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Welcome to the Game is a first person/desktop horror title created by Reflect Studios, the same indie developers responsible for the currently-in-development and equally creepy Rides with Strangers.
In this title, your aim is to scour the dark web (aka the shadow web or dark net) in search for the “Red Room”, described by the game as “a hidden service on the Deep Web to see and participate in interactive torture and murder.” Pretty screwed up, right?
You will have thirty days to uncover the location of the the Red Room before it expires, after which your opportunity to vent your immoral frustrations upon an innocent soul is lost forever.
Although its premise and objective is excessively wicked, its execution is less so. You will never actually be taking part in some sick digital murder fest (not really). But as the cliché goes, it’s about the journey and not about the destination.
Welcome to the Game will put you on a journey through the most sinister corners of the internet and will provide you with one of the most spine-chillingly unique experiences in gaming.
A brief introduction to the Dark Web
If you are familiar with the Dark Web, then you can skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise briefly lend me your ears (or eyes rather) and I’ll give you a quick introduction.
For most, the internet is a platform that allows us to check emails, play games and binge-watch YouTube videos. This is known as the surface web and surprisingly only makes up a single percent of the entire World Wide Web.
Although its premise and objective is excessively wicked, its execution is less so
But there is a world beyond, a place that cannot be reached via search engines such as Google or Bing. This is called the Deep Web. Although the Deep Web has its share of nefarious activities, such as the trading of illegal goods, it mostly only exists because search engines just aren’t able to reach every single website in existence.
Lastly, there is the dark web, a digital shadow kingdom where the occasionally nefarious becomes the utterly sinister. It’s a menacing dimension filled with wicked things such as the occult, torture and death.
This is where Welcome to the Game will take you. That is, if you are able to reach it…
Time to find the Red Room
It’s 2am and I’m home alone. I’m busy exploring the deep web, mischievously browsing through a plethora of strange sites like Nude YouTubers, Illumanati and Warehouse 33. My heart starts pounding as I scroll through the content of these illicit web pages. It’s becoming more and more clear that that I’m doing something I shouldn’t.
Suddenly there is a loud bang and I swiftly glance to the right. My window is wide open and the dining room chair has seemingly moved by itself. Visit the dark web they said, this will be fun they said.
In this horror title, you’re a total newcomer to the deep web and, as mentioned before, you are out to find the infamous Red Room. To find the Red Room you will need to locate eight codes hidden within the deep web to discover the site’s URL. Most of this will be explained in the game’s introduction tutorial, so be sure to answer that call from Adam.
The entire game will take place in your living room with you sat behind your desk. The eerily familiar drone of the computer, complimented by sound effects reminiscent of pre-millennium operating systems, lends heavily to the hauntingly dull atmosphere. It’s an experience that most of us can relate to and that’s what makes this game so wonderfully creepy.
Visit the dark web they said, this will be fun they said
Although you won’t be able to move from your desk, you will be able to either look at your surroundings or zoom in on your computer screen. While you will spend most of your time on the desktop, it will become increasingly more important to regularly take a look around you (for reasons I will explain a bit later).
To aid you on your sinister adventure you will have two tools at your disposal, “A.N.N.” and “Notes”. A.N.N. is a special web browser that will allow you to access and browse the deep web. Notes is pretty self-explanatory. You will mainly be using it to keep track of the various Red Room codes you find on the net. It can also come in handy to note when you visit certain sites, as some of them are only up at certain times of the night and sometimes only for an hour or two.
It has to be said though that while the creepiness of the various sites’ content added a sinister dimension to the browsing experience, the novelty did eventually wear off and constantly clicking through the labyrinth of links got somewhat tedious at times. Luckily, there are other things to keep you on the edge of your seat…
Dangers of the Deep Web
Exploring the dark web doesn’t come without it risks. Entering this shady part of the internet will expose you to a whole new world of individuals with evil and malicious intentions.
Your first threat as a dark net user is cyber attacks from hackers. When you are being hacked, you’re screen will start to glitch and a pixelated skull will appear, mocking you with its distorted laugh.
Fortunately, you have anti-hacking software installed, providing you with an opportunity to defend yourself against the hacking attempt. To do so you will have to play a mini-game.
Cyber attacks will come in two forms, “kernel attacks” and “DOS attacks”. To battle a kernel attack you will have to retype code-like phrases within an allocated time limit, much like those old school educational games you played back in school, just in a more menacing context. I found it quite easy to deal with kernel attacks and usually finished with a lot of time to spare on the clock.
It’s an experience that most of us can relate to and that’s what makes this game so wonderfully creepy
To defeat a DOS attack you will have to guide a moving block over a series of arrows, which you will have to rotate to keep it moving in the right direction, and help it reach the end point. At first the DOS attacks were pretty easy to deal with as the complexity of the puzzle was quite manageable. But it didn’t take long for its difficulty to increase and soon I was getting hacked more often than I was preventing it.
When you do get hacked, you’ll lose a few days on the calendar, giving you less time to discover the Red Room. You will also stand the chance of losing the notes you’ve painstakingly written down of the hidden codes you found. That being said, I didn’t lose my notes once in my time with this game.
But of all the threat you face on the dark web, the greatest danger of all lies in real-life kidnappers. That’s right, all the time you spend on the dark net provides other crafty individuals with the opportunity to gain your personal information and location to send kidnappers after you. I’m not sure what happens after you’ve been kidnapped but it’s safe to say you’re not being taken out for ice cream and doughnuts.
To avoid being kidnapped and turned into torture porn, you will constantly have to keep a look out for homer invaders. If ever hear a sound, and you will constantly be hearing inexplicable sounds, you will have to turn around to switch off the lights and wait it out in the dark. Then, only when you’re sure the coast is clear, you can turn on the lights again and resume you nefarious browsing activities.
I’m not sure what happens after you’ve been kidnapped but it’s safe to say you’re not being taken out for ice cream and doughnuts
The constant awareness of being a potential kidnapping target instilled the game with much tension and substance, and was honestly what really made this game stand out. You would be deeply engaged in your search for the Red Room and fending off hackers, just to suddenly be ripped from your stupor by the sound of a moving chair.
And when the kidnapper finally arrives, which will probably happen at the moment you least expect it, be ready to fill your pants with a healthy dose of excrement.
Release Date: 15 June 2016
Developer: Reflect Studios
Publisher: Reflect Studios
Genre: Thriller, deep-web simulator
Platform(s): Steam on PC (review platform)
Launch Price (RRP): R25
Steam Customer Rating: 253 positive, 60 negative
Verdict: Welcome to the Game showcases a skillful understanding of pace. It will suck you in with its intentional and relatable dullness, while the contrast of viewing illicit material imbues just enough tension within the experience to keep it interesting. This, coupled with the occasional jump scare and hacking mini-games, will send you through a roller coaster of emotions, all of which are quite disturbing. While it will have its moments of monotony, they are fortunately more seldom than not. If you’re looking for a unique horror title that offers something surprisingly different, then Welcome to the Game is certainly one of your best bets.