You know, for a long time, I've had a thing for horror elements in my adventure games. While not a particularly huge fan of horror movies or books, when it comes to videogames, it's something I've enjoyed since way back. I think I can even trace it to one particular franchise.
The original Alone in the Dark.
My friends and I played through this series together, helping one another with exploration and sharing the solutions we'd discovered. Over time this combination of interesting puzzles, the atmospheric story and the horror visuals got me hooked on the whole genre. Flash forward nearly 30 years, and I still look back on those types of games with a certain fondness so, when I was offered a chance to review "A retro homage to classic adventure horror games brought to life through meticulously crafted 3D pixel art", I jumped at the chance.
The Padre is a survival horror game in the same vein as Alone in the Dark or the classic Resident Evil titles. You play the role of the titular Padre, a wisecracking priest called Father Alexander, who is also a demon hunter and investigator. He has received orders to search for a missing Cardinal, also Alexander's former mentor, who has mysteriously vanished while on a mission critical to the survival of the church. Last seen in the Mississippi Delta, Alexander heads off to investigate but, while on the search, a fierce storm begins to roll in. Stumbling across a giant mansion, located somewhere deep in the swamp, Alexander has no other choice but to enter, hoping to seek shelter for the night. Obviously things don't go as planned though, as he ends up stuck in a back room, with no weapons and no way to escape, and it's here the game properly begins.
Imagine the play-style, setting and fixed camera angles of something like Resident Evil, mixed with the humorous overtones of Duke Nukem or the Evil Dead, all presented in a "everything made from cubes" aesthetic style similar to Minecraft, and you'll have a basic idea of what you're in for. And that aesthetic style is one of the first things you'll notice about The Padre. As said, it goes for the blocky, voxel look popularized by Minecraft, and it kind of works well in some ways, but also doesn't in others.
On one hand, all the environments are very detailed, and are some of the best looking I've seen in this style. The fixed camera angles, and the 3D blocky graphics, really brought to mind the classics like Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill and, of course, Resident Evil. On the other hand though, the style ends up feeling more charming than it does threatening. The scenes that should be scary, lose some of their effectiveness because of the more "kiddy" style of the graphics. However the game does manage to walk the line between serious and funny quite well, and I still found the horror encounters a highlight, despite no real sense of terror or fear.
As you explore, you'll find each area has its own aesthetic or little details that make it feel unique or interesting. One corridor has armour that will track your movements, while another has paintings that will stick their tongues out, and these add a little charm to rooms that perhaps would have no other function. Many of the locations have these interactive elements, and usually include some humourous pop culture reference too. Hanging in your bedroom is a portrait of Alexanders favourite Saint, the Kwisatz Haderach, Paul Atreides, an obvious Dune reference. Your crowbar is called "Gordon", a nod to Half Life, and The Font of Immortality you'll discover has the runes IDDQD, the Doom godmode cheat code, carved on its front. There's loads more to find, scattered throughout the whole game and fans of pop culture will find particular delight in discovering these.
Exploration of the mansion happens in a pretty linear fashion, with your progress being regularly blocked by a monster or puzzle that must be overcome. This is usually done by searching the various rooms and locations, hopefully uncovering the items or clues necessary to continue. These puzzles can be very hit or miss however, most are relatively straightforward, involving finding and using the correct item in the correct place, but others were a bit more involved. Clearing the library of ghosts was a particular highlight, with a humourous ending to it, but other puzzles actually annoyed me. I spent a good hour on one, absolutely convinced I had missed something, and finally got past it by just spamming every single item I had to uncover the solution. Another puzzle, involving a clock, also had me stumped for ages, and I only got through it by being so frustrated that I tried to kill myself in-game, and actually discovered the solution by pressing the wrong button while doing so. There are the occasional spikes in difficulty, but most of the time, if you pay attention and read all the notes and diary entries, you'll be given enough clues to work out most of solutions and won't have to brute force it.
But obviously the puzzles are only one element blocking your progress, the other being the various enemies you'll encounter along the way. Some of these, like the hall monster or the bathtub beast are puzzles that have to be worked out, but most low level enemies like zombies, etc. must be avoided or killed through combat.
And the combat is really bad.
You do begin completely unarmed, but quickly find a crowbar in the early stages of the game. While holding the weapon, the left trigger defends and the right trigger attacks. Holding the right trigger charges up the swing, increasing damage but leaving you open to attack. The problem was that hits would only seem to register half of the time, with the rest just swinging harmlessly through the opponent's head. This, along with the fixed camera angles and the fact that multiple enemies have the ability to stun lock you, made fights the least enjoyable part of The Padre. Quite quickly after getting your first melee weapon, you'll receive the pistol, the first of the ranged weapons. These work slightly better, holding LT projects a cone in front of you, any enemy inside the cone will get a bar above their head that slowly fills, the larger the bar, the greater the damage when you fire with RT. Ammo is relatively rare though, and aiming a shot takes time. Combine this with small areas to fight in, a slow turning circle, and no dodging or blocking, means that guns aren't usually the best option. I literally spent most fights turtling in the corner of a room, defending myself with the crowbar, and swinging the occasional quarter power swing, hoping the hit actually registers and kills the creature. None of these fights were particularly challenging when against single enemies, more frustrating than anything, but when more opponents are involved, it's real easy to get stun locked by multiple attacks and killed, especially as your health level is very difficult to tell.
Dying is something that The Padre handles a little differently from the norm. Each time you die, whether it be due to failing a puzzle or at the hands of an enemy, some Angels Tears will be added to a flask that Alexander carries. If at any point this flask fills to the brim, its game over, your save file is erased and you must begin from the start, all over again. Luckily though a) The game isn't that long, especially when you know the solutions, and b) There are ways to empty the flask by discovering certain rare in-game items and locations.
The other mechanic the game has, featured quite prominently in the trailers, is the ability to transform into a demon. Discovered later in the game, it provides some advantages and disadvantages but, to be honest, I found it more a hindrance than anything else. It does make you stronger, for a very limited time, but also causes Alexander to have these "episodes" where he stands still and you can't control him till it passes. These happen at random times, even in the middle of fights and, as this could lead straight to a death, so I saw no real advantage to using it. Fortunately, this too can be cured, similar to the Angels Tears, but the resource to do so is really rare. I wish this "Demon side" had been implemented more effectively but, as it is, it's basically an annoyance and is best avoided.
Ultimately, I found The Padre to be a bit of a letdown. Presentation wise, the simpler cartoonish style and the dry humour work well, but do take away from the darker elements. Many scenes are a bit clichéd, like finding a bath that suddenly fills with blood, or discovering a note that speaks of banging and suddenly banging occurs. Seeing these familiar tropes rendered in the distinctive style was still fun though and these, combined with the quips and pop culture references, are some of the best parts of the experience. Alexander also has his moments, as the voice actor is brilliantly over the top and great in the role. Where the game really falls flat however, is the combat and puzzles. Fighting enemies, whether with the melee or ranged weapons, always feels a little clunky and imprecise. Ranged weapons take too long to aim, while melee weapons feel ineffective and only register about half the time. Puzzles too, are rather inconsistent and have difficulty that ranges all over the place. They are either ridiculously simple, or as obtuse as can be. Some, like the library have an interesting story with puzzles that have a good solution to discover, but others like the clock puzzle can be rather obscure, and can be really annoying to complete.
With no replay value, outside of achievements, you'll need to decide if a purchase is worth it to you. I felt it had potential in the setting, but fell flat in the execution. If you're looking for a dark and serious survival horror, this really isn't it. If, however, you'd like just like something with some charm and humour, you could do way worse than the Padre. One that might scratch the nostalgia itch for oldies like me, but won't hold the attention for long.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 6/10
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