Beat Witch by Robert Patten
Beat Witch has an intriguing opening which leads into an exciting and consistently unpredictable horror adventure. You don’t initially know what/where/why you are, only that you are in dire trouble. As soon as you think you’ve got a handle on this state of affairs, the state of affairs changes. And as soon as you think you’ve got a handle on the next state of affairs, that state of affairs changes as well. Though the game may be more linear than some players would like, it is great at pulling the rug out from under you time and time again, while also building up a complex set of rules about the witchcraft shenanigans that are going on.
Okay, that entire paragraph was stolen from Wade Clarke’s review of The Hours, with just a few changes to update it to Robert Patten’s new game. I don’t mean to imply that his two games are too similar (they are not), but Patten definitely has his own style, a breathless, linear, action-packed, inventive style. This style is pretty rare, so it’s good to see it return.
I really like the premise of Beat Witch. It takes a rather traditional vampire / teenage girl trope, but turns it into something fresh by making our beat witches mute and allergic to music. We also get both draining and life-giving powers. And then we are sent on a mad dash quest to destroy another beat witch, who has been killing people and wants us to take the blame.
It’s enjoyable, but it’s also extremely on rails. I’m not the only reviewer who wonders why this game is a parser game rather than a choice-based game. I think it would have worked better as a choice game; that would have allowed for more natural pushing in the right direction and less of a disconnect between the mode of input and the possibilities allowed us. The current game often hints very heavily at the one thing we have to do to advance the plot. And it is jarring how little it allows us to explore. We’re in a huge building, but we’re not allowed to go anywhere – and even though there is always a plot explanation for this, it’s still grating. In a choice-based game, this would have felt much more natural!
(After finishing the game, I suddenly wondered whether the title was a big joke and you could win the game by just typing ‘beat witch’ at every prompt. After all, that’s exactly what we have to do! That would have justified using a parser! Alas, no. Or maybe it’s for the better, because who, besides me, would have enjoyed that?)
Of course the other option is to allow us a little more room for exploration. The game might have actually benefited from that. The scenes are pretty intense, and some downtime looking through a few rooms, learning some details about ourselves and the setting, wouldn’t have been amiss. If anything, the game moves too fast, bringing us to climax after climax without really allowing us to get to know our character.
There’s some good stuff there! I liked the walkman (technology from when our character was ‘turned’) and the family backstory. But the game could have used more of it, or more ways for us to experience and maybe give shape to the inner life of the character, to set up more of an emotional resonance for the final scene. This is maybe also true for the villain. There were one or two great moment (like finding out that she has childishly molested our notepad), but there’s no emotional pay-off when we learn about her past.
Beat Witch is memorable, and I’m looking forward to the implied sequel… but I suggest taking it a little bit easy, and trusting the player a little bit more to veer off the intended path and then return to it.