Genre: Survival Horror
Video game horror has a lot of different flavors. While there are plenty that rely on atmosphere and a number that rely on intense or grotesque action, recent years have brought us a slew of games that rely on the classic anticipation and jump scare combination. The most famous of these, of course, is Five Nights at Freddy’s, but a number of other titles have come about in a similar vein.
Without any warning, Tattletail appeared on Steam with a bright and cheerful commercial straight out of the nineties starring the titular (horrifying analog of a Furby) Tattletail. Based on the trailer and price, I couldn’t justify not giving this game a try. Originally, I had bought it and started on it with some friends in tow, because horror is always better with an audience.
Since this game came out less than a year ago, I guess there’s no point in asking if it holds up over time. The question, then, is how does it hold up in the now growing genre of traumatic animatronic horror?
As with most current games, please be aware that I’ll try to avoid any spoilers I can for this game, but there may be spoilers within.
The story of Tattletail takes place over the five nights leading up to Christmas Day. Playing as a child in what appears to be a normal suburban house, you wake up a few days before Christmas, excited to check out your soon to be new toys hidden in the basement. Among the boxes that you find is a Tattletail, a talking toy that eats real food, requests grooming, and comes in a variety of colors. Satisfied with your find, you go to bed only to wake up the next night to the sounds of clunking in the basement. Finding that Tattletail is no longer in his box, you are dragged into an unsettling series of events that finds you running from Mama Tattletail, who has been banned for ‘mysterious circumstances’.
Throughout each night, you have to carry around your Tattletail, and predictably as the nights go on, dealing with Mama and holding onto your Tattletail becomes a much more dangerous ordeal. When the lights are on in your house, you are free to explore all you like- and you may even find gift eggs left behind by Tattletail. Once the lights go out, though, you have to what you can to keep quiet and stay away from Mama. If you or Tattletail makes too much noise, Mama will find you and, in classic jump scare fashion, end your game/life right quick.
Keeping yourself from making much noise is pretty easy, as it mostly means you can’t run and you have to keep your flashlight off (since you shake it to keep it illuminated). Silencing Tattletail, however, is a trial at times. Tattletail has three needs: food, grooming, and battery charging. You can fix these needs by visiting your fridge or the brush on your couch, both on the first floor, or by running to the charger in the basement to energize your mechanical companion. If these needs drop too low, Tattletail will start spouting off constant noise, making you a prime target for Mama until his needs are met.
The game does a fantastic job of easing you into its mechanics, and the danger doesn’t really pick up until you have a grasp on them. The controls are simple, and there are icons and gauges to give you a constant stream of information so that you can keep apprised of your current situation and impending shortcomings. The overlay also gives accurate instructions as to your next steps, so you rarely feel lost unless the game explicitly wants you to.
Traversing the house feels both claustrophobic and open in an unnerving sense. While you remain in the same house the entire time, only certain sections are open at a time. This also means that at certain intervals, you may notice your front door is ajar when it wasn’t before. Certain doors in the basement also crack open, which is more unsettling and gives more areas both for you to hide and for you to run into the glowing crimson eyes of Mama.
Even certain events and goings on in the house leave you with temptation and some questions about the obviously much deeper than presented plot behind the Tattletails. In your first night, a phone rings and your instructions are ‘do not answer the phone’. The phone continues to ring for some time, however, and you are given the option to highlight and do exactly that. Other small touches cast a shadow of doubt on your ‘narrator’ and makes them feel unreliable at times. I mean- you are a small child after all, so maybe answering the phone wouldn’t be all that bad? Maybe those noises you’re hearing aren’t really coming from the garage? It’s all a big part of the atmosphere put forth by Tattletail for the player.
Your escapade isn’t without some flaws, however. My personal gripe involves the actual chases by Mama, as dependant on where you have to travel or what you have to do, you can find yourself staring into a corner for a minute or two during a tense sequence due to her placement keeping you trapped. It’s effective, so long as you’re quiet, and you’ll eventually get to leave. There were a number of times as the final minutes of the game were playing out that I found myself having to sit back in my chair and wait for the telltale sounds of Mama’s pursuit to die off before trying to proceed again. It dulled the tension for me as it started happening more frequently.
That complaint may be my only legitimate one. The game is short, as I beat it in about an hour or two. Given the price point of five dollars (which it still is on Steam as of this writing), it’s hard to fault the game for that. The jump scares are what they are, but they don’t come in as an incessant manner as Five Nights at Freddy’s or other games of that ilk. Tension is drawn from plenty of atmospheric choices and the strange media that is found and presented throughout.
Also, while I don’t want to go too far into it, as a lot of my thoughts on it are conspiracy theorizing and may provide more spoilers than I’m comfortable with, “The Kaleidoscope” content that recently released for this game is a fantastic addition to the core story of Tattletail. As Shoggoth (our occasional contributor) watched my play through it, he even said that he thought it came off as better than the source material.
Visually, the game is competent and stirs up all kinds of nostalgic feelings for anyone who participated in the American 1990s. Like a lot of horror, the game relies on light and shadows to create surroundings that you can never feel too safe in. While even with the shading slider turned up some of these darkened areas can be just a little too dark, all of the environments are spot on and enhance the mundane appearance of your home with the ethereal colors and effects surrounding your goings on. Even small details like dust particles floating by when you’re traveling the basement are touches that show that detail was put into making this as realistic to observe as it is to experience.
The sound in the game is good, at least so far as the actual effects themselves are concerned. The static and grinding of Mama coming near is pulse-raising, and the chase music itself is intense. Even when there is no background noise to speak of, the sound of your footsteps can make you feel like you are stomping through the house, despite not making noise to lure Mama your way. There are some unfortunate issues with the sound design itself, however, namely in that some of the effects feel amplified or random. This is most noticeable when you step into the bathroom of the house, as despite its small size, everything echoes like a cavern. Sounds accompanying Mama chasing you also feel inconsistent at times, as while they may sound like they are moving away from you, you may turn around to find that she has moved closer or hasn’t moved at all. It makes strategy difficult in some cases, so it feels like it’s worth a mention.
You really can’t go wrong with Tattletail if you like horror, given the heart that it feels like was put toward making it an enjoyable venture with intriguing marketing surrounding it. Seriously, once you’ve played through it, pour through some of the theories and efforts put forth by the development team to really push the mythos of the Tattletail toy line. I’d honestly say I enjoyed this more than Five Nights at Freddy’s, though if you’re not a fan of Freddy’s, you probably won’t enjoy Tattletail much. The game takes some chances with some interesting turns in the plot that may take even seasoned players by surprise, and while it wraps up as quickly as one might think for this kind of game, Tattletail feels rife for analysis.
You could definitely do worse than Tattletail this Halloween season.