The resurgence in psychological horror games over the last few years has been excellent. Layers of Fear immediately comes to mind, but then there have been other games that deal with mental health issues the way What Happened does, like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
It’s a good time in gaming to make a statement. And while some games may do it better than others, What Happened does an admirable job at putting dark themes and ideas like suicide and bullying at the forefront.
What Happened follows Stiles, a teenager whose dad has just died. Confronted with intense suicidal thoughts, infidelity from his girlfriend, and a bully in his school, Stiles is dealing with a lot. These factors push him towards using acid to try to step out of his own shoes. In fact, the game immediately opens with Stiles taking a hit of acid and tripping, even crawling into a passageway in the back of his own locker. The thought behind the narrative is fairly down to earth, one that has Stiles confronting his own demons.
I will say that What Happened mostly stumbles. It’s an atmospheric journey inside the mind of a troubled teenager, but I don’t think it has much staying power. Between the constant lack of direction and lackluster puzzle design, things devolve pretty quickly into a test of patience.
RELATED CONTENT: Read our What Happened interview with Genius Slackers.
There is a lot to explore here, but the game often pushes you in one direction over and over, until you get where you’re supposed to be. It doesn’t encourage exploration at all. Instead, it opts to literally repeat the same line over and over again until you get to your destination.
An atmospheric world you can’t explore
With how atmospheric things are, I would’ve liked an opportunity to explore and take in my environment. Part of what makes psychological horror games so nerve-wracking is the ability to craft a world that builds tension. There is some of that here, but when What Happened is constantly pestering me in the right direction, it took me out of the experience.
I also feel like maybe it’s because of how much there is that could be explored that the game does that. Most of the destinations here aren’t really defined. By that I mean you’ll get contextual clues about what to look for but no real idea of how to get there or where it is, so it is easy to become lost. However, repeating these lines over and over again doesn’t help me understand where to go if I don’t know where it is. It’s just annoying.
A story that drags undermines the powerful theme
I did really like the visualization of anxiety and depression. Dark hands come out of the walls around Stiles to try to drag him down into the darkness. It’s a smart way to handle the difficulties that those with these afflictions battle every day.
My biggest complaint with What Happened though is how it drags on quite a bit longer than I felt like it should have. Just when I thought things were starting to wrap up, it ramps up again. There are several recently released games like The Last of Us Part II and Paper Mario: The Origami King that, despite being great, I thought held on for a bit too long
With What Happened, there were a couple of times where things felt like they were being neatly tied up. It’s frustrating, too, because I probably would have enjoyed my time with it a lot more had it wrapped up earlier. Too often, titles drag on to add thin layers of thematics and ideas that don’t add a whole lot of substance to the overall package, and What Happened is another example of that.
I really wish I had enjoyed my time with What Happened a bit more. It handles dark ideas like suicide, teen bullying, and drug use intelligently, but a narrative that overstays its welcome and the constant push from gameplay design really took me out of the experience. There are some smart narrative and visual design ideas here, but the core gameplay experience probably isn’t enough to keep people engaged.
Game Freaks 365 received a review copy.