STAFF REVIEW of Stay Out of the House (Xbox One)

Friday, June 30, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Stay Out of the House Box art Released last year on PC just in time for Halloween, Stay Out of the House has finally made its bloody and disgusting way to consoles for more horror fans to enjoy. If you’re a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Saw or The Hill Have Eyes, you’ve probably noticed that not many games are made with the same premise. Sure there are plenty of horror games, but Stay Out of the House essentially takes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and makes it into a deeply creepy PlayStation 1 style game from the early 90’s. Can you escape the house of a cannibalistic serial killer? While the title will imply you should stay out, going into the house is possibly the last time you’ll have freedom.

Before you’re trapped in the horrifying house of The Butcher, fighting for your life and trying to find a way to escape, you begin your adventure working the solo night shift at a local gas station. What can go wrong when you’re working alone at a gas station in the middle of nowhere? As your shift goes on you have a small list of chores from the boss to complete and of course customers to help as they arrive, some friendly, some not so much. While one customer simply wants some gas and pays, there seems to be an inconspicuous white van that goes around the building, slowing down when going in front of the windows and then leaving. Another customer comes in later suspiciously asking if you’re working alone and then leaves. Again, what’s the worst that can happen? Suddenly you hear the door at the back of the store unlock and it’s opened. This is where the kidnapping happens.

Days after you play a different character, Roxanne, taking a road trip with her boyfriend. When nature calls you stop at a roadside bathroom, quickly napping while your boyfriend goes to relieve himself. He doesn’t return, so naturally you go to look for him. With him nowhere to be found, around the back you find his license, so of course you explore further, eventually finding more items from other people, like luggage. After making your way through a corn maze and having a stray dog follow you, you eventually come across a creepy looking house. The dog runs inside, so of course you go in after it. After a quick search, you can instantly tell something is not right here, and at that jump scare moment, The Butcher finds you.

After these two opening chapters, the remaining gameplay has you trying to escape the horrific house, and you’re only given three days (lives) to escape. You awake in a cage with nothing but the clothes on your back and a TV with static replaying the same scene. You eventually find a corner of the fenced cage to pry open and make your escape. Each room and hallway you discover is grimy, bloody and there’s obviously something not right here. Searching some drawers and cabinets you find a screwdriver, allowing you to remove a vent cover and find an alternative path. This is where your nightmares begin, seeing The Butcher carving up a body, blood spraying everywhere.

Trying to escape the house isn’t easy, as doors are locked, boarded up, and there’s traps and cameras over the place. You have a restrictive inventory management you need to deal with, so sometimes you’ll find items but will need to drop what you currently have on hand. The problem is that you won’t always know what items you’ll need at a certain puzzle or point, so you’ll have to remember where you place things for collection later.

Right after from your caged escape you’re constantly stalked by The Butcher. He’s not a dumb hulking brute though and will be smart with how he tries to capture you. The AI that controls your deadly capture is actually quite clever. Not only is he always on the search for you, there’s a bit more under the hood I didn’t expect. For example, in most stealth games where you need to hide, being under a bed or in a cabinet is a default safe spot, but not here. If The Butcher sees you hide, he will keep coming after you. Also, ducking into a vent isn’t a safe spot either, as he will turn on the gas to flush you out of the vents, not even including what other horrors might be waiting for you in the vents.

If that wasn’t bad enough with being constantly stalked and hunted, The Butcher isn’t alone in his home. What’s worse, you’re going to come across a creepy old grandmother in a wheelchair who roams the house hallways, and if you’re spotted, she will shriek, bringing attention to The Butcher to your whereabouts, so you’ll need to go run and hide quickly.

A stealth horror game means you’ll need to manage being in the darkness, barely able to see other than your Zippo lighter, as being in the light will make it easy to be found and captured. You’ll also need to sneak and avoid making noise. You can run for a short period when needing to quickly escape, but you’ll have to manage your endurance.

You’re only able to save when you find a TV set with a VHS player, but to actually save you need to find a VHS tape, much like Resident Evil’s Ink Ribbons. The gameplay isn’t as linear as I expected, as there seemed to be a few different ways to solve each of the puzzles. Opening a door for example might be lock picked with a paperclip, opened from the inside by going through a vent or maybe using one of the limited bullets you find for a gun and shoot the handle off.

Being a small indie game, I never expect the same amount of polish that a larger budget game would get, but I did run into quite a lot of frustrating bugs. The first was being able to carry a chair and warp my way into a locked room I shouldn’t have been able to, unable to escape because I didn’t open the door the proper way, resulting in a chapter restart due to not having a VHS tape to save. Getting the cursor right on the objects you want to interact with or open is a challenge in itself, made worse by the fact that you’re constantly under pressure of death from The Butcher.

With PS1 era graphics, it’s not going to impress at first look, but when you realize it was a design choice and purposeful, I quite enjoyed the retro aesthetic. Just like an old classic slasher film, there’s a number of different filters and options you can also choose depending on how authentic you want it to be to an old horror movie. Want it to look like it’s being played on an old VHS tape or CCTV, that’s an option. Adding on top of the retro polygonal graphics and it’s actually quite creepy overall. Maybe it’s just in my mind, but I found having the VHS filter on was much creepier, even though it’s much more difficult to see more details. Audio is also just as fitting, hearing creepy sounds, and I can still hear grandma shrieking when I was found.

Rough around the edges, if you’re into classic horror movies and old classic PS1 games, Stay Out of the House is a gritty and atmospheric horror adventure that is constantly unsettling. The puzzles aren’t too challenging on their own, but having to navigate the house being constantly hunted is really challenging. I appreciated the multiple difficulty options, even the Very Easy option where there is no enemies, allowing you to focus on the puzzles only without any of the looming threat.

Stay Out of the House has some great suspense and I was constantly looking over my shoulder and listening for my captor nearby. Full of jumpscares, they don’t feel cheap, and the atmosphere feels like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in video game form. Like a great B-movie or slasher flick, Stay Out of the House might be a future cult classic if you’re into retro PS1 graphics and tons of blood and gore.

**Stay Out of the House was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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