Kindra Reviews: Hektor
Hektor definitely does its job as a psychological horror game, with excellent pacing and a notable reliance on atmosphere over cheap scares. While it’s someone marred by the occasional visual glitch and somewhat frustrating hit detection when interacting with objects, its creative story, fantastic sound composition, and intense dread makes you want to continue to the end.
The opening of Hektor is a cry for help, and a visit to a placid doctor under a surgical light. Suddenly you find yourself, alone, in an asylum-esque environment with nothing but a lighter tossed to you from the darkness. You have no objective, except to wander. Are you trying to find a way out? Trying to rescue someone? Your purpose seems to change as you pick up the notes left by residents and guards at Hektor, and slowly unravel the story of what happened there.
Controls for Hektor are, for the most part, standard. The most unique mechanic is something the developer calls the “Jigsaw System” which, in addition to reacting to sudden changes in the environment, also detects when a player is lost, or panicking. The result is a drunken state where the room twists and curves and changes to nauseating purples and greens. The only solution in game is to take Benzo, which temporarily alleviates the problem. The worse the vision is, the more you have to take. This is an incredibly effective system, but as you get used to it, it becomes less frightening, and more sickening. Especially if you get stuck in one place for a long period, you’re going to get tired of it pretty quickly. It becomes less of an obstacle in the story, and more just an obstacle for playing the game, to the point if I went long periods with no Benzo, I had to stop playing just so recover from the motion sickness.
In terms of controls, the player character works fantastically. His movement is generally very fluid and realistic, which helps when the room is spinning. The biggest problem is the Amnesia-esque hit mechanics. It happened more than once: I would get stuck trying to open a door, or hover over an item for a full minute before I could figure out how to pick it up. For whatever reason, the boxes on picking up notes and items is very small and precise, which makes for a frustrating experience, especially when you’re very stressed. There was one note in particular that, hard as I tried, I couldn’t pick up at all. While this didn’t completely break the game for me, and I could progress just fine regardless, it did make for some more frustrating experiences in the early portions of the game, before I was fully invested.
The environment in Hektor is fantastic, which is good, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of the same thing over and over again. One of the other mechanics is that the rooms loop, but I don’t think it’s randomly generated. Rather it seems to try and lead you to where you need to be. There were a few occasions where I would wander past rooms that contained my objective, and after a while it would put me in a perpetual loop past that room until I finally got the picture. That’s a clever way to help the player progress, without outright giving them the answer. There’s enough diversity in the environment itself that you can easily differentiate one room from another, so you can easily dictate landmarks and tell when you’ve been to places before. Usually with randomly generated games and similar concepts, the environment is very similar from one area to another. Hektor doesn’t do that, and I’m thankful for it.
I am not thankful however for how often key objects blend in with the rest of the environment. Most objects have the “sparkles” to indicate it’s something you can pick up, but often this isn’t particularly noticeable and you can easily walk right by it. This same “sparkle” is used in other games without issue, but because so many of the items you can pick up look like other items you can’t, they’re easy to glance over.
Story (Spoiler in Italics)
The story of Hektor starts out pretty basic, but it makes the twist all the more satisfying. For the entire first half of the game, the player is led to believe Hektor is an insane asylum. This is a very typical fare that any horror enthusiast is very used too. You come across notes written by unnamed individuals, the most notable in the early game coming from a woman who’s a resident of Hektor. Her story is thoroughly tragic, narrated by a voiceover actress who does an excellent job portraying the woman through only her voice, relaying how the woman has suffered through horribly sexual abuse and torture while staying at Hektor, asking for someone to help her.
However as the story progresses, you find more notes from guards and the doctor, and the story starts to play out far differently. The woman from before starts talking like a child, and describing games where they shoot fellow inmates (if you go back a few notes, you can find where this was alluded to in the beginning of the game even). You get a sense of when the game takes place, during the Red Scare. After completing key parts, you enter into a red curtained maze, with the doctor speaking over you talking Chess and it’s not made clear if he’s talking to you, or if this is a flashback to another conversation.
Then you meet the first enemies in the game. A man who dissolves in front of you, causing your sanity to drop. The Sniper, a man in the red curtained maze who will shoot you and later seem to break your neck. And The Predator, probably the main baddie of the game, who stalks you through Hektor. The Predator is a nasty enemy — he seems to come out of nowhere, can walk through doors you shut in his face, and is incredibly hard to run from. You’re one real solution is to get lucky and never run into him at all.
By the end this all starts to come together. You find a bunch of chess pieces, directed by the voice of the woman that “You need more pieces if you want to play”, all the while chanting “Stop the water, start the fire”. Then in the end, you find out Hektor isn’t an asylum, but an abandoned military base, at the height of the Red Scare, training sort of “sleeper agents”, people brainwashed to follow orders and take out targets. At this point, your characters involvement is still pretty vague, until you enter a Red Curtained room and, outside of the players control, shoot a dummy in the face, and are directed to “set the fire”. The end result is that the story of Hektor was a brainwashing tactic — directing the player to save the woman (your partner) while taking the character to their final destination. It’s implied that the enemies were likely guards of the building, and you can see in a way how the obstacles could easily be what the player sees in people who are trying to stop you from doing something horrible.
The way this story is told is brilliant. While it starts off slow and familiar, it only makes the progression more and more fascinating, and the progression of the notes is so well done, you come back just wanting to find out more. The ending is a play on the typical “waking up” sort of ending, but done in a dramatically different way. You feel sympathy for the woman character throughout, and resentment towards the doctor and guards who tortured her, all through nothing but the excellent writing and voice acting. It more than makes up for the occasional bugs and mechanical issues. It’s rare for an ending of a horror story to be truly surprising — usually it’s either so out of left field that it’s less surprising and more confusing, or it’s utterly predictable. The ending to Hektor was not either of those. It forced me to think back on the actions I took throughout the game, and how those led me to where I was. There is foreshadowing in the notes you find at the earliest segments, and actions you take. You “stop the water” in the first part of the game, in a red curtained segment, and find a reciept for a teddy bear and a lighter. At the time, these fall out of your mind as just random events you have to do. By the end, you look back and realize — it was all planned.
So much planning went into weaving this story, you can’t help but appreciate it, and it makes Hektor well worth playing.
Mechanics: 6/10 — Generally okay, but marred by technical issues and the spinning room mechanic gets old fast.
Environment: 8/10 — Attractive environment, sometimes hard to find items, but diverse and well done.
Story: 10/10 — Genuinely one of the most enthralling horror stories I’ve seen in years, even with the slow start.
Overall: 8.5/10. The story sets this score way higher, just for how much it impressed me. It made me forget the mechanical problems while I was in game, and made me want to continue despite them. That gives it a hefty boost. This is a game that you must play through to the end to get the whole effect. The game is short enough that it’s not outside of most players’ reach.