This is the one hundred sixty-sixth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred sixty-sixth random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has locked us in a weird and extremely dark house. It’s The Recipe of Madness, by zerohalogen, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

The Recipe Of Madness – is a first person indie horror game. Approximate ti…

It cuts off there, so we may never know what, exactly, was being approximated.

I discussed this before when writing about Hollow Head, but I’m not a huge fan of horror games. Usually I hear others say the same because they find horror games too scary, but I’m the opposite: I’m usually not scared by horror games. Which often just makes them boring. I can still appreciate good ones on some level, aware of the tricks the game is playing to try to unsettle me, but I rarely derive the same enjoyment out of them as genre fans do. All of which is to say that I’m perhaps not the best person to comment on the quality of The Recipe of Madness.

I can tell you that it’s a pretty low budget offering. It’s a first-person game, as advertised, but has no way to change mouse sensitivity or invert the y-axis of the mouse. I had to use a third-party program for that, as a described in my post about HATCH, but it was annoying because it takes a moment to switch the inversion on menu screens, and The Recipe of Madness often requires consulting an in-game journal screen for hints. The thin premise is that the protagonist Frank, a journalist, has gone to interview a famous writer in his house. But Frank promptly gets himself locked inside, and must explore to figure out what’s going on. Which mostly involves finding notes lying around, and then referring to them later via the in-game journal menu.

The house, naturally, has a bizarre layout and seems to contain increasingly surreal things. It’s also extremely dark. Frank’s journal says he was to meet the writer at 16:00, but I would have guessed midnight, given how little light trickles in from the few frosted windows I encountered. When the game displayed an on-screen message telling me my flashlight is toggled with the right mouse button, I tried turning it on… only to discover I’d actually turned it off. I hadn’t realized it was on because its beam had done nothing to dispel the gloom, merely turning a black scene into dark grey. Only when directly facing a wall did the flashlight seem to actually illuminate anything. The candles and lamps found around the house are similarly ineffectual against he darkness.

I’m sure this is the mood that zerohalogen was going for, and it does combine nicely with the strange occurrences (including a few jump scares, fair warning) that unfold. I didn’t find it very frightening, personally, but as I said above, I rarely do. I do think that The Recipe of Madness gets it its own way a little, because it tasks players with wandering around the house to find notes, keys and other items, which can quickly devolve into wandering the length of the place over and over looking for something they overlooked. I got stuck for a while on a puzzle involving a piano because I missed a hint for it, and it took me a while to find it. There were many other occasions where something similar might have happened, killing the tension and making the game run too long.

Those who avoid hitting snags like this could easily finish The Recipe of Madness in an hour, which would minimize the weaker parts and emphasize a few cool moments that I don’t want to spoil. My favorite sections subvert the experience of going back through the same corridors and rooms again, but sadly these only occur when actually making progress, not when fruitlessly searching for a missing item. Dare I say that The Recipe of Madness would actually be improved by guiding players towards specific paths more often, rather than setting them loose to wander where they please? Oh no, I have become a defender of modern game design that leads players by the nose, rather than trusting them to navigate spaces on their own! This, surely, is the true horror.

In all seriousness, though, horror fans may want to give The Recipe of Madness a look. Despite its title, it avoids the tired trope of using mental illness as a source of scares, and it plays some clever tricks that I appreciated. The writing isn’t amazing, and the English translation (from the original Russian) isn’t great either, but the game is short enough that this doesn’t get in the way too much. The premise isn’t too important anyway, it’s really just about exploring this strange house as creepy things happen. If that sounds interesting to you, and you missed it in the bundle, The Recipe of Madness is sold for a minimum price of $1.

That’s 166 down, and only 1575 to go!