The Mortuary Assistant
Developer: DarkStone Digital | Publisher: DreadXP | Release Date: 2022 | Genre: Simulation / Horror / Indie | Website: N/A | Purchase: Steam
It takes a special kind of person to work in a mortuary, and in The Mortuary Assistant, that person is Rebecca Owens. After earning her degree in mortuary sciences, Rebecca takes on an apprenticeship at River Fields Mortuary, much to her grandmother’s dismay. It would seem that River Fields Mortuary has somewhat of a reputation when it comes to things that go bump in the night, but Rebecca is unfazed by this. However, things change when Rebecca is called in late one night to handle some embalmings and discovers that she is not as alone in the mortuary as she would have liked. Unfortunately for Rebecca fleeing is not an option as her boss informs her that a demonic entity has set its sights on her. Unless she can identify the demon and bind it to a body before burning it, there is a good chance that she might not leave the mortuary alive.
As far as creepy premises for games go, The Mortuary Assistant gets top marks right out of the gate. Many horror games have sent players for a quick trip through a mortuary, but in this game, it takes center stage. From the moment players step through the doors of River Fields Mortuary, it’s hard not to shake the feeling of impending dread that the place exudes in droves. Despite not being very big, the whole building feels like it was designed to keep players anxious and paranoid at all times. Most of the action takes place in the room where the bodies are worked on, but players will also have to take trips to the cold storage, reception, and bathroom. Of course, most of these are connected by long, straight hallways that are always visible in your peripheral vision while working on the bodies. This makes it easy to spot when the lights in one of these hallways suddenly go out or previously open doors mysteriously close.
The paranormal activity in River Fields Mortuary starts out subtle, with strange knocks and bangs along with the occasional entity popping up to deliver some jumpscares. However, the longer Rebecca takes to send the demonic entity back to hell, the higher her risk of possession becomes and the more extreme the scares get. Bodies might start moving or talking, the spirits more likely to ruffle Rebecca up, and even weird hallucinations are not out of the question. Worse, each playthrough is different, so players never know what to expect each time they start a new shift.
Although Rebecca’s top priority is identifying, binding, and burning whatever demon it is that wants to hijack her body, she still has a job to do. Unfortunately, this job involves a series of procedures involving cadavers and medical implements that are definitely not for the squeamish. Players are handed a clipboard with instructions that can be used to run through each procedure, but after a few shifts, it becomes second nature. For Rebecca to return a body to cold storage or burn it, she must first find and document any strange markings.
This procedure involves examining bodies up close for rashes, abrasions, scratches, blemishes, and more. Once this is done and logged into a computer, Rebecca can get to work on wiring jaws shut, inserting eye caps, mixing embalming fluid, draining bodies of blood, filling bodies with cavity fluid, and finally applying some moisturizer. The sights and sounds accompanying each of these steps are initially almost as horrifying as the scares. However, after a while, players become desensitized to the procedure, and there’s almost a calming aspect to running through the checklist while bracing for the next scare.
As mentioned earlier, for Rebecca to survive her shift, she will have to identify and burn the demon, which is easier said than done. First, she needs to know the entity’s name, which can be done by finding the markings it leaves behind all over the mortuary. However, to locate these players must walk around with “Letting Strips” that burst into flames if a mark is nearby. Finding these marks forces players to move around and enter other areas, increasing the chances of encountering a new jumpscare. Once all four marks are found, players must consult a database to determine which entity they are associated with. The sigils can then be inscribed on a mark which must be placed on a body before shoving it in the incinerator. Of course, players have to pick the right body, which means looking for strange marks or behavior associated with it. These can sometimes be very subtle, so care must be taken not the burn the wrong one by accident.
Visually, The Mortuary Assistant is a good-looking game for an indie title. As mentioned earlier, the mortuary is not very big, but the interior is detailed and designed for maximum scares. Players also get to visit Rebecca’s apartment and a few other locations that crop up during certain scenes. Through these scenes, players also learn more about Rebecca’s tragic past, which involves addiction as well as trauma. Some of the scenes in which the surroundings change abruptly and unexpectedly also reminded us of horror classics, such as F.E.A.R and Silent Hill. The entities, especially one called the “Mimic,” are pretty terrifying and had us clutching our hearts each time it made an unexpected appearance. Kudus should also go to the developer for making sure that there’s plenty of variety when it comes to the cadavers, as players will be spending a lot of time getting up close and personal with them. The entire game is viewed in first person, making it more immersive and frightening.
From an audio standpoint, The Mortuary Assistant impresses with decent voice acting and great sound effects. The game often also foregoes music in favor of silence so players can hear every bang and knock around them. There are few things as terrifying as poking around the abdomen of a corpse with a trocar when suddenly, one of the mortuary cold locker doors begins banging in the distance. Hearing the sound of rain getting louder only to realize that the window behind Rebecca had opened while she was working on a corpse is also a chilling sensation. Especially if some entity already knocked on the window before demanding to be let in. In terms of controls, we tried a controller and a keyboard and mouse while playing The Mortuary Assistant, and the latter was the better option. Tasks such as entering data in the computer or finding marks on the bodies went a lot smoother with a keyboard and mouse, but that’s a personal preference, and some players might be more comfortable using a controller.
Overall, The Mortuary Assistant is a very impressive title from an indie developer. Although the game is relatively short (there’s an achievement for completing a shift in under 45 minutes), it has a lot of replay value and deserves to be played more than once. The basic gameplay loop of preparing the bodies also stays the same, but the random spooky events prevent players from becoming too complacent. We saw some repeat events during our playthroughs, but overall there appears to be a lot of variety to the scares. It also seems that the scares are not always purely random either, but are dolled out based on what players are doing, where they are, and how far they have progressed, which is a great touch. Finally, the game had a few issues upon release, but the developer has been ceaselessly working on addressing all of them.
After playing through The Mortuary Assistant a few times and getting the living daylights scared out of us each time, we have no qualms recommending the game to fans of the genre. It is one of the best horror games released in 2022 and right up there with some of the best of all time. The game starts freaking players out right from the start with its warning about how it depicts actual reported paranormal experiences. It also urges players to contact a local church or paranormal investigators if they experience weird stuff after playing the game, which is quite frankly terrifying. However, despite the sense of dread we experienced each time we stepped through the doors of River Fields Mortuary, we kept coming back for more. Partially in the hopes of discovering more about Rebecca and partially to (hopefully) roast another demon for subjecting us to a shift full of terror.