The new choose-your-own horror game, The career, is a creation that has had its work cut out for it. It hails from previous Supermassive Games releases such as the beloved Until dawn and the bewitching but incoherent The Dark Pictures Anthology. The game developer has earned a reputation for leaning into cinematics, becoming more expansive with each new entry, increasingly blurring the line between games and movies. Most central to this is how overtly they draw inspiration from the horror genre, both in terms of atmosphere and narrative conventions, which can get rather interesting when taken in their own direction. All of which brings us to their most recent work in The career who wears his influences on his sleeve for mixed results. It tells a story that mostly takes place at a summer camp as a group of oblivious camp counselors want to return home only to have circumstances force them to stay one last night. Despite warnings not to go out and stay inside for safety reasons, they soon find themselves caught up in escalating horror situations, many of which may not survive.
It all becomes an exploration of genre archetypes, finding both humor and horror as you choose which way to go. There are a multitude of benchmarks for Scream at evil Dead and even a little The cabin in the woods crossed with The Chainsaw Massacre sprinkled everywhere. Part of that is down to casting with horror icons from the aforementioned movies. David Arquette and Ted Raimi both playing supporting roles. Indeed, Raimi’s presence is one of the strongest parts of the game as it sees him give one of the best voice acting performances which is also part of the best in-between sequence where everything starts to kick into high gear. The rest of the game, especially an early set-up after the prologue, can still be a lot of fun while slipping to become derivative at times. A little like Until dawn, the characters are stock approximations of familiar teenage horror tropes. There’s a himbo with a heart of gold, a shallow influencer, a silly wallflower, the grumpy comic relief, and a responsible follower of the rules. There are petty squabbles, a love triangle, and a game of truth or dare. If you’ve ever watched a horror movie, you’ve seen all of this.
It can often get stuck in patterns of mundanity, making it more of a riff on the superior works of horror it draws inspiration from than a distinct journey that’s truly self-contained. Yet for every more mundane aspect, there’s also a more charming core that shows up frequently enough to make it work. All this marks an important turning point for the studio which returns to the roots of Until dawn while being something of its own. This new direction makes the story much shorter and the characters more toned down with the sense of cinematics made more central. Eliminations are better executed, sequences better constructed, and escalations more impactful. In particular, the moment where the prologue connects to the main story proves to be the most captivating even if held back. It’s patient in how it unfolds via flashback, setting the stakes with grim and growing dread. Whether the answers he gives you will depend on your willingness to take the most monstrous leap. It becomes an intriguing inflection point in the story, a surprising climax that both alters and enhances everything that plays out in the rest of the adventure.
It should be noted that this average connective tissue is the least reference-heavy and the least video game-like. That’s part of what makes her the best part of the whole experience because she’s most grounded in her own world. It has well-written dialogue and characters that don’t feel like amalgamations of other things, letting the cutscenes flow without cutting too much of it. For those looking for more Quick Events (QTEs) in your game, this is definitely the slowest point despite being an integral part of the story. When it picks up the pace after that, it also becomes more homage than totally unique horror again. He’s often able to get away with conscious lines that acknowledge his creative inspirations, such as when the characters humorously say, “We’re not in a movie” or “It’s not a ghost story, it’s is a creature characteristic”. “While those occasional nods are helpful in forgiving much of its unoriginal nature, there’s still the unwavering sense that you’ve seen it all before. Although it wasn’t put together exactly like that, the pieces are all scattered and are now assembled in one Frankenstein’s Monster game, making for a thrilling yet tedious experience, a cocktail of cinematic mayhem that shines in its many bright spots.
Whether this is what you are looking for will depend on your frame of reference. If you are looking for more extensive gameplay, The career is pretty light on it while still offering flashes of excitement. It’s much more story-driven, even with a movie mode where you can choose how you want to see it all play out. This is when a video game basically ends and yet more than a movie begins, although this flexibility option is welcome.
What ultimately becomes the most integral part of a game is the litany of different endings. Far too many choice-your-own-adventure stories unfold where you only have a limited number of paths with choices that don’t carry much weight. There are parts of this at the beginning of The career because the decisions largely end up having the same result with only small changes. However, towards the different endgames, you discover that you can achieve very different results. None are poorly written as all become explosive and engaging in their own way. This is where the full potential of the narrative experience is realized as it is able to go in unique directions beyond mere reference. Whether visceral or victorious, it is the conclusion of creative gaps where it transcends the limits of its landmarks.
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