Trenches – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Steelkrill Studio and published by Ratalaika Games, Trenches is a first person psychological horror experience set during World War 1. As the soldier James R. Johnson, you must complete objectives while avoiding the horrors that follow in the fog. This Title is available on all major platforms, with a link to each version of the game available at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PR Hound for providing the copy of Trenches that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.

Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story.

Story – in 1917, soldier James R. Johnson is behind enemy lines on a mission with his platoon. However, this mission is a disaster, leaving Johnson alone in the enemy trenches… at least that is how it appears at first. Hearing voices, footsteps and other noises within the claustrophobic corridors of the trenches, it appears there is something out there, something horrific that approaches ever closer as Johnson seeks to escape the nightmare he is now in.

Gameplay – Trenches is a first person horror experience, where the player must complete objectives in order to escape the horror they are in. The trenches that the player is trapped in are a complex maze of claustrophobic corridors, disorienting twists and turns, along with a fog that obscures most of the map from view. This combines with the haunting sound design, utilizing thunder and atmospheric sounds to build tension within this environment.

To accomplish the objectives in order to escape, the player must collect different clues while searching the maze, interacting with objects and discovering bloody messages on the walls. To find the locations of these clues, the player must listen for sound cues that will guide them to the objective or alert them of the threats nearby. The sound cues consist of the cries of babies to guide the player, along with non-human vocal sounds and footsteps in the distance.

It is important to be wary of sounds around the player as well as the noises the player makes themselves, since every step the player makes has the potential to alert the enemy in the darkness. The player has a trench whistle that can be blown to activate the sound cues for the baby cries, but it will also draw the monster closer when sounded. Bottles can be located when searching around, being used as a sound distraction by throwing them into the darkness and running away.

The player is able to crouch and sprint which have their own positives when used, but they also bring negatives along with them. As the player walks the boards of the trenches, their footsteps will make sounds with crouching reducing the sound, whereas running will increase it in volume. This makes it important to plan out an approach that will not lead to disaster when choosing to sneak, walk or run through the shrouded corridors.

During each run of the game, the player is entirely defenceless for the most part with the only way to escape death is to run and hide. This is because the monster hunting the player is invincible, even when the player uses the pistol that can be found. The weapon has the potential to stun the monster for a short time, but the pursuit will resume almost immediately, making it practically useless when compared to the distraction a bottle can provide.

But the monster isn’t the only terror that can be encountered when trying to navigate the trenches. During each run of the game, shadows can show up in the distance, disfigured faces and photos can appear out of nowhere, as well as jump scares that are designed to instil panic in the player. These work together with the tension of the sound design to make each play more intense, causing more and more fear for players to experience.

The horror of these narrow passages and the labyrinthine map is intensified when the monster comes into view, as it will pursue the player until either escape or catching them. If the monster does kill the player, they will be reset to their only save point and must complete the objectives again. This can be a significant set-back as the location of objectives will be randomised each time the player starts over.

There is a “no jump scare” mode available which will reduce the number of random scares for the player, but doesn’t eliminate them entirely. This mode can increase the tension and fear that players experience, as the fewer scares will leave the player with just the sounds of the crying babies, the monster and their own breath. Making for a horror experience where the things you think you see are more terrifying than what is actually there.

Now with the gameplay covered, it is time to move onto the other aspects of this release, starting with the controls.

Controls – this game plays very well in both handheld and docked play, with inputs that are laid out in a comfortable manner. During play, I found there were no issues with inputs or lag and the whole experience was smooth from a control perspective. When playing the game with pro controller, Joy-Cons or a third party offering, everything plays comfortably with no issues during the tense gameplay moments. The only issue is the lack of a controls screen in the in game pause menu.

Difficulty – there isn’t a difficulty curve to Trenches, but the challenge can be more difficult depending on the nerves of the person playing it. The tension can make the game tougher as the anxiety, fear and even adrenaline rush that terror can impact decisions that are made during play. To ease some of these issues that the player may face during the experience, the no jump scare mode can reduce some of the anxiety that players could face.

Presentation – the visuals of Trenches are dark and oppressive, with almost nothing but the wooden panels, mud and rain that can be seen during play. The design of the monster and other elements is relatively simple, but very effective at instilling dread into the player. The use of historical images further adds to the horror of this experience, giving more detail to the setting that this experience takes place in.

In the sound department, there is very little music as the focus is on sound cues and atmospheric noise. This works extremely well as the unnerving baby sounds, guttural groans and sudden loud noises can instil panic into someone quickly. The thunder/lightning, explosion sounds and unknown footsteps that can be heard in the distance increase the tension, reminding the player that something is in the fog.

Final Thoughts – when I heard about this game I was intrigued as this is a setting that doesn’t often appear in horror titles. So I was excited to get my hands on it, but sadly that excitement turned to panic and anxiety very quickly. The game sets out to scare the player and it excels at this. The implementation of atmospheric sound, shadows moving through the fog and images flashing on screen all cause a sense of foreboding during play.

The fact that this release was created by a single developer, with all of the details, psychological tricks and historical touches is astounding. The whole experience has been crafted very well, albeit with a few blemishes involving texture loading and spelling, but this doesn’t affect the overall experience. This is a tense and at times terrifying title and I have no issue recommending it to fans of the horror genre, since it works equally well in both docked and handheld on the switch.

In the end, I give Trenches a final score of 4.5/5. This is a well-crafted single dev horror experience, utilizing a setting that is extremely rare within the context of the genre. The atmosphere, sound and overall gameplay experience is one that will stay with players long after they have played it. If you want to check this out for yourself, a link to each version of the game will be below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to PlayStation version (HERE)

Link to Xbox version (HERE)

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