"We won't come back 'til it's all over, over there."

I’ve heard it said that, “A rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out.” Trenches are more like a labyrinthine grave where death is actively stalking you. So, too, with the game Trenches. The setting is a battlefield in Europe in 1917. You are stuck behind enemy lines, hiding in the enemy trenches, and you need to get out—your life really does depend on it.

The gameplay is pretty simple; walk around and find a set number of “dolls” while avoiding detection by either enemy soldiers or the strange “thing” stalking you. Gore spoiler: So, “dolls” is in quotes because what your character sees in the game—either real or hallucination, there is no way to know—looks like a dead baby, sometimes with the umbilical cord still attached. To help you locate these dolls, you will hear the sound of a baby crying as you get closer to one of them. If you are having trouble locating the source of the crying, you can give a toot on your trench whistle. This will make the crying a little louder for a moment, but there is a cost; you have just given away your presence and your position. If you keep moving, and quietly, you can still avoid the dangers of the trench. If someone, or something, is coming upon you faster than you can evade, there are some hiding spots. The trenches have a few recesses with some tattered rags hanging over them which can provide a hiding spot, or you can hide under a cot and hope whoever/whatever it is doesn’t see you.

The game does provide you with a few aids. There is a map and a Luger in the trenches, but you will have to look around to find them. The problem with the Luger is obvious; if you use it, you are telling the trench where you are. If you find the map, it will show you a layout of the trenches, but it will not show you where you are. I don’t mind this because that’s how a paper map works in the real world. There are some other objects of interest to be found, as well. There are some letters you can read and there are some photos on the trench walls. The game does note that some of the old photos in the game are real pictures from the time of WWI which lends a haunting reality to the situation.

The general atmosphere is rather spartan, but this lends to the sense of isolation and general dread. It is a partly cloudy and rainy day. The sun is often in your eyes, which washes out your field of view. There are also some nice details like the way the light catches the droplets of water before your eyes. They don’t seem to move much, which is odd until you realize you are wearing a gas mask. The small distortions help add to the sense of surrealism and distrust of your own senses regarding what you think you are seeing. The game does provide a small circle in your field of view. This is not a distraction, it’s a targeting reticle for looking at or picking up items. Another element which is designed to affect your sense of tension is the blink. There are random moments where you blink and experience a second where you don’t see anything until your eyes open again. Personally, I think the blink is a bit too long compared to an actual blink, but it does keep the suspense up. What will you see when you open your eyes?

It’s hard to trust what you see. There are several instances where you see a person or an object or some writing on the wall, only to notice that when you look back the something you had just seen is not really there. Your grasp on reality is tenuous. Indeed, one of the more interesting hallucinations is seeing the shadow of a crouched skeleton on the trench wall and coming to the realization that the shadow is actually you. The illusion is broken when you stand up, but it doesn’t reappear every time, so it is hard to be really certain about what you are seeing. There are apparently words written in blood on some of the trench walls, but they sometimes disappear, and they are written in English (odd for a German trench, no?).

Not only are there visual phantasms and hallucinations, you also have to contend with hearing voices which aren’t really there. You’re in a bad way, soldier; find those dolls and get out of there pronto.

Trenches is not without issues. While the graphics are generally well done, there were a couple places where I was walking into/looking through a wall (I tested it—not an in-game hallucination). This isn’t a major thing that breaks the illusion, but it does it a bit for a moment.

The use of a baby crying (and by using either a real recording or something very close to a real baby crying) coupled with the imagery of dead babies on the ground is, perhaps, a bit further than we really need to go to create suspense and terror. There were plenty of other graphic elements which were more suited to the situation.

Also, the gameplay is a bit limited. All you can do is walk around (maybe run if you want to get away from something), hide, blow a whistle, and find a few things. Most of the experience is just being alert and scared.

Trenches is a horror/psychological terror themed game where you are faced with sights and sounds designed to make you feel terrified and to question your sanity. In this regard, the game does a good job. As for actual gameplay, there isn’t much to do, but there is a quiet intensity which keeps the player on edge. The subject matter can be gruesome, so it has earned the “T” rating.

Overall, I would say that if you don’t like gore and primal fear shocks then you want to find something else; but if you like the psycho-horror genre, this game is an OK addition.