Horror can be a funny old genre. Not just in video gaming, but in the movies too. After all, what one person might find frightening, another may not be so susceptible to the same scares. Take arachnophobia or claustrophobia for instance. Not everyone is scared of spiders or enclosed spaces, are they? I know people who have had nightmares from Elm Street, whereby others laughed at Freddy’s exploits and for me, the Resident Evil series plays out more like an adventure rather than horror. Although, I’ll probably never forget those damned hounds that came crashing through the windows of the original’s mansion! In fact, in terms of video gaming, horror is probably most difficult emotion to convey to a player, although Steel Arts Software’s Welcome to Hanwell does a pretty good job of it as it jumps a release onto the Nintendo Switch.
The game begins with you crawling out of a storage fridge within the local morgue. Immediately after exiting, it’s quite obvious that all is not right here, with blood-laden surgeries and derelict rooms; plus something sinister that lurks within the hallways. Should you escape from here, you break out into the open-world setting of the town of Hanwell. Through a series of documentation, voice-mails and recordings that lie around, you are guided towards a mansion-style building, where you learn of your task in finding the missing parts of an I.D. card, as well as a number of collectibles on your way to solving the mystery that now plagues you and the town as a whole. As far as the story goes, that’s all I can give away, as detailing the reasons for your tasks with undoubtedly produce a series of spoilers.
The main premise of the game revolves around exploration of the vast neighbourhood that comprises the whole of Hanwell. By finding clues or exploring buildings, you begin to build a picture of events and places, as well as accrue a number of collectibles that can offer in-game awards. Apart from an introductory guide, there’s no hand-holding here. You’re simply left on your own to scour the streets; gaining access to protected buildings, all whilst trying to avoid or fight a series of monsters or paranormal beings that roam the streets or lie in wait for you. However, to help combat these abnormalities, you can pick up a range of melee weaponry; all of which is randomly placed around the town, although the danger also lies in the random nature of the horrific beasts that frequent the town too.
One thing that stands out within the game as you begin your quest, is it’s similarities to the Silent Hill games of old. Sirens blare out as a warning to the unwary, whilst a handy pocket-radio spurts static whenever you find yourself within the vicinity of a blood-thirsty being. The streets of Hanwell are deserted, shrouded in a haunting mist and the roads are laden with abandoned vehicles. It creates an air of familiarity should you have ever played any of the games that have inspired this title and produces a welcome return to its haunting settings. Despite some familiarities though, Welcome to Hanwell plays a distinctly different game; one that genuinely scares with its atmospheric presentations and, quite frankly, disturbing entities.
Its sirens, static and surges in musical scores all come together to produce moments of pure trepidation at the unexpectedness; sometimes even producing false alarms as the expected sometimes fails to materialise. It forces you to be very wary of your surroundings, especially when investigating the nicely detailed and gory interiors of the numerous buildings. Some of these dwellings are secure and require you to leave your weapons behind; the majority of which hold no danger, although others can contain a nasty surprise. It’s this air of tension and unknowing that plays on your fears; especially when they materialise and scare the absolute pants off you. Even I have to admit to having jumped myself out of my skin on quite a few occasions whilst playing this game.
In order to defend yourself, or fight back, you can pick an array of melee-styled weapons from a variety of locations. These can range from cricket bats to large wrenches and golf clubs to metal pipe, to name but a few. However, the combat element of the gameplay can feel a little clunky at times and random. You can defend or strike with the weapons, but the fast-movement of enemy types and a lack of any meaningful aiming can make this a very hit-and-miss affair. Sometimes the best course of action is to simply run-away or try to avoid any confrontation. Sometimes you can’t help but fight though. However, should you meet a grisly demise, then your respawns are never that far away from where you met your fate.
The game does contain a series of auto-saves, usually when you enter a new building. However, a variety of ATM machines can be found within the streets, all of which offer a quick-save for when you are in the middle of searching for a new location. This soon becomes a life-saver, as the town of Hanwell is a vast place to explore. You do have a handy map that shows an overhead view of the area, as well as labels the buildings you may have already found. Although detailed, it can be difficult sometimes to gain your bearings or a sense of direction as to where you should be heading or are wanting to explore.
Despite its scares, settings and quest for retrieval, Welcome to Hanwell burns a very slow candle in its need for exploration. Although it can genuinely scare, it’s a game that can become tiresome after a while; especially with its discerning habit of raising more questions than answers with the constant barrage of back-story recordings. You can find yourself wandering aimlessly with no sense of direction or clue as to what you need to find next or where you should be heading. This, ultimately, can eventually lead to a bit of a bore-fest rather than a gore-fest. Personally, I found this game better suited to a drop-in, drop-out style of play should you ever fancy wandering its streets. As well as its campaign, or story mode, the game also comes with two other modes of play: survival and escape. However, both these modes don’t really offer anything new or particularly stand-out against its main play mode, although they do offer a change of pace.
Overall, Welcome To Hanwell is actually quite a good horror game. It genuinely scares you and its presentation forces an air of caution. Its also graphically superior to a lot of games out there on the Switch, especially when within the confines of its interesting interiors; although its glittering reflections can be a little bit over-bearing at times. If you’re looking for a game that reminisces in a Silent Hill style of presentation and contains a number of genuine frights, then this is a game that will satisfy a lot of what you may be looking for. However, its slow-pacing and huge area to explore can lead to instances of feeling a bit dull or boring. Saying that though, stick with it and its six-hour or so story does hold enough to warrant your investment. Some of its mechanics can feel a bit clunky, but in the overall picture of things, this does actually play a decent game and in terms of creating a true-horror experience, it will most certainly make you jump. It really excels in achieving this and for this alone, makes Hanwell a place that is well worth investigating, despite its shortfalls.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Welcome to Hanwell Video Game Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( votes)
Welcome to Hanwell genuinely scares, but its constant exploration may eventually lead to a bore-fest rather than a gore-fest for some.