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Nothing like a good creepy mansion

The past few years have been great for that subset of gamers who are passionate about Lovecraftian horror, owing to the release of a multitude of great titles. Be it the turn-based roguelike Darkest Dungeon, story-driven RPG Stygian, the horror adventure Call of Cthulhu, the Metroidvania Sundered, or very recently, the text-based horror-comedy The Innsmouth Case, these are solid options for everyone no matter what genre you’re into.

Though I’m not exactly a horror game aficionado (most of the knowledge I do have is secondhand), I’ve recently become quite fond of H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmic lore and the general sense of uneasy dread that accompanies his work. So as soon as I found out about Westmark Manor, I immediately wanted to try it out.

Westmark Manor is a survival horror puzzle game developed by Nodbrim Interactive and published by Toadman Interactive. Does the title do justice to its legendary inspiration? Let’s find out.

Story & Narrative

She’s fine, just had too much Taco Bell

You play as Theodore Westmark, a man who has devoted years of his life in search of an ancient alchemical formula that is said to control space and time. Prior to the events of the game, he found what he was looking for in Vörnum, an island off the coast of Norway, and brought all the material back to his home in order to study it without distractions. His motivation? To free his wife from some sort of an eldritch affliction before it takes her life.

However, upon returning to his manor, certain things transpire and you realize something is definitely not right. After a brief tutorial where the core gameplay loop is explained, you’re left to explore the seemingly never-ending maze of a shadowy version of the manor, with its winding halls and creepy corridors drenched in darkness. You’re basically trapped in the mansion and are tasked with collecting sigils to unlock the front door so that you can escape; but more on that in the Gameplay section.

When you see it…

Westmark Manor as a setting is honestly pretty perfect – the claustrophobia of the corridors, the constant threat of the lurking darkness, and the various traps waiting to terrorize you, all contribute to building a sinister atmosphere that captures the dreary otherworldly horror of Lovecraft damn well. It’s not a ‘scary’ game per se – there are few jumpscares and rarely any terrifying moments – but it definitely succeeds in getting under your skin and keeping you anxious. It’s more of a slow burn horror that just envelops you in its ominous embrace gradually. A Steam review mentioned the term ‘cozy horror’, and that’s a surprisingly accurate summation of the tone you can expect. Needless to say, playing at night in the dark with headphones on is the ideal way to experience the game- at least for the first playthrough. 

With lines like “the noisome dark air filled me with dread”, the writing is pretty great, but I wish there was more of it. Unlike The Innsomouth Case, there’s no light-heartedness or comedic elements here, the narrative takes itself seriously and genuinely attempts, and mostly succeeds, in capturing that Lovecraftian style. 

Skyrim has Khajiit, Westmark Manor on the other hand…

The manor holds many intriguing secrets waiting to be uncovered as well as lost souls and umm.. a couple of otherworldly beings too. As you explore, you come across letters, journal entries, and family photo albums that’ll make you question Theodore’s motivations and what exactly happened. Is he really the well-meaning grief-stricken husband you think he is? What’s up with his uneasy relationship with his Dad? And why is there a dead body in one of the rooms? These sorts of questions remain intriguing and motivate you to keep exploring and solving puzzles, even when they get pretty tough. Speaking of, let’s get to the gameplay.

Gameplay & Mechanics

Good map, just wish it would load faster


Like I said before, Westmark Manor is more of a slow burn type of horror game, which means a lot of exploration, puzzle-solving, and resource management. In essence, take the early Resident Evil titles’ inventory management, crafting/combining system, and environmental puzzles, add Amnesia: The Dark Descents’ darkness-induced sanity system, minus any hint of combat and then make it a top-down perspective, and you pretty much have a decent idea of what to expect.

You have a limited number of sanity points which you use to save your progress, and these are generally hard to come by so save-scumming is not a viable strategy. Your sanity depletes when you’re engulfed in darkness and is filled back up upon solving puzzles, consuming tea or potions, or interacting with certain things in the environment like using a bed to sleep. This, of course, helps establish the bleak tone the game is going for.

The safe room storage system of Resident Evil is also present here, where you can access your stored items from a safe room by interacting with a creepy character called Thilix whose presence, by the way, is still a mystery to me. Why is he randomly in the house and why doesn’t Theodore even acknowledge it?

Anyway, like in Resident Evil, the inventory management can get pretty frustrating, as you’re encouraged to loot every table, shelf, and chest you find for precious resources as well as puzzle items. This means quite a bit of annoying backtracking to the safe room to manage item storage. Also, the resources you find are randomly generated and the chests are refilled when you save the game so it’s not a one-time-looting kinda deal, which can get repetitive. Plus, when your inventory is full and you come across a chest, the game doesn’t even let you know what items are in it, forcing you to discard one of your items to free up a slot for it before even knowing if it’s worth the trade-off. 

Inventory management can be a pain

You can combine items that you find to solve environmental puzzles and you can craft alchemical items as well, like a potion to increase your sanity and one to get rid of a curse. For the most part, the puzzles are fun and challenging but there’s an over-reliance on a certain Roman numeral-based key-crafting one that gets old after the first couple of times. Other than that, there are riddles, memory puzzles, and an extremely frustrating one where you have to make sense of the most baffling chart of all time. However, depending on your difficulty setting (which is determined by answering a few questions at the start of the game), you don’t have to solve every single puzzle or explore every single room of the manor to finish the game, just enough to unlock the sigils blocking the front door.

Riddle me this, Batman!

My first playthrough on what I assume was the Easy mode only had me acquire 9 sigils which I accomplished in about 6 hours of playtime, having explored a little over half of the manor. Though you’re awarded a not-so-good grade for doing this, I love the fact that you can choose to finish the game as soon as you get the required number of sigils and you aren’t forced to solve everything (though doing so reveals more lore so I definitely recommend it if you like the gameplay). Chances of getting the best rating are pretty low, so you’ll probably have to complete multiple playthroughs if you want to uncover all the secrets of Westmark Manor. 

As for the movement, it’s serviceable but pretty sluggish and controlling the main character can be annoying at times. There is a sprint option that depletes your stamina bar and over time, your sanity. There’s also a fast travel system which is greatly appreciated as the manor is pretty huge with multiple levels.

A couple of things that felt unpolished: at times there’s a serious delay of around 2 seconds each time you want to open the map or go through a door to enter a different room. As most of the game consists of exploration, this can get annoying real quick. Speaking of annoyances, let’s move on to the visuals and sound.

Visuals & Sound

Might skip dinner tonight

To be completely frank, I found the first 20 minutes or so of the game incredibly disappointing. Though it has decent music, and the writing and voice-acting are stellar, the weird isometric viewpoint, the not-so-pretty-to-look-at character model of Theodore, and the clunky controls left more to be desired. The few cutscenes that there are also felt unpolished and shoddily put together, with strange camera angles and close-ups. Overall, the visual department just felt lacking.

I hated the walking animation as well so I didn’t enjoy playing as the hunch-backed Theodore (straighten your back man!), stumbling my way through the manor. Even the sprint animation looked blurry and felt awkward. Maybe it’s because I’ve just been playing some top-tier indie titles lately, but suffice it to say, it just didn’t really click with me at all. The graphical quality is nothing to be marveled at either, so I had pretty low expectations for the rest of the game and was already regretting playing it.

We’ve all been there

However, I’m happy to say that the more I played it the more I got used to these shortcomings, and by the end of my first playthrough, they hardly bothered me at all. These complaints were overshadowed by the engaging puzzles, the intriguing narrative, and the creepy atmosphere. So yeah, I definitely recommend giving it a couple of hours or watching some gameplay to get a sense of what the core experience is like before dismissing the game entirely. 


Maybe he just wants a high-five?

Westmark Manor is a slow-burn horror title that focuses on methodic exploration, puzzle-solving, and resource management. It’s not all that scary, and it’s the kind of game that demands a certain level of patience and loyalty from the player, so it’s not for everyone. However, lovers of story-rich Lovecraftian horror and fans of classic horror titles like Amnesia and Resident Evil are sure to find something to like here.


Disclaimer: Steam review copy provided by the developer/publisher with no riders.

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