Less is More is a series of articles that looks at games mechanics, gameplay elements, locations and other such design choices that weren’t needed and how they retract from the overall experience of the game.
Husk isn’t a great game. That isn’t to say, however, that it is a bad game. It rests quite neatly as one of those games that despite being irritating and not all that good, you want to finish all the same. It does something that in lots of other horror games would’ve had me spinning in circles looking for imaginary enemies or running in terror. However, since Husk manages to so royally mess up the fear element of its game this wonderful feature is nothing but an irritating sound effect.
What I’m somewhat long-windedly getting at is that a number of areas in Husk contain vending machines. Due to reasons, they have spilt their contents across the floor and will constantly rattle whenever you walk over them. They do the same thing when enemies walk over them or at random to try and scare your socks off. The problem is that the enemies are so un-frightening and are about as flimsy as a chocolate fireguard. So it doesn’t really matter if one is behind you somewhere because they aren’t a threat. Even if one does startle you and manages to kill you it isn’t really an issue. This is because the game constantly saves, so in the event of your death, you merely respawn about 10 paces behind where you just were. You also now know exactly where the monster is and can either shoot it from afar (which is a bit cheap), try to skirt around it (which rarely seems to work) or punch it in the face to stun it before casually walking away (which is the dumbest way of dealing with an enemy in a horror game ever). As you can see the enemies which are where a lot of the ‘horror’ comes from in this game are pathetic and undermine all the hard work that has gone into the rest of the game.
Husk would have been a much more threatening game is they removed all of the combat and never let you see the weird enemies. If there was a need to see them then the act of running away is scary in itself. However, fighting a monster that you can see and quantify is not scary – and yet you are required to do this far too often. The fear of the unknown or getting caught is much more terrifying than the reality. Husk’s reality is an enemy that flails at you a few time before it kills you or you kill it. It’s not only a boring and poorly executed engagement but one that makes the rest of the game feel redundant. I ended up avoiding enemies because I didn’t want to have to go through an awful combat sequence rather than any potential threat they might pose.
Bringing things back to the sound of cans rattling; in theory, the noise should be terrifying since you are never 100% sure who or what caused it. Often the sound will echo or come from a vending machine at the opposite end of the corridor meaning you know even less about what is happening. Alas, this wonderful idea is wasted on a game that felt it needed combat. Husk can’t decide if it wants to be an action-packed high octane horror game or a slow, methodical and tense experience. Due to the narrative and how the rest of the game is structured, it needed to be the later. In chasing the action though it only succeeded in ruining a lot of the experience.
Another odd design choice that Husk could have done without is the ability to pick up and look at objects. For a game that spends most of its time in relative darkness why the developers decided it needed to have any kind of item examination beyond ‘this is a key card, this is a letter and here is what it says’ is beyond me. It felt like the decision was made purely because the feature could be there, so it might as well be. It doesn’t add anything to the game that players can sometimes pick up a random item with little contextual meaning and spin it around in midair before placing back in the exact same spot. Letters, photos and things of that ilk I can understand but at one point I picked up some medication for an unknown patient spun it around and went on with my day.
These flaws aside, Husk deals with some interesting issues that few games have attempted, namely domestic violence and alcohol addiction. It gradually unveils Matthew’s past and his relationship with his father and that slowly helps you to understand the world. The game is wonderfully atmospheric at times and has some great vistas. It is also buggy, fiddly and some areas are far too long. It is a game that I would have enjoyed far more if it was half the length, had no combat and focussed on what it was already doing well instead of adding in mechanics that undermine some excellent ideas. Instead, the enemies become a joke, the ability to look at an item in the dark and turn it over is pointless because, well, it’s dark, and opening doors onto yourself is plain annoying. However, I can’t help but recommend it. Games so rarely make you consider the effects of domestic violence and alcoholism and for that Husk should be applauded. Narratively it isn’t perfect but it is interesting and clearly has a point to make. It’s worth playing to experience the positives this game has to offer, but be aware that the game comes with its own baggage.