves or the hellish, ghostly howl of one in particular. From that point on, any time you pick up a tool or examine a puzzle, you look over your shoulder to make sure the canines aren't right there, waiting to taste your flesh. You know a horror game is doing its job when it's got you peaking around corners, treading carefully, or checking your six often without even visibly revealing an enemy.
However, this isn't your average horror title. You're not going to spend time collecting pieces of paper or running away from a sinister being. No, instead you're going to let your own paranoia be your enemy while the campaign continues to weave a tale about a strained relationship between a mother and her daughter, often told through the aggravated messages you receive. Though these recordings can be troubling, they're hardly the most maddening bits of narrative. As you mosey around and examine different items lying around, you'll receive little snippets of backstory, a la Dark Souls. Each new little piece recounts something you did in the past; a little incident that seems to suggest you're not exactly the sweet, innocent little girl you thought yourself to be. Blood and torture come up quite often, further underscored by some of the architecture you encounter. You don't want to believe the protagonist is a sociopath, but the image of a spike constantly piercing a bloody slab of meat in a late-game room insists that you know the worst is probably true...
I know I'm making Autumn sound thoroughly clever, but bear in mind that these revelations arrive in between bouts of simple puzzle solving that's actually quite chore-like. All of the unlocking doors and getting machinery up and running comes across as filler used to pad out ten minutes worth of storytelling. However, unlike some horror titles, the puzzles here at least fill the void and aren't entirely tedious or boring. You actually feel like you're engaged in something and using your brain, even if all you're doing is a whole lot of trial and error with various items in different situations.
By the time you reach the end, you realize this game handled threats differently than most of its ilk. I won't spoil too much, but what you encounter--or don't encounter--definitely falls in line with the implications of sheltered parenting, resentment, and teenage rebellion. At first, the way Autumn terrorizes you seems disappointing and anticlimactic, but further reflection on its subject matter reveals how fresh it is. To put it a little less vaguely, the game leaves you to scare yourself more than it scares you. That's textbook psychological horror, if ever I saw it.
A Wolf in Autumn might come across as a bit pretentious for people who enjoy traditional horror games, but it should delight those looking for something a bit more artsy-fartsy or against the grain. Personally, I've always been a fan of horror works with a more artistic tinge, and this title scratches that itch just right.
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (October 03, 2021)
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.
If you enjoyed this A Wolf in Autumn review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!