Ghost In The Machine
I have to admit I was quite intrigued when a review copy of Connection Haunted landed in my inbox last week. Taking liberal inspiration from Papercookies’ No Players Online, it was pitched as “a thrilling psychological horror game stylized to look like an empty server of a classic online first-person shooter.”
What can I say? They basically had me at hello.
After all, I consider myself a bit of a retro FPS and horror gaming enthusiast. So the idea of exploring the cursed, abandoned servers of a long-forgotten multiplayer shooter seemed right up my alley.
Looking back now, had I known then what horrors were in store for me, I may not have been so quick to redeem that eShop code. Connection Haunted aims to deliver retro-inspired scares designed to break the fourth wall. However, the final result is a game that’s about as enjoyable as stumbling barefoot through a darkened hallway littered with Lego bricks.
Connection Haunted cuts right to the chase. There’s no introduction or tutorials to let you know what’s going on. Instead, it plops you straight into the lobby selection screen of a multiplayer shooter where you can choose from a handful of servers to join.
Before you get too excited, no, Connection Haunted doesn’t have any actual multiplayer component to speak of. It’s all just used as a plot device. So you can forget blasting things that go bump in the night to bits with a friend. Once you choose your server, you’re ready to play the world’s loneliest game of capture the flag.
After you capture a couple of flags, strange monsters with glowing white facial features will appear and begin to pursue you through the game’s darkened environments. Luckily, they make their presence known with an ominous groan, so as long as you’re paying attention, it’s pretty easy to avoid them. If you do happen to come face to face with one of these creatures, you can usually destroy them with a single shot from your trusty pistol. That’s a good thing, too. Because if these monsters touch you, you’ll be kicked from the server and have to start over from be beginning.
Hackers From Hell
Connection Haunted features multiple endings that can be unlocked by doing things like capturing and delivering of the flags, destroying all of the hidden dolls on a map, or following the suggestions of the mysterious Player 2 who begins communicating with you minutes into the game.
That’s literally all there is to it. When you finally figure out what you’re doing, you can complete Connection Haunted in less than a half-hour having seen everything the game has to offer.
Initially, I couldn’t believe this. I was so taken aback by the game’s brevity and lack of content that I continued to play the game for several more hours thinking there was something that I just had to have missed. The game gives you no real clear indication that you’ve wrapped up the story, unceremoniously booting you from the server after you complete your objectives.
The Devil Is In The Details
If there’s one good thing I can say about Connection Haunted, it’s that it does a good job of capturing the look of a Quake-era PC shooter. The low-poly gun model and crude geometry that make up the environments fit the theme of the game nicely and would have been quite impressive in a shooter from 1997, which helps sell the feeling of revisiting the dusty servers of a long-dead game.
The problem is the game is also dark: unbelievably dark. I tried playing Connection Haunted on my 4K LCD, OLED, and Switch in handheld mode, and no matter which setup I was using, I could barely see more than several feet in front of me, hence my whole Lego analogy at the beginning of this review.
The game does give you a limited supply of glowsticks you can use to illuminate the environment. However, they only light up a tiny area, which made exploration a real headache at first. Still, thanks in no small part to how often the game made me replay each map as I struggled to figure out what I needed to do to unlock the endings, I found myself able to brute force my way around the environments through memorization.
I really wanted to like Connection Haunted. As a big fan of experimental horror with a real soft spot for the classic PC shooters of the late 1990s, the game checked a lot of boxes for me. Sadly, when it comes to execution, Connection Haunted just doesn’t deliver the goods.
Connection Haunted is the rare example of a game that’s painfully shallow while being too cryptic for its good. It’s a weird amalgamation of two disparate genres that neither captivates nor confounds. In the end, the game just left me frustrated over the time I’d wasted fumbling in the dark, expecting a narrative payoff that would never come.
While I didn’t enjoy my time with the game, Connection Haunted may appeal to some. For example, die-hard fans of No Players Online or those that have to experience every viral horror game out there. After all, at only $3.99, the game probably isn’t going to break the bank. However, anyone else will likely want to steer clear of this cursed horror-shooter.
If you really need a new retro-inspired FPS that’ll get your blood pumping, I’d recommend picking up Post Void instead. While it might not offer the same kind of horror that Connection Haunted tries to capture, at least it scratches that classic PC shooter itch while giving you a reason to keeping coming back for more.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: No Gravity Games; Developer: MrCiastku; Players: 1; Released: September 3, 2020; ESRB: ESRB: “E” For Everyone; MSRP: $3.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy.