The Works of Mercy by Pentacle
The Works of Mercy, from Polish developer Pentacle, reminds me of the short horror films I’ve grown fond of, thanks to attending events like the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Often, I’ll end up enjoying these films for their ideas, despite their low production budgets and sometimes amateur acting.
This game is a bit like that, except that it isn’t actually good, and I didn’t like it.
A psychological horror game that shows off its edginess in the first few scenes by murdering a prostitute, The Works of Mercy is roughly equal parts Saw and Seven. The puppet of the former film is replaced by a disembodied voice on the telephone, while the corporal and spiritual works of Christian mercy replace the seven deadly sins of the latter.
The game’s methods of murder – an explosive toothbrush (yes, you read that correctly), a poison apple, an unexpectedly live electrical circuit – fail to really shock or frighten. Not helping matters, the evil mastermind on the telephone sounds less like Tobin Bell or the admittedly creepy – for lots of reasons – Kevin Spacey and more like Norm McDonald.
The Works of Mercy isn’t particularly thought-provoking, either. Its slow plot reveal – right down to the predictable “twist” ending – is somehow both muddled and predictable, and its various themes of religious and sexual hypocrisy and parental abuse aren’t really addressed, just clumsily hinted at via bad dialogue and a dreamlike flashback scene.
The Work is Never Done
This isn’t to say that the story is lacking but the execution is good. It isn’t. The translated dialogue is awkward at best, the voice acting is full of weird pauses and unnatural points of emphasis – as though they were read from the page without context – and despite the fact that the entire game takes place in a single apartment, the environment feels half-complete.
Also, a little more attention could have been made to giving consequences to previous actions. Of the various visitors who arrive to the apartment, you’d think one of them might notice the gruesome corpse of the half-naked escort sprawled in the bathroom, especially if you don’t bother closing the bathroom door.
In the game’s defense, it does have some nice visual moments; the paintings in the protagonist’s bedroom, for example, are deliciously creepy. And there are enough 3D options available to slow your computer to a crawl, if cranking up all the graphics settings to maximum is your thing.
Still, there’s really no reason for that. In fact, The Works of Mercy could have told its story just as well – probably better, in fact – using simpler means, like RPG Maker or even Twine. It wouldn’t have turned it into Shakespeare, but diverting some of the resources from bloom and anti-aliasing toward translation and editing would’ve at the very least made this a less miserable experience.
As it is, the best I can say about this game is that it is – mercifully – short.
The Works of Mercy is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for The Works of Mercy below: