Trigger warning, kiddies. Enola is a rough game, emotionally.
Horror tends to stick to the supernatural. Monsters, ghosts, and shadows tend to dog us during our more terrified moments, following us down endless corridors as we try to escape death. There aren’t that many games that deal with the real-world terror and the horrors that can strike any one of us. The Domaginarium is trying to fill in that void with their horror game, Enola, a game that is both frightening and mentally crushing. I needed a minute after I’d finished it at PAX East, as I was completely unprepared for how hard it would hit me.
The gameplay revolves around a woman trying to find her missing girlfriend. As I looked around the house that she’d disappeared from, I was given hints of her past and her relationship with the main character. It did not take long for this to take a dark turn as voices, documents, and sickening dioramas of broken statues and mannequins told the story about what had happened to her girlfriend a long time ago. The demo I played was subtle, for the most part, hinting at what happened until it simply smashed me with a room filled with shadows and mannequins laid out in a display that churned my guts. The developers were not shy in telling me that this game was about living in the aftermath of a loved one being raped, and their game isn’t either. I never felt that it was tasteless about it, but it also wasn’t afraid to really drive its point home, either.
The hinting alone was enough to make this game extremely uncomfortable, but there was more. It plays out a bit like Amnesia, where you are left alone in a dark environment and have to solve puzzles and explore to progress the game. Instead of being chased by a weird creature, though, you face off against the dark outline of an ordinary man. You might only just catch him out of the corner of your eye before he grabs you, and then you have to mash buttons in order to escape. The first time he caught me was completely by surprise (as most of the game is quite dark), so all of a sudden my screen was filled with a dark face and I was fighting him off. It was fast, brutal, and left me shaking, especially with all of the grotesque, violent imagery about women lying around.
As for the puzzles you can solve, some of them can be put together incorrectly, resulting in some explosive deaths. There are also some more instant death traps lying around the game, meaning I never felt even a bit safe. With a half-visible man chasing me and lethal traps around every corner, I felt extremely vulnerable every step I took through the game. From a pure gameplay perspective, it was horror excellence, leaving me feeling afraid to move forward or stand still. From a personal perspective, it made me really feel what it was like to be afraid, alone, and vulnerable.
The rough subject matter is what really made the game stay with me. Yes, this is still a game about dodging a dark boogeyman, but the imagery, haunting dialogue, and creeping buildup in the storyline left me with a genuine sense of discomfort, revulsion, and horror. This sort of game walks a dangerous line, though, one where it risks using rape as a device to create scares rather than using the game to send a message about sexual assault. The developers seemed concerned with sending a message about the pain of rape and the difficulties of being with a loved one who’s suffered it, though, and I think the final product will have some hard revelations in it for the people who play it. They want to teach people empathy about this horrible crime, and it doesn’t look like their game will be pulling any punches in the process.
Enola is a dark game, darker than many things I’ve played, and I am both interested and afraid of seeing where it will go from here. It may be the first game to make me feel true, genuine horror, giving me a sickening look at what some human beings are willing to do to another person, and that actually scares me.