Albino Lullaby is a game that bills itself as a “horror exploration game” that doesn’t rely on gore or jump scares to sell itself. It succeeds.
The best way to describe Albino Lullaby is “deeply unsettling”. For me personally, that’s the best kind of horror - everything seems off-beat and off-kilter, nothing ever feels right. The best comparison I can think of is Franz Kafka’s The Trial, where the protagonist is being held for a crime that the police will not identify, and he is free to live his life as normal - although he is still under arrest.
The underlying theme of Albino Lullaby seems to be a fear of conformity, which is why it works so well. Your silent protagonist wakes up in a strange, underground facility after passing out in a car accident, and the environment tells the story without any dialogue - all you have to rely on are billboards, written notes and visual cues. In fact, you won’t see a single enemy until about 30 minutes in. This game is a masterwork in making you feel thoroughly creeped out and uneasy before a single spooky monster appears.
The only real enemies in the game - aside from environmental hazards like traps - are the Grandchildren, pictured in the banner image. Once you are spotted, they will pursue you until you reach a place they cannot travel to (they can only slide along flat surfaces and stairs). However, there is really no “safezone” - you really only hold them at bay. Returning to an area where you have already been spotted will cause them to hone in on you the instant you return. It actually works very well. There are some light stealth elements, but generally, you are playing while being constantly pursued.
Your only real defences are not permanent solutions either. You can light blue lanterns to keep them at bay (they are afraid of blue light), and later in the game you will get a “clicker” that pushes them away and knocks them down. You can permanently kill them if you push them off a cliff or into a fire, but these opportunities are rare. They will only stay knocked down for a few seconds before they get back up and begin slowly pursuing you again.
The “health” system is very interesting as well. Your screen will begin to black out when you are in close proximity to a Grandchild, and the black out will be faster the more Grandchildren are surrounding you. In this sense, it’s easy to run past one, but trying to run past eight will cause instant death.
But as with all the best horror games, what really sells Albino Lullaby is the environment. Bright neons contrasted with deep darks and a cell-shaded(?) artstyle that makes everything look vaguely like a sketchbook cause for a very nice art style. But more than that, the bizarre architecture of the entire facility will absolutely play tricks with your mind, as rooms change places in front of you and buildings are mechanically swapped out. It’s... Something I can’t really explain. You really have to play it.
But, I don’t want to say much more. This is definitely a game that shouldn’t be spoiled, as it’s consistently surprising throughout the entire 4-5 hour runtime of the first chapter. Despite being episodic, the first episode definitely feels like a complete experience. As of writing, Chapters 2 and 3 are still in development, but Chapter 1 can be bought on Steam for a meagre USD$9.99.
Definitely recommend this one. It’s one of the best games I’ve played in a while.
(Also want to recommend Near Death, which is a survival game where you’re stranded in Antarctica. It’s good, but too short to justify the price tag (2-3 hours)).