Dust motes dance in the air as you stealthily make your way along the abandoned corridors. All around you is the detritus of a once occupied mental hospital, now descending into ruin. The pungent odor of decay permeates your nostrils as you carefully pick your footing, tiny creaks and groans reminiscent of bygone shrieks and moans echo in the stillness. Suddenly you see a sign of life ahead, twin girls, strangely still, observing your every move. Is this a nightmare? The Shining? No, my friends, it is Mystic Asylum by Selfdefiant in this week's Weekday Escape.
Mystic Asylum is more of a building escape than a room escape. Seriously, there are a lot of rooms in this place. Apparently you have been chosen to rid this abandoned asylum of its negative energy. Okay, not The Shining, more like Poltergeist then, with you the casual gamer cast as Tangina Barrons ("Don't go into the light, Carol Ann!"). Why does the asylum have all of this negative energy? What, haven't you ever seen a horror movie? What old abandoned asylum doesn't? Why have you been chosen? Who knows?
The object of this large escape effort is to explore the decaying building, finding purple energy orbs to rid the place of the negative energy. Oh yeah, your job is to also figure out how to get the heck out of Dodge. To that end you will do lots of wandering around, picking up helpful objects, solving puzzles, unlocking a lot of doors, and hopefully enjoying this amazing tour through a stunning space.
Navigation in Mystic Asylum takes a little getting used to. Hover your cursor at the sides, top, and bottom of the screens and when a hand appears, then you can click and move in that direction. Strangely, to move forward you must hover at the top of the screen, rather than just clicking a door or a foreground. Some rooms can be entered or exited in only one direction. And then there are the locked doors. Fortunately, the first thing in your inventory when you begin is a handy map showing you the layout of the facility. Use it often or you risk wandering for an eternity with only the spooky twins for company.
Scattered in every room are small purple energy orbs. You must accumulate these as you go, lest you risk being consumed by the negative energy that permeates this rotting shell of a building. There are also useful objects to pick up, clues to find, and puzzles to solve as you meander your way around. There is a changing cursor, so watch carefully in each room or you risk missing a vital object or piece of information that will help you get out.
Analysis: Selfdefiant's games tend to fall into one of two categories: cute, cartoony point-and-click adventure types (Kidnapped by Aliens, Escape from the 13th Floor) and haunting, photorealistic and spookier escapes (Absence). Mystic Asylum is one of the latter, with stunning urbexing photographs by Andre Govia that automatically make you want to slow down and just appreciate the urban decay. There's a spooky sound loop which can haunt or just become annoying, so fortunately there's a mute button handy for when it becomes a bit too much.
Mystic Asylum isn't just gorgeous scenery, however. There's a lot of escaping fun here amongst the amazingly creepy settings. A nice balance of use of found objects and puzzle solving make Mystic Asylum an amusing (and very creepy) mid-week break. The game has an auto-save feature, so if you leave and come back you will be right where you left off. Play more than once and see if you can improve your score, which is a combination of how many energy orbs you can find combined with the fewest amount of clicks it takes to complete all of your tasks.
Is there a downside? Well, yes, a few minor ones. Many of the objects are small and placed in dark areas, so you really need to "sweep" a room with your cursor to find the hotspots. It can be very easy to overlook a vital and necessary piece of equipment in the sweeping vistas, which can become annoying. The odd navigation is a challenge at first, but rely on your map and eventually you will begin to make sense of the twists and turns contained in these 35 rooms. And the inclusion of the "Shining" twins seems like a bit of a waste, since it's not like they actually do or say anything.
Spooky rather than scary, Mystic Asylum is a game of chills rather than frights. No jump scares here, just a lot of spooky atmosphere enlivened by the standard conventions of a room escape. Stunning to look at and fun to play, Mystic Asylum is also a nice, creepy escape slap dab in the middle of the holiday season, something to cut the treacle and a relief from all of the frantic shopping.