The game is presented in lo-res 3D, and from a first-person point of view. The characters are all flat, 2D sprites, which increases the sense of eeriness that permeates the game. Sound effects are infrequent and chilling, and a creepy piano tingle punctuates the dreadful action. The controls are easy enough: use WASD to move and the mouse to look, hit E to interact with doors and people, Ctrl to calm yourself, and left-click to… to use what’s in your hand.
“The guests panic and scatter about the house, hiding from the madman with the kitchen knife.”
The setting is a spacious manor where you live alone. You’re throwing a party, and the guests are hobnobbing and having drinks, waiting for dinner. When you start the game, there is no indication of what you should do, or of the madness to come. You can walk around and get familiar with the layout of your house while talking to your guests, but you can’t go upstairs or outside at this point. Sooner or later, you’ll make your way to the kitchen, and that’s where things start to happen.
Any further discussion of this game will necessarily contain some spoilers, so you may want to go play it for yourself and come back if you want the full impact of what’s to come.
In the kitchen is a woman who’s offered to help with dinner. How nice of her, though she’ll soon regret it. She asks you to go grab a knife from the counter and hand it to her. You pick up the knife. You approach her, holding the knife. That’s not how you’d hand someone a knife, is it? Even if your intention is just to hand over the knife, you can do nothing but stab her to death. As her bloodied body crumples to the floor, a guest witnesses the murder and cries out. The guests panic and scatter about the house, hiding from the madman with the kitchen knife.
“…each murder drives you a little bit more over the edge”
Now you know what you must do. You can’t help it; to keep playing, you must stalk and kill the remaining guests. It won’t be as easy as the first, though, now that the element of surprise is gone. They hide in various places in and around the house, and they’ll sprint away if they see you coming. You can use the Ctrl key to keep calm and sneak up on your victims. When you stab someone, they don’t just die; they scream, crawl, beg for their lives, run away and do the kinds of things a person might actually do in a situation like this. A second stab will end their lives. Killing these people is messy and unpleasant.
Calm Time plunges you into a type of deep horror that can only be achieved in games through interactivity. Rather than watching events unfold, you are at the center of them. And unlike in most horror games, you are not the potential victim; in Calm Time, you are the monster. I felt utter revulsion at what I was doing, even as I continued to inflict pain and terror on my hapless guests.
There is no game-like reward for killing in Calm Time. In fact, each murder drives you a little bit more over the edge. You are haunted, you see. An apparition of a woman in white begins appearing to you after the first death. She watches you from the shadows, a reminder of your own madness. You may need to calm yourself when you see her. Later, she does a trick where she pops up right in front of a guest as they run away. One time, I ended up stabbing her, instead of my intended target. The screen exploded into static.
Who is this specter? She doesn’t look like any of the party guests. She’s obviously someone who knows you, though, and who despises you. You may not remember her in your current state of frenzy, but you know her as well. Have a peek in the basement, and you’ll get a good idea of what transpired between the two of you. The partygoers are not the first guests to your house. And they sure as hell won’t be the first to make it out alive.
Calm Time is a new high in indie horror games. It combines the visceral horror of human violence with a twist of supernatural terror. If you think you can take it, spend a little time living in a haunted monster’s head. Download and play Calm Time for Windows.