In this day and age we're so used to seeing indie games be roguelikes or pixel-art platformers that it's easy to get fatigued when browsing any catalogue of indie titles, but Lost Forest Games' Winter Hall recently caught our eye in London when it was being demonstrated at the city's Tobacco Dock at Rezzed. It grabbed our attention specifically because it wasn't colourful, and instead presented us with a world that was on the one hand very real and ordinary, while at the same time offering hidden secrets that lured you into a historical mystery.
We started our demo by navigating our way around an archaeological site revolving around a medieval church and the nearby hall (Winter Hall), and immediately we got flashbacks of The Chinese Room's Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. We got these vibes because everything was so ordinary, which by no means is a bad thing. By "ordinary" we mean that everyday life had been recreated so faithfully, from handwritten notes to tourist boards about the history of the area, right down to the little details on fences and the unassuming streams of water that vein through this rural area.
It's worth adding here that all of this looks superb. It didn't take long for us to get sucked into the world, and we were captivated by moving from building to building in the site, looking at the grass and the trees, all bathed in the midday sun. The lighting was even prettier when it transitioned into nighttime, where shards of light broke through the branches of the trees to illuminate everything in a twilight. The polish and detail on this section is already stunning, so we hope that the final product looks as good as this.
Our forays through the world, including examining the various narrative clues dotted around the environment, revealed that the archaeological site is relevant due to its connection with the European Black Death, which ravaged the area in the 14th century. Much to our surprise, we then went from walking around on our own in the modern day to filling the shoes of a herbalist in 1348, where we were being tasked with helping the sick recover from their crippling illness.
When you're jumping back in history though, there's a curiosity in the fact that all the characters you meet have faces that we can only describe as sort of masks; unmoving countenances reminding us of Dark Souls' Mask of the Father. What's more is that all these figures are enshrouded in mist, and so even though you're jumping back in time it's still as if all these individuals are ghosts. It's like you're exploring memories rather than actually moving back in time, hence why there's a dreamlike feel to these flashback sequences we saw.
Our first foray into medieval Britain saw us encounter a girl that was pleading for us to help save her relative who was bedridden, and so we had to gather kindling for a fire to keep them warm. We then entered the Hall itself - the very same one that still stands to this day - to find out that the master's wife has also been taking ill, and requires assistance. After the game threw us back into the modern day, we then had to examine artifacts to find out the recipe for Dwale (a herbal anesthetic), before leaping back in time once again to administer the treatment.