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Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Mortuary Assistant in test: No horror game has ever had such a great idea before

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In The Mortuary Assistant, a funeral parlour is an almost perfect setting for a horror game. But the horror wears off too quickly.

Are you thinking about working as an undertaker? Then you”d better check out The Mortuary Assistant first. Why? Well, because this first-person horror game not only correctly depicts the work of an undertaker, but also shows us what the corresponding job advertisements so steadfastly conceal: demonic activities in funeral homes.

Joking aside, as if the sight of a corpse didn”t make the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end, in The Mortuary Assistant a servant of hell also declares our workplace to be his playground. In plain language, we have to endure random ghost terror parallel to the job and finally banish the demon back to hell.

How well the whole thing works and why we rate the game weaker than the majority of the more than 3,000 Steam reviews (92 percent positive!), you can find out in the test at GlobalESportNews

A Notorious Employer

The Mortuary Assistant transports us to the American “Connecticut” of 1998 – long-time Resident Evil fans may now nod eagerly. The story begins in the sunny train compartment atmosphere of a city café, where we overhear an appealingly rendered mother-daughter conversation.

On the left bench: our alter ego, the undertaker Rebecca Owens. The striking brunette has recently bagged her certificate as a thanatopractitioner and is ready to start her new job at River Fields Mortuary. Her aging mother, on the other hand, remains undescribed, but she warns her daughter about the funeral home”s reputation for being a dangerous haunted house.

(God has forsaken you: Given the scene before us, we immediately believe the writing on the wall.)
(God has forsaken you: Given the scene before us, we immediately believe the writing on the wall.)

Again, we find a pleasantly warm, old-fashioned interior. And our boss, the grey-mottled undertaker Raymond, gives us no cause for scepticism either. That changes when he abruptly sends us home and later asks by phone to take over his night shift. Okay, as “the new one” we of course comply with this request. How could we have known that we would be locked in the institute shortly afterwards?

One problem with The Mortuary Assistant is that the story practically ends with this shallow introduction, aside from a few interspersed references to Rebecca”s past. Yes, there are several wordy endings to experience, because not every action we take leads to success. But we are not given much room to fail – and the end credits are simply too unimposing for us to necessarily want to go through the three hours of play again.

(Our workplace is not very lavishly furnished, but quite nice to look at.)
(Our workplace is not very lavishly furnished, but quite nice to look at.)

Authentic “Modern Embalming “

As mentioned earlier, during our rainy night shift at the funeral home, we come across a demon. The little devil has possessed one of “our” deceased, which presents us with the task of cremating the possessed body. In addition, we have to identify the devil by name. You can find out how this works in the info box.

(Our workplace is not very lavishly furnished, but it is quite nice to look at.)
(Our workplace is not very lavishly furnished, but it is quite nice to look at.)

So we give the demon an expulsion

While we can do no wrong in preserving the corpse, the successful banishment of the demon is game-changing. To do this, the possessed dead must be burned under certain conditions, and we are supported by three helpers:

  • (paper seal) lead us to irregularly appearing demonic signs on walls or furniture. If a seal catches fire, we are particularly close to a sign. Each of these reveals part of the demon”s name.
  • (A round clay tablet) serves us to decipher the name. Here we place in four depressions the correspondences of found signs made of clay. Everything done right? Then the thing is cremated together with the possessed.
  • (A special chemical) to reveal demonic marks is added to the preservative liquid. Only in this way can the possessed body be identified beyond doubt.

Such a thing can happen that we do not burn the right body exactly as instructed. Likewise, we can make a mistake in the name or get the wrong body. The latter, however, can be easily avoided.

To determine the correct remains, we have to preserve four procedurally generated corpses along the lines of “Modern Embalming”. In the process, the body fluids are exchanged for special chemicals and the corpse is restored to a visually good state. Here, by the way, The Mortuary Assistant is attested high authenticity from professional circles.

This is probably why the procedure is always the same: In the refrigeration and cremation room, we first pull one of the often creepy but not disfigured cadavers out of a compartment. Then, on a dead man”s bar, we roll it annoyed to the treatment room, because the mouse control is rather sluggish here.

(The removal of the cooling compartment from the deceased is greatly simplified. That''s a good thing, too, because the Bare''s ponderous controls get on our nerves enough as it is.)
(The removal of the cooling compartment from the deceased is greatly simplified. That”s a good thing, too, because the Bare”s ponderous controls get on our nerves enough as it is.)

Curiosity: The protagonist does not even lay a hand on the bare because it rolls comfortably in front of her even without contact. A total of six treatment steps follow, each of which requires us to make a few simple mouse movements or clicks:

  • (Examination): We take a close-up look at the entire body of the deceased. We note any conspicuous features such as cuts or pustules on our clipboard at the click of a mouse and later on the computer.
  • (Close mouth): Threaded needles are driven into the upper and lower gums with a needle injector. The mouth closes by pulling on the threads.
  • (Close eyes): To keep the eyes closed, we place adhesive plastic flaps on the iris.
(All beginnings are difficult? Not with our clipboard, which lectures us on every single step of cadaver preservation.)
(All beginnings are difficult? Not with our clipboard, which lectures us on every single step of cadaver preservation.)

    • (Preservation 1): Via scalpel, the arteries in the neck have to be cut and connected with pump tubes. Before that, we have already poured a preservative chemical mix into the pump.
    • (Preservation 2): Here we “poke” – yuck – around in the lower thorax with a trocar (a kind of fish hook). The latter also has to be filled up with chemicals.
    • (Cleaning): Last but not least, the dead man”s face has to be cleaned with a disinfecting cloth.

    In the beginning, the undertaker”s craft is quite fascinating, but by the fourth client at the latest, we are yawning in our chests – due to the lack of variety. In addition, both tools and chemicals are randomly placed in the room before each treatment, so we have to search for them anew each time. But good: Ultimately, this is a horror game; the fear factory therefore has the last word.

    Intelligent shock effects, but …

    One thing is certain: The Mortuary Assistant can do random horror, sometimes really well. An example: From the illuminated anteroom, we are about to walk through the corridor to the treatment room, when suddenly the light goes out. So suddenly that we practically fall into the corridor, and there at the feet of a ghostly old woman.

    We try to avoid her nasty, grey grimace to the left, but she adapts her movements to ours. And as if the darkness had just become a black, all-absorbing mass, it threatens to swallow us along with the ghost. Then suddenly it is gone. Let”s go to the light switch!

    (Oh, who is that lady at the end of the corridor? Actually, we''re not expecting any relatives at this late hour ...)
    (Oh, who is that lady at the end of the corridor? Actually, we”re not expecting any relatives at this late hour …)

    Yes, this game knows very well under what parameters it has to string up its suicides. Or what a motionless mould demon should do after 20 seconds of impassive gawking.

    Nevertheless, there are problems, one of which is the sound. If, for example, the cooling fans suddenly rattle, it sounds like a cheap radio play record with a crack. Not all noises sound dry and choppy, but this is in keeping with the generally fluctuating quality of free sound libraries.

    What might give some an even bigger stomach ache is that all the threats are visual. Hide and seek, chase, axe in the head: none of that exists here. Nevertheless, the checkpoint system manages to annoy even immortals. Because progress is only secured at the beginning of a treatment – and that can take a while.

    (Scene changes are few and far between in The Mortuary Assistant. In this case, it''s also just the stripped room at the top of the picture.)
    (Scene changes are few and far between in The Mortuary Assistant. In this case, it”s also just the stripped room at the top of the picture.)

    Partial castration of a great idea

    If you”ve always wanted to do some ghoulish work on corpses, you”re in for a treat with The Mortuary Assistant. However, only for a short time, which does not only mean the short game duration of three hours.

    After initial fascination, the undertaker”s work quickly becomes repetitive, and the procedural shock effects – although successful – become old acquaintances on the second try. Virtual threats to life and limb even have to be dispensed with altogether.

    Editorial conclusion

    Slicing up the deceased is not in my blood at all, but as a horror fan I was mightily curious about The Mortuary Assistant. Sure! Just the thought of a night shift at the funeral parlour releases a certain amount of adrenaline – so what would happen if there was also an evil demon rumbling around? Heart jump?

    In the test, my heart actually jumped a few times. But that was before I realised that the spectres of terror couldn”t harm me at all. Personally, I need the thrill of deadly threats in horror games, which is best conveyed to me by “physically” present enemies. Or even the pulse-pounding (and de facto deadly) ghosts of Project Zero. Right now I have to imagine Project Zero in a funeral parlour. Ouch!

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