Whilst not professing to enjoy the helpless protagonist genre of games that horror walking simulators embody, I’m a sucker for one that spins a good yarn or tries something different. Trenches appeared on the surface to do that with a promise of revealing more about living in these confined spaces whilst expecting death to come from every angle. It’s the way you would assume the unlucky soldiers posted within the wooden walls felt after spending more than a couple of hours listening for approaching enemies, or dealing with ever present damp and muddy conditions. With that premise there to draw you in, does the game deliver on evoking any of those feelings as well as giving an insight into what it was like to have to live like that for months on end? In short… no.
Trenches is set during World War 1 with you playing the part of a serviceman trapped behind enemy lines, having to navigate a maze to escape and get back to the right side. With a disconcerting atmosphere and being hunted by an unseen presence, its USP is that to escape you need to find particular unpleasant objects that are located mainly through the sound they make. Explore the maze-like trenches, avoid the enemy, grab the items, and get out. You’ll need to keep noise to a minimum to stay undetected, though finding the clues is made easier by blowing your trench whistle – yet the enemy can pinpoint you with it, so it should be used with care. Crouching or running also affects how loud you are, and persistent fog and searchlights affect the visibility, so pretty much the entire environment is aiming to make things hard. This will not be an easy escape by any means, and that’s if you don’t succumb to the jumpscares first.
There’s little more to expand on the gameplay, it is a very straightforward FPS style adventure with little beyond interaction with odd object or piece of memorabilia lying around. Trenches also boils down to fairly simple maze exploration, albeit with a few tricks to unsettle the player, the persistent threat of being discovered, and randomised actions and scares for ensuring things are a bit different each time. The jumpscares can come thick and fast (even in the “no jumpscares mode”), and it works to enhance the feeling of unease that the persistent claustrophobic nature of the environment brings. It also uses blinking and breathing in a way that adds to the tension, but that presentation won’t sit well with everyone. For a title developed by a single individual it’s visually quite impressive with clear choices on sound design, though also expect the odd bug to appear and the controls to feel slightly unresponsive, though as the developer notes, feel free to report it so it can be looked at.
Could I recommend Trenches as a title for everyone? No, it’s definitely going to be an acquired taste or only of interest to those who really dig this type of game. A solo developer should be applauded for having the skill and the vision to produce the game, and it’s right you’re aware of that going in as there are some rough edges. If you’re looking for something that provides a view on life in the trenches then this won’t cover it, though it does have something to say that ties it all together at the end, and that might be enough for some.
A PS5 review copy of Trenches was provided by Ratalaika’s PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation, Xbox and PC for around £10.
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