Content Warning: graphic violence, abuse, suicide
The development community that uses Adventure Game Studio (AGS) is consistently one of the most interesting. I’d argue this is because of the extreme limitations of the tools they start with, a creaking old engine designed for early ’90s-style point and click adventures, that gets stretched and bent into extraordinary shapes to do more interesting things.
Jorry is an example of this, a sort of horror adventure-cum-shooter, in which you seamlessly switch between solving inventory-led environmental puzzles and, er, killing zombies with their own teeth.
This peculiar dichotomy exists in the presentation as much as the content. Take a look at the screenshots: part Gabriel Knight, part Mortal Kombat. But the crass UI design and blood-soaked scenery belie a really quite surprisingly difficult and involved adventure game. Albeit one that relies on horror tropes I never find that comfortable.
You, Claire, awake in a strange room with no memory. Yes, that. But still. You soon meet a mysterious child called Jorry, who begs you for help. That help, it turns out, is to find her teddy bear, in a peculiar five-storey house that’s been invaded by gruesome zombie-like monsters. Through exploration and evisceration, you progress through the floors, open locked rooms, and piece together the seemingly impossible scenario.
The game is at its absolute best in its lengthiest second act, during which you’re trying to find valves for the basement boiler to heat individual floors, which temporarily removes their beasties, but also causes multiple variations in each room. Best of all, when time runs out on the boiler, no matter your situation everything goes bleak and awful again. These aren’t madcap time limits, either – you’ve got 12 real-time minutes before you need to return to the boiler, or indeed deliberately wait it out to visit areas in their grimmer form.
Although to suggest it’s ever not grim would be fallacious. Because goodness gracious, this is one gory game. And don’t think the olde-worlde pixels will protect you from that. This is iiiiiiiiiicky. Good icky, for the most part! Blood pouring out the walls, bubbling up through the sinks, and exploding out of the enmies sort of icky.
Combat will obviously not be to every adventure gamer’s tastes, but you can set the difficulty from the start. I chose Normal, and it offered a decent amount of challenge as I desperately fired my paltry collection of teeth at the enemies’ heads, while – and I kid you not – your mouse friend scrambles about gathering freshly dropped teeth and collecting them for you in mouseholes. It’s a disgusting miasma of blood and enamel, in which you need to carefully manage your limited ammunition in any combat situation. Or run and hide, which is absolutely acceptable too.
The plot’s gore is far more unsettling. There are mutilated corpses, suicide victims, and strong implications of abuse. And it’s here that I am out of my comfort zone. Not because I don’t think games should deal with such topics – I absolutely think they should. But because I’m not sure that we need another all-male development team to use female abuse as their hook.
The translation into English is a bit iffy in places, but mostly fine. I’m not entirely convinced the plot holds together if you think about it for too long, but as a collection of adventuring puzzles this is really top notch. At one point I was drawing on my screen to try to solve a musical puzzle with my complete lack of any musical knowledge. But thankfully the game recognised my flailing and stepped in to simplify the puzzle after even vandalising my monitor wasn’t getting me anywhere. Other puzzles had me remembering GCSE physics, and there’s even a working pool table, with slightly wonky physics of its own.
But most of all I want to celebrate the art. It’s just amazing, so very, very many scenes, each lit and coloured dramatically differently when the heating’s on, along with some wonderful animation. It’s absolutely meticulous, complete with intricately detailed rugs and tapestries. It really is incredible, smeared in blood or not.
So there are a lot of qualifications to recommending this. Clearly all those content warnings are pretty significant, and while I’ve no idea what inspired it, it doesn’t feel like a particularly revealing or insightful perspective on the incredibly hefty topics used to scaffold its plot. I do wish people could at the very least pick a different set of traumas, if they’re not telling their own personal tale. Although I really want to add that this doesn’t feel exploitative. It’s hardly sensitive, but I’ve seen it done a lot worse.
But at the same time, this is an often fantastic adventure game, with some really surprisingly deep puzzles, incredible art, and a combat system that survives the wholly inappropriate engine in which it’s built. And its atmosphere will certainly stick with me. Congeal with me, perhaps.