Pools – A Review of the Things inside Your Head

Pools – A Review of the Things inside Your Head

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam

Game Name: Pools

Publisher: Tensori

Developer: Tensori

Genre: Adventure

Release Date: April 26th, 2024

Pools by Tensori

Back around 2011 and 2012, there was a crop of titles, ignited by the at-first quizzical and then critical success of Dear Esther, Amnesia, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and so on that came to be known colloquially as “walking simulators.”

We can add Fullbright‘s Gone Home, Tacoma, and even The Stanley Parable to the list.

Ten years later and post-VR renaissance, this trend has returned in the form of an obsession with liminal spaces like “the Backrooms” made famous by a homemade video – and endless subsequent creepypasta – that give a name to something many have experienced in quiet torment: dreams of hallways that lead nowhere, abandoned buildings, impossible large and barren shopping malls and underground spaces that have no apparent purpose anymore.

This latent horror of this type of space makes itself known in films like The Shining and series like Severance.

An amber lit tiled underground pool.

So where do we go after the countless Backrooms simulator knockoffs?

Drowning by Numbers

Enter Pools, a walking simulator through pristinely tiled hallways that lead to a variety of equally pristine swimming pools, wading pools, and water-filled areas, like a Greek bathhouse before the people came. (Sorry, no pun intended.)

What you are left with is a beautiful showcase of what Unity does best: walking a player capsule across surfaces, with bounced light, visual bloom when moving from dark to light, really lovely-looking specularity and water shaders.

But it is so much more than that. The subtle sound design of a buzzing light, your breathing, the gentle ripples of water, the…wait, I thought the box said there were no monsters here. Are there monsters here? WTF?!

pools screenshot

Why is there a…drawing? On the wall? Is it scratched out?

Marco? Polo?

I suspect it is just there to stoke my imagination. Still, I may never find out. The terror of these latent, liminal spaces and their contrast between cleanliness and unholy dark, claustrophobic connecting tunnels WHERE NOTHING HAPPENED, I SWEAR except for the THINGS INSIDE MY HEAD, I’M FINE may prevent me – and maybe you – from ever knowing.

The contrast of colorful water slides and inner tubes with the murky pallor of dimly fluorescent-lit alcoves creates more wonderful contrasts in meaning, tone, and visual excitement.

Absolute vibe from start to finish. Funnily enough, my friend found it “inspiring,” “relaxing.” Maybe the lunatic is in my head…

Why did that ladder just get pulled up into the hatch?

Inevitable speedrun videos to follow (flood YouTube).


Playing with scale, space, proprioception, light values, and the bright and obvious and the numinous and concealed, Pools is something of a masterwork in the techniques of immersion, using suggestion to draw out the narrative from within your subconscious – something for which there will never be a big enough budget and for which you can participate here wholesale.

Pools is now available via Steam. A free demo of the first environment is also available.

Watch the official Pools trailer: