No Son of Mine PS5 Review – Rarely are one-person games as visually ambitious as No Son of Mine, but Maciej Radwański has put something together here that all horror game fans should check out. Not all the ideas mesh together very well, but those that do are solidly executed nonetheless.
No Son of Mine PS5 Review – Many Great Horror Ideas That Don’t Mesh Nicely
Told entirely through environmental storytelling, No Son of Mine sees you exploring a school in an attempt to solve the mystery of why the place is haunted. In doing so, you rid the place of the demon child inhabiting the building.
This game’s greatest strength comes with its visuals. You either have the occasional light on or you rely solely on your flashlight. Shadows render in real time, and the dense dark hinders your flashlight from illuminating too much at once. This is a dark game, but it’s still gorgeous. It also manages to deliver vivid imagery in the low light, adding to the effectiveness of the horror elements at play.
The setting alone makes No Son of Mine rather unique. Many horror games use school settings, but I can’t recall one that uses an elementary school. Badly-lit rooms with kiddy chalk drawings on the walls adds further depth to the corrupted child trope, adding to its effectiveness. The thought of one corrupted child boggles the mind, but the idea of an entire school of kids influenced by corruption hits differently.
The demonic child, henceforth coined “child,” cannot be seen by the naked eye. Shortly after the game begins, you pick up a red filter that lets you see the child. With how dark the game is, the only consistent part of it you can see are its eyes, even with the red filter. A long recharge time prevents you from using the red filter constantly. Considering the looming challenge, you need to decide to hide or defend yourself.
Thankfully, you know when the child gets close. The first sign is the lights turning off. A thoughtful design choice is seeing the lights turn off in a line as the child travels, showing you which way it’s going.
The second way is the Cool Boy 9000, which flashes an indicator light. This means the child is even closer. The Cool Boy also shoots charges of electricity, which fends off and disburses the child temporarily. Like the red filter, the Cool Boy takes a long time to recharge, so missing your shot guarantees getting caught.
Caught Between Ideas
Getting caught isn’t a game over, though. Instead, the child corrupts you little by little every time you get caught. To counteract this, you occasionally find little green cylinders that reduce your corruption. You also find charges for the Cool Boy to immediately recharge your shot, giving you emergency failsafes, albeit very limited ones.
Herein lies a conundrum with the game. You constantly worry about getting approached by the child, which by design creates tension. However, the frequency it appears causes the game loop to lose its intensity and feel more humdrum, especially if you need to hide often.
The child’s persistence makes perfect sense in terms of the game’s mythos. It just doesn’t translate as nicely into the applied gameplay loop. What makes it worse is another aspect of the game that works wonderfully on its own.
Thoughtful Environmental Storytelling
The plot to this game is told strictly through the environment and what you collect along the way. However, unlike other games that use similar techniques, No Son of Mine requires you to find the necessary pieces of information in order to move into the next area.
Generally, these are only four objects of interest, most of which are highlighted, that give you the information needed to progress. This presents a kind of environmental storytelling without letting you miss any of the story elements.
If you do miss one, it only takes a couple minutes to look for what you missed. On that note, playing the game without a map gets tricky. This is a school, and schools generally aren’t one long, straight hallway. Combine all of this with the aforementioned child lurking around, and you have a recipe for rather uneventful sections that elongate your play time.
Upgrade The Horror Away
The longer you play, the easier the game gets, all because you can pick up upgrade materials for your Cool Boy. After a few upgrades into recharge times, the pace of the game feels more consistent just because you can fend off the child instead of needing to hide. Looking at the complete package in hindsight, it starts with intentional gameplay limitations to enhance tension. Then it soon empowers you with more flexibility to defend yourself.
While this allows players new to the genre to feel the horror elements and tension without overdoing it, the initial impact is lost with the combat flexibility. This does make the game more approachable, which is very important. However, the empowerment mitigates much of the early efforts made in the game.
Thoughtful Concepts Keep You Moving Forward
No Son of Mine is an ambitious product for one person to make. It enhances some established concepts to put effective spins on normal horror tropes. However, the ideas at the beginning of the game soon get replaced with others, exchanging the luster for a more universal approach.
Still, from beginning to end, this one-person developer created a horror game worth exploring that shows a ton of potential for future projects. Keep an eye on him and his work.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.