With its mixture of PSOne-style visuals, classic survival horror-style enigmas, and SAW-like storytelling, The Tartarus Key has PLENTY going on for it to stand out to gamers as an old-school puzzling treat.
Check out some screenshots down below:
The Tartarus Key puts players in the role of Alex Young, who mysteriously awakens in a peculiar room with CCTV-style cameras watching her every move. She has no idea how she got there, but after stumbling across a radio, she’s able to communicate with a private investigator named Torres who also finds herself in a similar situation. It doesn’t take long before you realise you’re being watched, and, in true SAW-like fashion, will have to solve a myriad of cryptic puzzles in order to escape with your lives.
I really enjoyed the game’s narrative, with it offering plenty of mystery and intrigue as you slowly unravel what’s going on. It has a fun sense of cheesiness to the dialogue at times too, which reminded me a lot of the original Resident Evil games (which are something that were a clear inspiration to The Tartarus Key). There are even some real stakes at play, with some NPCs only surviving the ordeal if Alex is able to save them – with three endings on offer, your actions will ultimately determine how things end. It’s a lot of fun, and whilst there is a serious undertone to the escapade, it’s easy to appreciate its quirkiness too.
“Some require a bit of logic to solve, some require you to have the right item, some require you to have read a specific piece of information, and some just require you to think outside of the box – there’s a real ingenuity to the puzzling and there wasn’t a single one that didn’t feel satisfying to solve.”
What complements the storytelling is the game’s creative and clever puzzle design, with plenty of cryptic conundrums to unravel as you make your escape. This is where The Tartarus Key really shines, with players having to really have their wits about them if they hope to solve them all. Some require a bit of logic to solve, some require you to have the right item, some require you to have read a specific piece of information, and some just require you to think outside of the box – there’s a real ingenuity to the puzzling and there wasn’t a single one that didn’t feel satisfying to solve.
What I liked about them the most was that they all felt so old-school in design. If you’re a fan of the kind of puzzles you might find in the Resident Evil or Silent Hill series, you’ll LOVE the ones you have to solve in The Tartarus Key. And when you do finally figure out a puzzle that’d had you stumped for the last five minutes or so? It’s super rewarding.
Check out some screenshots down below:
What makes the puzzles even more interesting is the environmental design of the mansion you find yourself in, with the low-poly visuals making for a setting that feels genuinely unnerving as you uncover more of its secrets. I’m a big fan of PSOne-style visuals anyway, but they’re used to great effect here, with a perfect balance of simplicity in design and intricacy in detail making for a world that feels incredibly atmospheric. And the character models and static faces? I love ‘em. Everything in the game just feels ominous and eerie, and whilst you won’t always necessarily feel like you’re in danger, you will be left wondering what might be waiting around the corner…
Maybe my bias towards the PSOne era has made me give The Tartarus Key an extra bit of love, but there’s no denying that it’s an enthralling game to play. That’s not to say it gets everything right, though. The absence of voice acting felt a bit jarring and could deter from the atmosphere in some of the cinematic sequences for example, whilst there were a couple of puzzles that could feel a bit TOO vague with their solution (I won’t deny a bit of trial and error came into play at one point). Some moments in the story could get a little cringey too, and whilst it hits more than it misses, there will be a few instants that will leave players wincing. Are they big issues? Certainly not (and I didn’t run into any technical hiccups at all), but they are things I noticed when playing.
The Tartarus Key Review
The Tartarus Key is an old-school puzzling treat, with the mysterious story and clever puzzle design making for an enthralling experience throughout. I was a big fan of the PSOne-style visuals, whilst the game’s foreboding atmosphere will certainly leave players on the edge of their seat – even if the occasionally cheesy quip sways the mood. It wouldn’t be a 90s survival horror-inspired experience without them, right?
There were a few little hiccups along the way with a couple of overly obtuse puzzles and the lack of voice acting, but they didn’t stop me from having a blast as I slowly unravelled the unnerving mysteries of The Tartarus Key.
Developer: Vertical Reach
Publisher: Armor Games
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC