A Flawed Horror Adventure
Saint Kotar is a dark and disturbing adventure that gets under your skin, but its clumsy execution and lack of challenge may disappoint point-and-click aficionados.
The story of Saint Kotar follows two godly men, Benedek and his Brother-in-law Nikolay, who investigate a series of murders and disappearances in the small catholic community of Sveti Kotar. The driving force of the narrative is the search for Benedek’s sister Viktoria who is a lead suspect in the murder of the town’s mayor. Along the way, Benedek and Nikolay must work with the town’s enigmatic and peculiar inhabitants while contending with a moon-worshipping cannibalistic cult. Saint Kotar offers a compelling narrative that should satisfy horror fans, but its pacing issues, along with its poor performances and dialogue, hold the game back significantly.
Developers Red Martyr Entertainment have incorporated mature themes like faith and religion into Saint Kotar’s narrative, and they should be commended. Games can and should lean into heavier topics and themes, but the execution in Saint Kotar leaves a lot to be desired. The B-movie dialogue, combined with some woeful voice performances, frequently undercut the story the developers are trying to tell here. Saint Kotar began as a Kickstarter project with a limited budget, but some performances are unforgivably bad, thankfully it’s limited to NPCs and not our leading duo. Michael Schwalbe, in particular, puts in an excellent turn with his vulnerable portrayal of Nikolay as his sanity is tested over the course of the story.
Nikolay and Benedek have an interesting dynamic. Nikolay is a man who has lost his faith, and Benedek is a man who is completely lost in his faith to the point of bigotry. Unfortunately, our two main characters spend most of their time apart, so the potential of the dynamic is never fully explored or realised.
Also, Benedek is just the worst.
Flawed protagonists are a common occurrence in storytelling, but Benedek doesn’t go on any sort of arc or grow as a person throughout the story. It makes it really hard to get behind him. Benedek remains steadfast in his belief and judgemental ways, believing that he is a man of God while doing things that become increasingly, well, ungodly. Nikolay is the more likable and relatable of the two protagonists as his aim is ultimately to find his wife, clear her name, and ultimately reunite his family.
Gameplay in Saint Kotar is a standard point and click affair which borrows some elements from old Telltale games. There are dialogue choices and branching paths over the story with a fair number of side quests. Saint Kotar also takes some influence from choose your own adventure books, meaning that being in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in death, or worse. There’s a noticeable difficulty spike in the closing hours of the game, but for the most part, Saint Kotar is more focused on its narrative than brain teasers. Most of the puzzles in Saint Kotar boil down to fetch quests that get old fast and cheapen the narrative.
The setting of Sveti Kotar is the game’s most redeeming quality. The town is steeped in mystery, with an extensive history going all the way back to the town’s patron saint. Sveti Kotar goes a long way in establishing the game’s sense of dread. It’s shrouded in fog, and sunlight never touches the town. There are also the strange inhabitants of the town, including an eyeless, tongueless woman pining for her lost love, and a false prophet leading a tribe of blind followers.
Saint Kotar thrives in environmental horror. In the opening of the game, we’re placed in the shoes of a young child as they’re plunged into complete darkness. There are also nightmarish catacombs and chilling environments like the bust room, which captures the likeness of all the deceased in Sveti Kotar. Fans of all things horror may catch a few easter eggs and references to the collection of short stories The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. Horror maestro Junji Ito has also had an influence on Saint Kotar’s art direction with excruciating detail on grotesque scenes and characters.
Saint Kotar tells a compelling story that should satisfy horror fans, and there are moments that are genuinely unsettling. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save Saint Kotar from its shortcomings. The makings of a really great game are present, but it gets in its own way too much. Frustratingly, Saint Kotar’s biggest offender and what holds it back is its own clumsiness, in its execution, characters, performances, and telegraphed final twist.
Final Verdict 2.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Soedesco; Developer: Red Martyr Media; Players: 1; Released: October 28th, 2021
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Saint Kotar given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.