Scarlet Hollow is like a spooky campfire tale. It will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside – at least until the sun starts to set, and the winds begin to howl.
Scarlet Hollow is an adorable casual gaming experience from indie developer Black Tabby Games. It’s a horror title through and through, although perhaps not in the way you might expect.
The adrenaline-fuelled chase sequences of games like Outlast are entirely absent. The tense exploration and resource management of the Resident Evil franchise never eventuates. Hell, you don’t really do much of anything in Scarlet Hollow other than chatter away like a hermit that’s been finally let loose at a charity ball.
Don’t get the wrong impression though. The game, while not exactly exhilarating, still has a great deal to offer. The time I spent playing it was thoroughly enjoyable.
Welcome to Scarlet Hollow
Scarlet Hollow Episode 1 starts with you returning to the ancestral home of your family, the rural town that the game takes its name from. After many years of being estranged, and more than one family tragedy, you are beckoned back by your cousin to attend the funeral of her mother. It immediately becomes apparent that the small town, and its quirky denizens, have more going on than meets the eye.
You are quickly introduced to Stella, a friendly YouTuber who spends her time searching for mystical beasts with the aid of her charming pug Gretchen. I say aid, because that’s how Gretchen herself explained it to me (yes, you can speak to animals and you most definitely should).
From this meeting an adventure begins, one that promises to be full of unnerving discoveries and memorable characters.
The first episode of Scarlet Hollow took me roughly an hour and a half to complete, perhaps the same amount of time you would expect to spend reading a collection of comics. Speaking of which, the hand drawn illustrations, provided by artist Abby Howard, enrich the game’s world immensely.
A place where you can be yourself
So as I mentioned before, there isn’t much gameplay to Scarlet Hollow; it’s essentially an interactive comic book that allows you to make decisions. While this won’t be to everyone’s tastes, it manages to succeed with this approach due to its fine writing and interesting art direction.
The other thing I found intriguing about the game is how it reacts to your decisions. Many games have come in for criticism for giving the impression that they offer players real choices, only for it to later become apparent that the associated consequences are the same no matter what you do.
While Scarlet Hollow undoubtedly does shepherd you along a particular path, the branching decisions you make mean that your experience will be vastly different to another players. At the beginning of the game I chose to pick the two traits; ‘speaks to animals’ and ‘mystical’. Rather quickly I realised how important that decision was – so far three of my four favourite characters that I have encountered are animals.
If this is indicative of how meaningful other traits and indeed narrative decisions are, then not only does the Scarlet Hollow offer gamers a great deal of customisation in terms of their experience, it also has fantastic replayability.
Scarlet Hollow Episode 2
Scarlet Hollow is being released in episodic form, something which serves the comic book tone and deliberate pacing of the game really well. The first episode is a generous entry point, and is currently being offered for free on Steam. My advice is to take advantage of it.
The second instalment of Scarlet Hollow is set for release on June 11 2021.