Nice place you’ve got here
Is Hallowe’en done yet? Each year I have the goal of playing as many horror games as possible in October, and usually, I get sidetracked, and it doesn’t happen. This year, I both succeeded and started early. And now, I’m sick of them. I don’t want any more monsters or grungy aesthetics. I’m tired of some dude with a knife getting in my way while I try to slot crests in their respective crest-holes.
I’m so tired of keys. I don’t even lock my door anymore… Okay, maybe one more.
Part of this initial flood of horror titles has been through Puppet Combo’s publisher label, Torture Star Video. Stay Out of the House is pure Puppet Combo. Guy’s been working on this one for a while, and it’s finally here. So, at least if I’m forcing myself to swallow one more morsel into my critically full gullet, it promises to be a tasty one.
Stay Out of the House (PC)
Developer: Puppet Combo
Publisher: Puppet Combo
Released: October 13, 2022
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: your car broke down (sort of), and the nearest refuge you find is a creepy house. Maybe they’ll let you use their phone, just go right on in. Oops! There’s a bad man with a hammer. Maybe you should stay a while, but not too long because The Butcher obviously has plans for you.
I feel like I did this so recently with Deadly Night, which was a Torture Star Video published title. Really, the games run pretty parallel. The difference is, while Deadly Night felt relatively routine, Stay Out of the House feels like its majestic final form. It feels kind of like what previous titles in the slasher genre have been leading up to. It’s the whole cake, when before we were just licking the spoon.
Of course, it’s definitely still a slasher title.
This time around, you’re locked in a house with the Butcher and Grandma. Avoiding them is a matter of sticking to the shadows and staying quiet while you try to pull at the threads and unravel their grotesque tapestry. That’s the routine part. Like in Deadly Night, you’re left to find a means of escape.
However, on top of that are numerous other layers. Stay Out of the House lifts from the nebulous immersive sim genre. It plays a bit like a tighter, more intricate version of Nun Massacre in which you explore the house, pick up items, and figure out what you’re supposed to rub them against. Put in the effort, and you can open up shortcuts and new routes. Just don’t get spotted.
There are also various traps throughout the house. There are security cameras that will spot you and sound the alarm, Grandmother scooting up and down the stairs in her wheelchair, and if you piss off the Butcher enough, he’ll put down some bear traps.
You have three days to escape, which technically means you have three lives. If the Butcher knocks you out, you wake up back in captivity the next day. He’ll also upgrade the apparatus, placing more cameras and traps around.
Slaying the elderly
It’s the small victories that make Stay Out of the House worthwhile. Every time you manage to snip a wire and unscrew a vent, it feels like a victory. Progress comes steadily as you work at different small puzzles throughout. It feels rewarding to scour the house, trying to outsmart grandma and the Butcher.
Actually, Grandma is a huge pain. She moves quickly and constantly shifts to different spots around the house. She’s got comparatively bad vision and hearing, but when she does spot you, she starts screaming, drawing the Butcher to wherever she is. That might just sound like a mobile security camera, but she always had a habit of showing up at the worst times and parking herself there.
Eventually, I got fed up and stabbed her face-off. I cannot stress how satisfying it was to stab Grandma. Kudos to Puppet Combo for his ability to make slaying the elderly so cathartic.
The graveyard shift
Stay Out of the House also does a good job of telling its story. It’s not necessarily a very standout plot, but the way it flows is pretty well done. It’s technically broken into four chapters, with the first part acting as a prologue. While most of the action is secluded in the last two chapters, the different paces they offer flow together well while still offering variety. Starting with Night Shift was a good choice, as it lays down a baseline of suspense before you start crawling through vents.
I also enjoyed the addition of other victims in the third chapter. You have the ability to release them from their prisons and lead them to safety. Y’know, if you want to. If not, the Butcher eventually goes out and kills one of them, dragging them in and chopping them up. It’s a really nice touch that adds some tangible stakes to the plot, even if it’s more fun to watch them get killed.
All this is wrapped in a lo-fi aesthetic that can be tweaked to your liking. Whether you want it to look like a PS1 game with shifting textures or a rental VHS abomination with unreadable text, the world is your low-poly oyster.
Mr. Puppet Combo has told me that the least favorite of his own games are the more conventional ones, and this fits into that category. I absolutely respect that perspective, but it’s hard to deny that he has a talent for the conventional. Stay Out of the House is a tight experience with a lot of moving parts. Too many, perhaps, as he and his team have been patching it since release, and while it seems that a lot of the critical bugs have been fixed, I hit a few weirdities, but nothing that frustrated me.
This may be my favorite of the Puppet Combo game. I love the weird experiments, but it’s also nice to see the results applied to a cohesive and polished design. More marketable? Maybe, but it’s hard to look at this wonderfully nuanced game and not have a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship. That’s what Stay Out of the House is: a solid end result that doesn’t stray too far from the jank and seediness of the Puppet Combo brand. It’s a well-carved victim. An expertly stabbed Grandma.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]