I probably should’ve guessed from the get-go that a game involving embalming bodies in a demon-infested location would be terrifying. That said, I’m no stranger to these sorts of games and I rather enjoy the thrill of trying to conceal evil forces and studying sigils. But there’s something about The Mortuary Assistant that would knock the wind out of even the bravest players' sails and it’s consumed my thoughts ever since I picked it up at a friend's house for a games night to ‘help us get into the spirit of spooky season’ - so much so that I’ve had to rely on a night light for some comfort since playing.
You know when you’re a kid and a friend shows you that car advert which is actually a jumpscare and you end up bursting into tears and frantically trying to turn your screen off? The Mortuary Assistant from Darkstone Digital replicates this feeling, but it's not as easy to turn off and run away from. Instead, you have to face everything head-on, and once you’re in, it really feels like you can’t leave.
Putting you into the shoes of a Mortuary Assistant (in case that wasn’t obvious) you take on a new job, and, conveniently, you’re called into the Mortuary for a night shift. During this shift, you quickly learn that your solo late hours aren’t exactly as lonesome as you thought and suddenly, alongside embalming a variety of bodies, you have to fend off a host of demons that are there to make your job hell.
Let the bodies hit the floor
Something that separates The Mortuary Assistant from the majority of horror games that rely on jumpscares is how you never really know when they’re coming or what to expect from them. You’ll constantly see eyes peering at you from the shadows, or figures moving slowly in the distance, but when you look back - you’ll be greeted with nothing. It’s this constant tension that makes The Mortuary Assistant all the more terrifying, and when you least expect it, it’ll spring the horrendous face of a demon at you. Everything in the game, even down to its narration, has been built with the intention of keeping you on edge, and it excels in doing so.
But even without the demons, The Mortuary Assistant would be a traumatic experience. Although I don’t know the ins and outs of body embalming, it feels like the very thorough process of doing so has been mirrored within the central content. There’s a lot to learn, try, and remember on top of the impending doom and terror. A clipboard guides you through each process, which makes it slightly easier - until you get dragged and thrown around, forced to trudge through blood and body parts or be transported to a different location to revisit traumatic life events, of course.
As explained at the start of the game, the protagonist, Rachel, starts to experience hallucinations whenever the demon within the mortuary gets stronger and passes through her. During these hallucinations, you will have to walk around the mortuary but entirely change how it looks to coincide with what Rachel is panicking about, be it in her family home, or a place like her first apartment. You’ll take time to explore each section and look at every item that might give you the slightest hint at how to lay a demon to rest, but there’s a constant feeling of “don’t stop moving.” If you do, who knows what might emerge from the shadows which just sucks you further into the game's setting.
That said, one thing I could’ve done to make my experience more immersive and, in turn, more terrifying, was to use a headset. The game uses audio to set the scene, whether that's creepy whispers or knocking, both quiet signifiers of the demon's whereabouts that you might miss if huddled around the screen with your friends and relying on speakers. Not using a headset, however, was probably a blessing in disguise since I definitely wouldn’t have slept for a week if I had.
But despite sharing this experience with some friends, which usually dampens the fear factor since if something were to happen you wouldn’t have to face it on your own, there was something about The Mortuary Assistant that was enough to keep the three of us entirely silent - and even as a trio I don’t think we would’ve been much help if we were put into the protagonists’ shoes.
The Mortuary Assistant is an unforgettable experience. If you’re looking for a genuine dose of horror that grips you in its clutches and refuses to let go until you get a job done, or you’re too scared to continue, then you can find it here. It’s enough terror to make me, a fully grown (albeit a bit nervous) adult sleep with a night light on - though I think it’s safe to say that my friends won’t let me pick the game for a game night again.
We’ve got all the best horror games to play through if you’re ready for some more frights, and paired with the best indie horror games, you’re bound to find something to keep you awake for a week too.
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Kara is an Evergreen writer at TechRadar Gaming. With a degree in Journalism and a passion for the weird and wonderful, she's spent the last few years as a freelance video game journalist, with bylines at NintendoLife, Attack of the Fanboy, Prima Games, and sister publication, GamesRadar+. Outside of gaming, you'll find her re-watching Gilmore Girls or trying to cram yet another collectible onto a shelf that desperately needs some organizing.