Spooky, Scary Groundhog’s Day
You are traveling through another dimension; a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop… well, wherever the hell this place is.
You try to make sense of it all at first — the only thing you remember is standing at the bus stop with your friends Lucas, Owen, and Mia, then the ground giving way below you. You were able to grab the hand of one of your friends as you both fell down into the depths; where the others are, you can only speculate. As you explore the the strange compound heavy with history and death, you make decisions that can save others… or lead to their demise. Perhaps fortunately for you, your own death means a second chance — a method to start over again and implement the things you’ve learned to save your friends’ lives. Over and over and over again, you retrace your steps, trying to isolate the key turning point that will pave the way to freedom. Can you solve the mystery of this horrific place, break the loops, and leave unscathed?
Such is the premise of Retrace: Memories of Death, a horror game forcing players to relive the same moments over and over again in an effort to escape a perilous situation. Originally developed by Spider Lily Studios and released on January 20, 2020 on Steam, Retrace: Memories of Death finally graces consoles a year later. Priced at a very low $7.99, Retrace: Memories of Death offers entertaining puzzle horror gamplay for a little more than a big fancy coffee.
Retrace: Memories of Death has players taking on the role of Freya, a young woman who would much rather be playing video games at home than joining her perky pal Owen on another one of his random escapades. But since Mia is going to be there too, well… that changes things. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes before Freya, Owen, Mia, and Lucas can enjoy their day together, and they find themselves in the dank depths of a mysterious dungeon below. With danger lurking around every corner, death is practically guaranteed; strangely, death is only the beginning, as each time Freya dies, she realizes she can retrace her steps and make different choices that can lead the group to safety. Fortunately for the others, they don’t remember the previous loops; unfortunately for Freya, she does — every gruesome, gory detail.
The puzzles Freya encounters aren’t all that difficult — there’s a short whodunnit, a riddle/scavenger hunt, and the classic wolf/sheep/cabbage river puzzle — but the order in which they are fulfilled and who they are fulfilled with becomes the point of the game. Freya can’t solve the murder mystery unless she’s with Lucas, and she needs to get to the river puzzle before Owen does so he doesn’t accidentally trigger the attached booby trap and die. While they aren’t difficult, they are incredibly repetitive; keep in mind you need multiple ends to get to the true ending, so you spend a lot of time seeking paths that will open up a new dead end. This means you speak to the same people, walk the same corridors, and solve the same puzzles over and over again. If you’re lucky, your actions will result in a new dead end, but what ends up happening more often than not is you just play a loop beat for beat that you’ve already done before. After an hour of the same thing over and over again, it can become a little tedious.
Despite the tedium, when you do solve the puzzles and find all the ends, you find a scintillating story that can be pretty hard to put down. It’s easy to become interested in the individual characters and their lives, like Freya’s crush on her friend, Mia, Owen and Lucas’ potential relationship status, and whatever is going on with their newfound apparent ally, Claire. I also liked that there was an option to turn the gore on or off — even though grotesque scenes are still described in all their gruesome glory, you at least don’t have to see it on-screen if you don’t want to. If anything, I think Retrace: Memories of Death is fun in theory but akin to a spooky purgatory in practice, so if you do decide to pick this one up, don’t be afraid to keep a walkthrough nearby if you’re simply not making any progress.
Retrace: Memories of Death attempts to recreate a horror game along the same vein as Corpse Party or escape themes like Zero Escape, and to an extent it succeeds; at the same time, its repetitive nature with few hints in sight meant way too much backtracking with too little reward. There’s only so many times I can read through the exact same text, solve the exact same puzzles, and pick up the exact same items only to receive an end I’d already seen, forcing me to walk in circles in perpetuity, when even death’s sweet embrace can’t release me. Still, it’s hard to beat that pricetag, so if looping horror sounds up your alley, don’t hesitate — be sure to check out Retrace: Memories of Death on console or PC.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch (reviewed); Publisher: eastasiasoft; Developer: Spider Lily Studios; Players: 1; Released: February 24, 2021; MSRP: $7.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Retrace: Memories of Death provided by the publisher.