A beautiful pandemic ravaged Mediterranean backdrop is a hellish maze
The tale of a special red wine created by the Banydebosc family, said to possess the power to cure the Devil's Fever, leads protagonist Marti on a mission to find it to save his family from said ailment in Horror Tales: The Wine.
Navigating an abandoned city, largely in ruins, leads the player on a first-person horror experience that twists reality and provides company in the form of a headless apparition that stalks the player at regular intervals. Unable to fight back, the player must run, solve puzzles and find the wine in the reality-bending horror tale.
The gorgeous Mediterranean setting features striking stone architecture, home to nothing but the remnants of a once bustling city left in abandon after the Devil's Fevers pandemic. Navigating the buildings, underground catacombs and seas of wine provide an ominous backdrop to the player's quest to survive the headless stalker and find the cure for his family.
Environmental puzzles challenge the player to find and use objects within the environment to open gates, passages, and create walkways to reach new plateaus to push forward. These puzzles are reasonably simple to solve, with the solution or required interactions typically nearby.
The player has a camera that serves no purpose other than Achievements/Trophies. When toggled, the player is able to freely float around and pass through specific walls, backing out from the camera when the passage has been opened to be able to enter the newly revealed area.
What awaits the player is pointless on a narrative level but amusing at the same time. Tucked behind these hidden passages, as well as hidden throughout the city, are photos of cats that award Achievements/Trophies. While serving no purpose in the grand scheme of things, any day you can find a picture of a cat in a game is a good day.
Horror Tales: The Wine has an atmosphere of tension that follows the formula of other titles that occupy the first-person horror genre. It competently keeps players on edge despite rarely capitalising on that tension with a moment of terror. Lacking jump-scares and cutscenes, the exclamation point to the tension comes in the form of the headless stalker that appears in pursuit of the player on a number of occasions.
This stalker needs to be avoided by outrunning him, monitoring stamina at the same time as a depleted stamina bar will leave the player vulnerable to his attacks. It only takes 3-4 hits for the stalker to kill the player but luckily, checkpoints are generous and the player is typically spawned back in the same area.
Adding further tension to these encounters is the environmental puzzle solving typically associated, tasking the player with finding and interacting with things nearby to create an escape and temporarily lose the stalker before he returns later at the next pre-determined moment. Throwing puzzles at the player while having to escape the stalker works well, elevates the tension and provides the only sense of action in what would otherwise be comparable to a walking simulator.
Despite relying on player exploration, the way forward is pretty linear, offering up a few rooms for the player to search while still funnelling them forward in a way that counteracts the lack of a mini-map or clear objectives.
The art direction of Horror Tales: The Wine is surprisingly great. From the abandoned homes, empty castle, stunningly gorgeous red seas of wine and the beautifully effective lighting bring dimension to an experience that rests primarily on its premise instead of presenting an evolving story.
Taking as little as an hour to complete the experience is rewarding and worth playing. Ticking boxes visually and on an audio level with its effective sound effects, Horror Tales: The Wine doesn't raise the bar for the genre but manages to deliver an experience that still stands out from the pack.
It may not be the longest, scariest or action-packed experience, but the quest to save the family of our protagonist with a magical wine is intriguing, atmospheric and clever enough with its puzzle design that it feels worthwhile. Horror Tales: The Wine wraps up what little story it tells with an epilogue that mirrors the reflection of my experience, taking a moment to look back and remember it fondly.
So, what works?
Beautiful art direction
Effective sound design
Stalker confrontations work well
And what doesn't?
Minimal story outside of its premise
Horror Tales: The Wine was reviewed on Xbox Series X and is also available on Xbox One/Series S, PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Games of DAYNE
Games of DAYNE is a reviewer and Xbox Achievement Hunter based in Wangaratta, Australia. Video games keep him busy whether it’s playing, reviewing or achievement hunting and other than entering "Dad Mode" for two young boys under five and working full time as a cheesemaker, he exists almost exclusively in the world of gaming.