Italian folk horror Saturnalia pits you against a terrifying, weird town

rockpapershotgun.com

Alice Bell

A few years ago I had to be on very strong painkillers to help me sleep, and while I didn’t have more nightmares than usual, the quality of the ones I did have was markedly more weird than what I was used to. Enter Saturnalia, “a fever dream inspired in equal parts by authentic Sardinian culture and classic Italian giallo horror films”. Announced a year ago and “coming soon” in 2022 to the Epic Games Store, this extremely unsettling slice of nope – but also yes – just got a new trailer. If Stanley Tucci visited this town on his quest to eat nice ravioli, his final piece to camera would be from inside an imminently-afire wicker effigy.

So much of this sounds really cool. You play as a few different characters, who have different skills but are all trying to escape Gravoi. The town has an unspecified but presumably horrific winter solstice ritual, and by switching between the characters, or teaming them up, the plan is to escape before the ritual happens. There’s no map, so you have to just learn your way around town (including a maze of underground tunnels and shortcuts), all the while being hunted by something. If you get caught, you switch to another character and can try to free your pals – but if everyone gets caught the town resets, so although you keep your other progress you have to remap the whole place again.

Saturnalia is juggling a lot of balls, what with investigating a mystery, exploring the town, all the horror stuff (folk rituals are yer classic horror, right?), solving puzzles, and then also the roguelite potentiall of resetting the town. It immediately makes me wonder if there’s a story explanation for that happening. Maybe the town isn’t even real, and is inside a child’s snowglobe.

But also: just look at the the thing. That unsettling violet sky. The deep shadows. The flare of a match. Tunnels full of flames. The jumble of things it makes me think of is varied (including The Village, Weird West, and a jumper my brother owns), and it feels like one of those kaleidoscope horror games that reflects a lot of yourself back. At the same time, the specificity of the Sardinian cultural inspirations make that trailer feel very cohesive, like it’s a proper place with a proper plan, however strange it might be. So basically: I’m well up for this.

Look out for it on the Epic Games Store later this year, apparently.

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