Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Connection Haunted developed by MrCiastku and published by No Gravity Games.
Connection Haunted is an experimental first-person shooter set in the abandoned server of an online multiplayer game. In addition to exploring the in-game world, players are also tasked with figuring out what is going on.
I wish I could say more, but even the game’s official description is vague and filled with words substituting numbers for letters, before finally devolving into ASCII text art spelling out “HELP”. Connection Haunted is fully committed to its ambiguous story.
At first, I was committed as well. I enjoyed exploring the first level, a long-deserted subway system, with little knowledge of what to do, and the retro-inspired setting is one to behold. It’s perhaps slightly more detailed than its inspirations, but still packed with plenty of pixelated textures, blocky curves, and blurry draw distances.
Players pick up a pistol with six bullets and there’s a lone marker on the locator map, but little information is provided. That marker turns out to be a flag that must be collected and returned to the original spawn site. Once that happens, additional flags appear on the map. This also brings other players onto the server, as the on-screen player count begins to slowly increase.
Even with more players joining, the map still appeared to be empty except for a random jukebox that wasn’t in the tunnel before, or a CRT television that appears near that bend in the tracks. These aren’t the only surprises, though – at certain locations, there appear to be figures walking in the distance. It’s an eerie sight, and they disappear once players get closer.
Once multiple flags have been returned, one of the additional players begins utilizing the on-screen chat. They mention that something is wrong and ask for simple tasks, like crouching for a moment, to be completed as a way of indicating that the player understands them.
This also causes phantoms to begin appearing in various tunnels. Seen from a distance, these ghosts with teeth can be avoided or disposed of with a single pistol shot. However, these phantoms sometimes appear out of nowhere, providing both a quick jumpscare and an instant death.
After multiple tries, I finally progressed far enough for the player using the chat to ask me to come to a certain location on the map. Fearing a phantom or something worse, I went back to the original spawn site to get my bearings. When I did, I was met with a message of disgust for making the wrong choice – and this too resulted in an instant death.
The extremely minimal guidance and (what appear to be) unavoidable random deaths result in restarting the game over and over. After a couple hours of playing the first stage and still not making it to the second level, I gave up.
Connection Haunted has a wonderful concept and setting, but the gameplay is just too esoteric. There are too few hints or suggestions on what to do next, and no discernible reason as to which actions will lead to failure, making the experience more frustrating than enjoyable.