No one lives under the lighthouse Review
Slow-Burn PSX Horror Drenches You in its Atmosphere
Torture Star Video brings the Marevo Collective cult horror game No One Lives Under the Lighthouse to consoles. Does this short tale of isolation burn as brightly on PS5? GameWatcher’s review is here to let you know.
You may have noticed a hearty enthusiasm within the horror game community for modern indie titles to utilize the visual style of the PS One era. Part of the appeal is undoubtedly nostalgia, but the biggest reason is the unnerving quality that the early polygonal boom gave many games. A distinctly unsettling, weird feeling that got smoothed out over the generations.
I liken it to the ambitious, yet creaky nature of indie horror films of the 80s where the talent involved knew how to get the most of relatively little. For many in the horror community, the 80s is the temple where they worship the genre. In gaming terms, the ten-year period that started in 1995 is just as crucial. Evoking aspects of these warmly-remembered times may seem cynical (and can be in the wrong hands), but when it comes from a love of it that isn’t suffocating, good new things can be created.
Marevo Collective’s 2020 slow-burn horror No One Lives Under the Lighthouse is a perfect example of that. Now on consoles thanks to the publishing arm of indie horror juggernaut Puppet Combo, the game has a chance to get its moody feelers out into new waters, hoping to snare a few more captive hearts in the process.
No One Lives Under the Lighthouse has a meta backstory of the player stumbling upon a mysterious old game that the title is taken from. The game in question is about a character arriving at an isolated lighthouse in order to maintain it. The rules laid out are extensive and somewhat intimidating. Specifics about what you can and cannot do whilst on the island make sure you’ll not be having a quiet life even if you are alone there. But there’s one insistence that repeatedly crops up in the rules. Don’t go into the lighthouse basement, and more importantly, no one lives under the lighthouse.
That mystery will play itself out over the two hours playtime, but before anything gets resolved, there’s a lighthouse that needs sorting out. The idea is to have the beacon atop the lighthouse raring to go by the time the sun has set on the day. To begin with, that’s just a case of fetching some oil, filling the fuel tank, and turning a crank. Later there’s a need to change sandbags, clean the light, and make repeat trips to fetch oil in order to keep the lighthouse running. Other tasks come into play as well, just to keep you on your toes.
It’s mundane work that sees you roaming across the small island to get all the tools needed. You get to take in the haunting beauty of the island at least. The lo-fi visuals really sell the isolation and uneasy bleakness of your workplace. It’s a pretty smart decision to encase an open environment within the barriers of the unforgiving sea. There are shreds of evidence that life exists beyond the island, but it may as well be on the moon.
The island itself is vast, barren, and occasionally pockmarked by structures big and small. A dilapidated shed for rowing boats sits on the stony beach. A toolshed sits out on a rocky outcrop and looks like one good gust of wind would knock it into the sea. The small shack you have to live in looks incredibly lonely and small in the shadow of the towering lighthouse on the hill, and the interior of it doesn’t leave much to be desired. It’s cluttered in a mess that feels understandable. Especially given there’s little chance of anyone popping in to see you when you’re off the coast on an island the size of a humble shopping mall.
Strange things begin happening after night one. An oily black substance has been tracked through your shack, and there’s an ever-so-slight change in the atmosphere. A sense that isolation may have never been on the cards after all. There’s a suspicion of sabotage by an unseen force, and the race to get the lantern of the lighthouse in working order by nightfall becomes ever tougher as the presence of something else on the island is unveiled.
Whatever it is, you only get glimpses of what it actually looks like at first. As you wander around the island to collect items for the growing list of tasks, this entity will occasionally crop up and chase you. When it does, the perspective shifts to its own viewpoint, and your previously first-person view shifts in turn to a third-person one. Make it to one of the few indoor environments on the island and you’ll lose the creature for a while. But as the island seems to almost be fighting your attempts to keep the lights on, the threat of this beast’s presence makes the hard, trudging workload an intense experience.
While I love the escalating situation and the way it is presented, there’s a feeling that No One Lives Under the Lighthouse does its best work in the early moments. Settling you into its rough, bleak world by forcing you to experience just how thuddingly mundane life should be on the island. So that when it does eventually shift gears, you learn to appreciate the mundanity you could have had.
I’m glad that No One Lives Under the Lighthouse has been allowed to expand to consoles, because this kind of experience needs to reach a wider audience. Torture Star has made a promising push into that space after thriving on PC, and this represents its boldest move yet. A slow-burn slice of terror that is less about jump scares and gore is a lot harder to sell than the alternative, especially in a relatively juvenile medium like video games. The brevity, ambiguity, and simplicity of No One Lives Under the Lighthouse is the recipe it needed to truly stand out, but there’s something unspoken in there that lingers in the memory after playing. A sense you really have just played a game lost to time that didn’t play out how you expected it to.
NO ONE LIVES UNDER THE LIGHTHOUSE VERDICT
No One Lives Under the Lighthouse is an atmospheric horror tale that takes its time in sharing its dread-inducing world and all the horrors contained within it.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The moment that perspective shifts to let you know you’re being hunted.
Good vs Bad
- Great use of PSX-style visuals
- Effective slow-burn horror
- Changes up gameplay loop to avoid repetition
- Mundane busywork may be offputting
- Controls a little bit fiddly during chase sequences