Small Stakes in BLAMELESS
I have a lot of respect for independent game artists who are making games out of a sense of love of the genre. Vaclav Hudec. the creator of Blameless, is one of these people. His website biography, as stated, marks him as someone I think I'd get along with. Several of the games he mentions as inspiration - One Late Night, Amnesia, Slender - are games I've talked about on this blog. Clearly Mr. Hudec is a man of great taste.
But more importantly, what intrigues me about Blameless isn't merely that it has taken some of the right lessons from the aforementioned games, but it adds its own unique twist to the mix, deliberately or accidentally.
It's difficult to talk about Blameless without going full spoilers, so if you'd like to try it - and I think you should, if you're a fan of the genre - you can download it on Steam for F-R-E-E and play through it in as little as twenty minutes. The length is not a criticism; regular readers will remember that The House Abandon was one of my favourite experiences lasting a similar amount of time. Indeed, the length of Blameless may in fact be a strength to its very simple, straightforward plot.
That plot sees you placed in the role of a young architect, asked by a private client to help with the interior design of his large house, currently under construction. When you arrive on the site, you notice a bloodstain on the floor. Just as you're about to do the wise thing and get the hell out of dodge, your mysterious client knocks you out cold. Waking up, you find yourself locked in a room inside the unfinished house, and must find your way out.
So, let's get something out of the way: Blameless is not a GREAT game, and there are flaws almost immediately. Upon awakening, you are presented with a huge variety of tools: a handsaw, a hammer, a clamp, and a workbench. The solution to exiting the first room is found in none of these. It's kind of a neat example of misdirection, but it's also a problem that plagues a number of adventure games: if you have all of these tools, they become proverbial Chekov's Guns, serving no purpose. You could argue they enhance the environment, but the detraction from gameplay and realism overrides any possible benefit. Immediately you ask: why can't I just smash a window with the hammer? Or saw a beam into a battering ram to knock open the door? Or, or, or...
Indeed, this problem-solving aspect is felt throughout the game, where getting outside the house seems like a proposition that shouldn't be very hard. The contrivance of the player being unable to simply scale a seven foot high wall and leave is pretty weak. It's a criticism that we, as players, often accept in games for reasons of capacity (i.e. the level only extends so far), but where the central objective is to escape, it becomes problematic. Every design decision and limitation ties back to that objective: why can't I just run away? Why can't I just climb out?
So with all the criticism I've given Blameless, you might be wondering how on earth I could recommend anyone play it. It all comes back to that passion I talked about. Hudec is someone who clearly wants to contribute to the ongoing community of horror gaming. Like any other content creator, he's going to make mistakes. What's important is that he is bringing a sense of enjoyment and energy to his work. Where this is especially reflected is in the story. Blameless, as it is, doesn't have much of a plot - mysterious person kidnaps you, escape - but that's actually the beauty of it. Though there are some small twists and turns with you finding a body and some other clues, it's very straightforward.
Here's where I go full spoilers, so shields up. Upon escaping the house, you are pursued briefly by a shadowy figure - presumably your kidnapper - but it is notable that he doesn't seem to try TOO hard (yes, there is a fail state if he catches you, but still...) and you escape quite easily to a police car as it pulls up. The arrival of the police is something of a surprise; your cell phone was smashed in the initial attack on you, and when they pull up your relief becomes shock as they arrest YOU.
This leads to an outro wherein the police accuse you of murdering the woman you found, and tell you they found no trace of another person, while YOUR presence is everywhere. Your fingerprints are on the body, you have blood on you, the house belongs to a completely different party...it all looks pretty bad.
And that's it. That's where the game ends, with some admittedly pretty hamfisted writing to tie the plot back to the title, and your character's fate left in uncertainty. Hudec has promised a sequel, but taken on its own, Blameless leaves you with plenty more questions than answers. Ordinarily, I'd be frustrated by a resolution like that, but here I found it actually quite refreshing.
See, there's a tendency in a lot of video games to make the stakes world-shattering. Very often - especially in heavyweight mainstream titles - your actions amount to SAVE THE WORLD. Here, the stakes are SAVE YOURSELF. Where in other, lesser plots the villain comes right out with hammy monologuing, here the villain's intentions are a mystery...or are they?
I may be reading too much into it, but the way the plot and action shape up, the question must be asked: why didn't he/she just kill you? They had more than one opportunity. They also don't go to a tremendous amount of effort to lock you up, putting you in a room with plenty of tools to escape. Is it possible this whole scenario was arranged so you could be the fall guy for a murder?
It's that open-ended question that makes me give a nod of respect to Blameless, in spite of its flaws. The audacity of presenting something simple, in a crowded market of re-writing the wheel, is to be applauded, as is Hudec's drive to make a solid product and give it away for free. Blameless is a short, taut experience, and one I think you can easily spare a quick afternoon on. Check it out.