Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work with the dead? The Mortuary Assistant is a disgusting good time for fans of the macabre where you get to, you guessed it, play with dead people! Oh, and also, Demons, they like to play too!
As the Mortuary Assistant, you are Rebecca Owens, a recent graduate of the mortuary sciences. Rebecca has started a new job at River Fields Mortuary, working for Mr. Raymond Delver. After completing her stand-alone trial embalming, she starts her first night shift (alone), which she’s really excited about for some reason. Working the night shift, you make your rounds of checking the bodies of the recently deceased for notable marks and injuries, log them into the computer and get to work.… what?
Er. where was I? Oh, yea. Complete all the steps necessary to prepare the bodies for the afterlife. By the way, you also need to exercise a malevolent demon trying to possess you.
In what seems like a horror take on groundhogs day, you see yourself returning to work each night and repeating the same actions over and over. Typical night job stuff, go to work, file a report, embalm a body, oh and banish a demonic entity hell-bent on torturing you while you are just trying to get through your shift.
You start the game in a training phase that walks you through the process of mortuarying .. right? Examine the body for distinguishing marks and log them into the computer. Then for fans of the morbid, you complete a checklist of activities to prepare the body. Wiring jaws shut, placing eyecaps, mixing embalming fluid, and filling the abdomen with cavity fluid. All the things a young mortuary assistant dreams of. After you complete your review, your boss calls you to work the night shift and locks you into the mortuary, explaining the situation. He informs you that a demon has targeted you and that the only way to stop it is to follow a ritualistic procedure that involves embalming the body it is bound to, learning the demon’s name, and burning the body. To bind it, you will use an additive called a baleful reagent. When present in the body, the reagent allows for the binding of the demon to a body along with a mark that has the demon’s name on it. You learn the name of the demon by using an item called letting strips which will combust and reveal a sigil when present. Collecting all the sigils tells you the demon’s name, then when you think you know which body, burn the fucker. You have limited time to choose before the demon can take over. There are five endings to the game, and the one you will often see the most is the fail ending, which is pretty awesome, by the way.
I like my horror games more shooty and less hidey. I am not a fan of the new trend of horror games that have you cowering in fear from the big bad, like most characters in slasher horror movies. Anytime someone is hiding in a closet while the dull sensed killer slowly slumbers through the room and the dumb teen holds their breath is mirrored in a video game *snore*, I lose interest. It’s boring. On the contrary, the Mortuary Assistant does horror really well and always keeps you busy, often making you look the scary things in the face. You, as the player, will need to face your own fears to progress in some of the haunts and solve some of the puzzles. The Mortuary Assistant also does jump scares right, and yes, there are right and wrong jump scares. I’m never happy about cheap jump scares that rely on suddenly shocking your senses with a flash of movement and a sudden deafening noise of some sort. Those are cheap, leaving me feeling robbed and, most unforgivingly, not scared.
What you get in the Mortuary Assistant is much more subtle and all the more terrifying for it. Yes, there are moments when a sudden thing happens, but the game doesn’t blast you with noise. It allows you to realize that something is there or something is wrong, and then maybe you will get a soft, subtle audio cue. It has great variety in this respect. Sometimes you will turn around and notice a shadow in the room or a creepy woman staring at you through a cracked door. Then there are the moments when some unseeable force will throw you across the room, which is jarring and genuinely startling. See? Right kind of jump scare. I entered this game fully expecting to be assaulted with cheezy jump scares. It effectively usurped said expectations by rarely doing what I expected. I also came to love and appreciate the mystery and puzzle-solving elements to learn more about your character’s background and the demons trying to possess you. When I realized that this game was more of a puzzle, I truly started to enjoy myself.
The story is drip fed to you through subsequent “shifts” or playthroughs. Each night feels a little different, and you get new bits of backstory on Rebecca or your boss with each one. The job becomes just that, a job. Every night you have three corpses to process and discover the demon trying to possess you. Using the tools of the trade and the items provided, you have to solve the puzzle of naming the demon and which body they are currently tied to. Find the clues, determine the name and burn the body. Win, lose or draw, the game has you return to the main menu ready to start your next shift.
As you work, the demon will confront and torture you with elements of Rebecca’s checkered past. Through these visions, you learn some terrible truths about Rebecca, her family, and the grief she lives with. Interactions can range from extremely subtle (a noise or a light switch flips) to incredibly jarring and tense, like when the body you were preparing is now standing and gets violently pulled into the darkness. Average shifts, runs, or playthroughs ran me about 45 minutes after I knew what I was doing. Each run had a decent variety of spooky experiences, so each one felt a little different, and I would learn something new. A few things happen regularly, like seeing your grandma talking to you from outside, which I found played out one of two ways based on your actions. It’s quite terrifying either way.
Some issues I found mostly came down to a wonky control setup and clunky mechanics. Having been developed by one person, it is difficult to fault it too hard. If I could ask for anything, it would be the ability to remap more than one button to an action, as I often would hit the wrong key and then another wrong key to try to escape from my error only to just cycle through hitting all the buttons until I got it right. I would also like to use the escape key to back out of the game’s numerous hold screens rather than have to click the onscreen prompt. I often found myself unable to grab the gurney consistently and mashing the “E” key in the hopes I would eventually grasp it. This is a mild annoyance until you reach the later part of a run, and time is short to choose a body, which leads to me failing a run because I spent too much time just trying to move a corpse. In my time, I only experienced one major bug during a demonic event that (besides trying everything I could) had me stuck in a black screen. I then exited the game and returned to the last checkpoint, losing some progress.
Amidst all the terror, there is a fantastic reprieve mixed into the game. You can spend time in Rebecca’s apartment from time to time, and if you take in some of what is in the scene, there are some good laughs to be had. Do yourself a favor, investigate everything you can, and listen to the radio.
The Mortuary Assistant does an excellent job of standing out in the horror genre by mixing supernatural terrors with life-sim gameplay and solid puzzle elements. It’s not the most jaw-dropping experience, but the terror is well present and clever. The core gameplay loop may bore some quickly if they were not hooked by the underlying mystery like I was. The controls are a bit janky, as are the animations, but it is a solid game that runs well. Still, I truly enjoyed my time with this surprisingly creepy take on the genre. If you want goosebumps and some solid scares that don’t feel cheap, I think you will too.
The Mortuary Assistant gets 7 out of 10.