Remorse: The List is the psychological horror developed by Peter Ifju (aka Ashkandi) with his development group, Deppresick Team. Before Remorse, Peter was a horror aficionado who made his fair share of horror total conversion mods set in the same continuity as Remorse, the most well-known amongst them being Grey. Read on for our review of yet another modder's successful jump into the indie scene!
Tormenting Psychological Horror
The streets are dark, every corner a threat, and trouble never far behind. In the small Hungarian town of Hidegpuszta, there's no real safety to be had. Scavenge what you can, control your panic, and keep your brain switched on if you want to escape the nightmare within. Remorse: The List is a psychological horror developed by seasoned horror fans, modders who know what horror they like and have been making mods fulfilling that brief for over a decade. It's the fourth in a line of somewhat connected horror games telling a gradual narrative that is the brainchild of a developer with a keen eye for vision.
Style is half the battle in horror games of this calibre - how creative and crazy every enemy can be, the ways in which convention is broken to serve de-familiarisation and push the agenda of keeping the players on their toes every time they hear a bump. I'll get more into this in the next section, but this is a lesson learned most strongly from Half-Life-era horror, where engine limitations meant creative enemy design was one of the best and most efficient ways to make a splash. Combat is neither bombastic nor loud, and instead a careful consideration of available resources and what comes next. You will have to kill every enemy - this isn't a stealth horror - but picking the right tools and time to use the valuable ammunition is essential to survival.
I can't just tease all of this nostalgia without explaining it - and whilst it's tough to those who didn't grow up playing and watching Half-Life horror, I'll take my best crack at it.
There's a feeling in Remorse: The List that horror mod fans will immediately recognise - in short, this game feels like a Half-Life horror mod. Everything from enemy introductions, placement, and emphasis on complicated navigational puzzles, put together with the surprisingly varied yet very conventional arsenal for a generally understated genre, makes this game feel like the product of modders. Naturally, now being an indie game, it has that extra level of polish - enemies are higher poly, some mechanics that would be tough to nail in Goldsrc or Source are given an extra leg-up, and the graphics of Remorse are, frankly, stunning. Feeling isolated seldom looks as good as this.
Combat is quite common, something else that adds to this nostalgia factor. In many Triple A horror games, you see combat rarely, being more of an event when it happens. For horror mods, though, combat is the bread-and-butter, a chance to keep the player entertained whilst showing off the most unique beastie you could make. For this review, I played on Normal, and died only once during the final boss battle. Remorse: The List's gunplay is fine overall - none of the guns break from the norm, and ammo is not quite plentiful, but any survival horror fan used to conserving resources will be able to keep stocked up without much concern. Enemies are also generally more unique visually than mechanically, with the real creativity coming in the boss fights. For the most part, backpedal and shoot or stab when you hear the tell-tale screeching of a far off creature, and use medkits when you drop below around 50% health.
Remorse: The List's gameplay offering is average on the whole with highlights being the two boss encounters - one which has multiple approaches (for multiple endings - see below for more on this game's replay value!) involving careful environmental searching, and one which uses board game mechanics for a surprisingly tense combination I've not really seen before. In the interests of avoiding major spoilers I won't be too specific, but dodging the final boss whilst keeping an eye on the board game mechanics as well was tense in a way that had begun to drop off past the first hour or two of play. There's one enemy I want to bring special mention to - some kind of "lag monster" that teleports and whose screeching can only be described as having "latency" to it. I dig the design a lot and in gameplay was one of the few enemies I still had to really think about towards the end. Puzzle design is pretty standard, though some took considerably more brainpower than others and occasionally broke the flow of tension as that gave way to frustration.
Remorse: The List is a pretty short game - my full playthrough clocked in at just under four hours long, and that was with finding a hidden side area. However, whether by design or in compensating for this short runtime, Remorse has plenty of replay value. Three endings each tell a different accounting of events and create different pieces of the puzzle to slot into place, with choices throughout affecting what ending you get (thus encouraging three separate playthroughs). There's also the hard mode, unlocked only after beating the game on normal difficulty, and a handful of challenge levels that I haven't tried but are a similar concept to Peter's previous project, Grey, which also featured these tests of skill. Lastly, upon completing the game you're issued a rank based on your performance. I received a B - not too shabby for a first-time playthrough - and it's another way dedicated players can get more mileage out of the game.
The atmosphere and scare potential in Remorse are probably its highlights - for whilst gameplay is generally average and short, the environment design is incredible. Touching upon both grounded and surrealist areas, there's great variety between hospitals, houses, nightmarescapes, and horror-house type affairs. Some set-pieces dial up the tension to eleven whilst some of the psychological sequences and their visuals are really memorable - like the hole-filled golems in the pictures above. Another modder-made venture, some of the shortcomings can absolutely be forgiven by the growing pains of moving from mods to indie and for a debut, Remorse: The List is remarkable. But what came first, and inspired this horror experience?
The first entry in Peter's continuity of horror experiences is Mistake - a Half-Life total conversion mod that, though pretty short, was already hitting many of the notes par-for-the-course within a solid horror mod on the engine. A creepy environment; off-putting reskins of Half-Life enemies; but different from its peers, a much smaller arsenal to keep every fight tough and tense.
The next entry was Mistake -1, a follow-up that delved more deeply into the story of the protagonist and began Peter's trend of keeping his creations within a roughly similar continuity. It's the sort of thing that helps build fan interest around a creator's work, uncovering mysteries here or links there that bring many disparate experiences together.
The most notable and perhaps most inspired work that predates Remorse: The List, however, is GREY - a total conversion now on the Source Engine that correctly leverages the increased graphical and engine capabilities to make environments that are darker, more immersive, and more eerie than ever. Kicking off with multiple endings, challenge modes that would later see a return in Remorse: The List and a completely custom repertoire of enemy types, GREY provided a foundation Peter's later work would follow.
My own experience with GREY was pretty good - I had the opportunity to interview the protagonist's voice actor, Stig Sydtangen (aka DragonNOR), whose voice and name you might recognise from another pillar of horror mods, Cry of Fear. GREY is very much a proto-Remorse, with gameplay that is generally average but gives way to an emphasis on atmosphere, creative enemy design, and compelling atmosphere. Here's where the nostalgia hits the hardest, as playing Remorse took me right back to my time with GREY and all the horror mods of the era.
The road to indie development for some is simple; for others, it's a gradual increase in skills, learning lessons and how to refine best their personal style. Peter's journey is the latter, where rough edges are gradually made smoother and smoother until we reach Remorse, a reasonably polished and well-rounded game. Bringing together other modding community names like Stig Sydtangen, as mentioned, but also Youness Id M'Hamed (aka KAON), who did sound design work for Cry of Fear as well, Remorse feels like a culmination of modding journeys in a way that satisfies me to no end.
Peter and his friends at Deppresick have made the jump to indie in way that both pays respect to the past and pushes ahead into a great future. Whilst mod support is not currently on the table, the team are working on many patches and fixes as well a a DLC that will continue to build on this foundation. Remorse: The List is available over on Steam for $19.99 USD/£15.99 GBP, with DLC on the way in the future. I'm excited to see how the team will take on the feedback from the main game's release to make their DLC yet another example of learning, refining, and growing in skill.
Till then, I'll be revisiting the nightmare town of Hidegpuszta to hunt for that elusive S rank.