Let me start off by saying this indie title is heavily inspired by the Slender game. The genre of finding pages or notes randomly scattered throughout the level, all while avoiding the monsters that lurk within. Comparisons will just naturally be made between the two titles, so it’s good to get that out of the way now. Slender originally made me nervous while playing. The jump scares right? That’s not the whole story. The Hat Man: Shadow Ward actually executes one of the main reasons why the original Slender title was so terrifying to me.
Let me explain, the system of progression by finding more pages causes the monster or monsters hunting you to become more frequent in attempts to take your life. Certain visual cues and auditory cues helped the player out as a defensive mechanism since flashlights aren’t really weapons here and you can’t exactly out run them. Every time I grabbed a page to add to my collection, I became more and more paranoid about my surroundings. Of course it doesn’t help that the game takes place in a creepy, dark insane asylum. Oh and you’re looking for your daughter so put that brave face on!
Also from a design perspective, the hallways are fairly narrow and rooms are often cramped. If a creature does manage to lock eyes with you in the same room, chances are you’re going to die. You can run, but it’s a deceivingly close speed to walking. Add this whole cat and mouse mechanic into a super tight insane asylum, and you’ve got a recipe for goosebumps (either that, or I simply scare way too easily). As I said before the sense of progression really hinders you and forces you to approach rooms more cautiously. Static can be heard if you are close to a page, so that can help gauge the player in where a page could be hiding. Same applies to the monsters, but just be prepared to wonder why your character decides to slowly back away instead of running away as the monster inches toward you.
I’ve gotten a little too carried away about my experience, let me backtrack a bit. So you can play the game as either parent, father or mother. Also in the settings you can toggle the parent dialogue as well. On default it was off, but I do recommend trying with it on first. I found the father’s tone during weird stuff occurring as a bit of relief. As this game can cause actual stress as you weave through rooms avoiding the monsters. The mother’s voice is similar in the fact that they both have a monotone, “I’m totally reading off a script” vibe. But honestly it didn’t bother me that much. Again, it was nice to have an emotionless voice to comment on certain events, no matter how bland the voice felt.
Overall, the “end game” set up where you have nearly all the pages was where the real adventure started. The graphics aren’t bad and despite the bad voice acting, I enjoyed it to an extent. It’s available on Steam for less than two dollars at this time, so I can recommend it if you have a spare dollar and want to challenge yourself. Just don’t expect the replayability to be high despite the random locations the pages spawn. It’s a short little game that was fun for a while and did give me a few goosebumps.