There seems to be a trend at the moment with Psychological horror and thriller games, a new one is released almost every other week! I’ve personally reviewed titles such as Those Who Remain, The Suicide of Rachel Foster, Someday You’ll Return, and Layers of Fear 2, among others which my colleagues have covered. Today I’m taking a look at the latest game in the genre, What Happened, a psychedelic journey into the mind and emotions of a suicidal teen who has lost all grips on reality and self-control.
What Happened appears to be the first game released by developer Genius Slackers, yet they have another game currently in the works which I can’t wait to hear more about in the future. This game has been in development since 2017 and is also the first game produced by Sourena Game Studio, with their indie publishing arm, Katnappe, providing the publishing over on Steam. So, as the first title for both the developer and producer, I can’t help but initially express how good the first impressions were, this certainly didn’t look or feel like their first game.
After playing a number of similar games over the last few months, I was hoping that What Happened would be unique and offer something ‘new’ which made it stand out from the others. Did it manage to do this? Let’s find out…
What Happened is a narrative-driven psychological thriller based around a young lad named Stiles, a teenager who is going through a lot of issues and problems following the death of his father. He feels like he has nobody left who cares about him, becoming paranoid over his girlfriend cheating, and like his only friend is going behind his back and secretly hates him. It also doesn’t help that he’s the victim of a bully within the school and literally nobody even notices him or the emotions he’s currently going through, leaving him invisible to the world.
As such, Stiles find comfort in drugs, taking them excessively during school and whilst with his girlfriend, leading to him spacing out and visualising his own demons and emotions as they haunt and break him apart from the inside. From the very first scene within the game, you never quite know what’s real and what’s the manifestation of your twisted and troubled mind, leading to some rather fucked up and disturbing events and visions. This is a story of how you dealt with everything, recalling events that may or may not be real, resolving your issues with the paranoia that’s eating you from the inside, and coming to terms with how you feel about yourself and what you believe everyone else feels about you.
The game is dark, it covers a lot of issues such as suicide, depression, and anxiety, but it’s presented in a way that I’ve not seen before. Sure, I’ve played really good narrative-driven games which focus on these subjects before, but this one felt very realistic and opened my eyes to a few new things. As you get deeper into the messed up mind of the protagonist, you’ll find it hard not to feel empathetic towards him and feel sad for what he’s going through within this trance-like fantasy he’s having. His fate and his journey both depends on you…
What Happened is a first-person game, similar to all the games I mentioned above. You can run (which you will do a number of times), pick up and inspect objects, interact with furniture, and at one point, go crazy with a baseball bat! Thankfully, there’s no hiding in lockers, running from beasts that patrol the hallways or going all stealth in order to avoid being seen. However, there is a point within the game where you will be stalked, but I’ll talk about that later as it’s one of the most frustrating aspects of the game (for me).
Rather than being an open game in which you can go wherever you want and explore, What Happened is more narrative-focused, pushing you in a linear fashion as you move through the school and beyond. There’s a lot to explore, they even had to reduce the number of drawers and cupboards you could open as there were literally thousands, but the game keeps you moving through the rooms and corridors that it wants you to go down. Throughout the school you’ll find various notes and letters from your own mind (like a diary) and your ‘friends’, these may not seem like much but they subtly alter the direction the game goes in, leading to one of three endings based on what you find and how you deal with certain events you encounter.
One of the key mechanics in the game is based around light and ‘lighting the way’. You need to find lightbulbs, fit them into light fixtures, then pull on the cord to either cause things to move or change your position in this unusual world. There are also lights which you need to turn off, encasing you in darkness. Hiding in the darkness and following the light are almost symbolising the current emotions and feelings running through your head during this rather traumatic day at school.
There are creatures within the game that will grab you and try to make you succumb to the depression and anxiety they are formed from, but the way the game handles them is quite unique. They manifest as creepy arms which shoot out of the lockers all around you, trying to get their manipulative hands upon you. Once they make contact, you have a brief moment to escape by moving in the direction your mind tells you to. If you fail, you enter another realm where you must find a key and escape, returning to the point where you got grabbed. It’s much better than simply having to restart once you get grabbed, as it’ll happen a lot!
What Happened? More like Where Do I Go?!
One thing which I always struggle with is direction, I always seem to get lost in games like this as the developers love giving you the feeling of being lost and confused – mission accomplished! Your first objective is a simple one, find your locker as it’s being destroyed by the bully. Could I find my locker? Nope. I went round and round the hallways, inspecting every locker for a sign of damage, all whilst my ‘mind’ is telling me to hurry up and find it as it’s under attack. Finally, I decided to have a brief look upstairs – still nothing. But then, I went back down and walked through the passage into the entrance to the school and boom, a cutscene started. This showed me that the locker was upstairs and how to get to it.
However, this ‘issue’ happened a few hours later when I went up some stairs and decided to look around when the game clearly wanted me to go through the main entrance instead. As I didn’t go through the archway, the cutscene didn’t start, but I never knew there was supposed to be a cutscene so I spent about 30 minutes just walking around. Then, remembering what happened at the beginning of the game, I went back down and through the archway, thus triggering the cutscene and progressing the story.
This happened two or three times, from what I can recall. It’s not really a negative but if the game wanted me to go in a certain direction, it shouldn’t have given me an alternative pathway as I’m like a cat, I’m always curious to explore where I feel I shouldn’t be going before going the way the game wants me to go!
Despite my stupidity, when you step back and take a look at what the game is trying to do, it’s actually quite clever. I felt lost, confused, a bit creeped out, and unsure of my next steps and how to take them, exactly what the protagonist is feeling. There’s no signposting, no markers, not too many hints on what’s going on or where to go, it’s immersing you within the twisted mind of Stiles and letting you experience things as he does, even if nothing makes any sense for a while.
Well, I guess there are a few forms of signposting and direction pointing, ghosts and very creepy hands!
No running in the halls!
There are two things I don’t like in spooky or psychological thriller games, running away from things and hiding from them. What Happened has no hiding aspects, despite being surrounded by lockers – which is great. But, there is one really frustrating chase sequence which I almost rage quit on, a chase sequence involving a killer shark…
I won’t get into the context of this very strange and unusual event, but you’re basically chased through the hallways, which are submerged in water, by a massive man-eating shark. But, it’s not just a case of running away and hiding, you have to listen to the instructions given to you by your ‘mind’, instructions you receive a split second before you’re gobbled up. As such, this entire segment became trial and error as well as a memory game – just like the QTEs in Shenmue III.
Your mind tells you to run into the door to your right, as it slowly opens, but if you’re too late then you become shark food. If you get past this first command, then next is to head into the toilets after you’ve run past them, meaning you need to do a 180-degree turn (simply click on the right mouse button), then backtrack before you’re lunch. Finally, you have to actually open a door and get in there before it catches up to you, a door which is opened by looking at the handle, holding the left mouse button, then pushing it as you do in Amnesia. If you get eaten at any point, you return to the beginning of the chase segment and if you don’t move straight away, you’ll get eaten within one to two seconds.
The whole segment was frustrating and really messed with my anxiety and will to live.
There’s another shark segment that is just as intense where you have to run towards the shark then quickly turn and run the other way, then turn and run the other way, etc… And another where you’re in a maze whilst being chased. I seriously didn’t like these parts of the game but looking back at them, I think they were intentionally frustrating and anxiety-inducing to make us feel like Stiles would be.
Exploring mental illness
Everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. Some people feel worthless and fall into a depressed state, unwilling to go on as they begin to develop suicidal or self-halm thoughts and desires, yet others may get anxious around meeting people and find it hard to build relationships due to their internal fears and paranoia. I felt that the developers explored various states in an interesting way, emphasising and exaggerating the effects by having the protagonist also a ‘victim’ of drug abuse. This allowed the game to become very fantastical and visually showcase his emotions with a valid reason as to why the world was fucked up – because he’s on drugs.
The game has a lot of symbolism and hidden meanings, both presented subtly and in-your-face. The fact that you can’t see anyone in the school, just their floating bags and books as you walk the halls, points to the protagonist believing he has nobody to talk to, nobody who will be willing to listen to his issues and help him out, he’s all alone in this world and feels like he has to deal with his problems himself. Later you wander the school which has been horrifically redecorated with thousands of dead bodies, your dead body, one for each time you’ve contemplated suicide. Stiles is in need of help yet he hides all these feelings inside of himself with the help of drugs, but all they’re doing is building it up until he can’t hold them in anymore and his entire perspective on reality is altered.
I’ve only found one ending within the game, the bad ending – as usual. However, looking at the trophies, it appears there are two other endings, a secret and a good one. I’m going to look for these when the game comes out on consoles, rather than dive in again just after I finished it on PC, but it’ll be interesting to see how the game ends with both of these. I imagine the narrative can’t change too much, but I wonder if the good ending results in him actually coming to terms with his feelings, realising what’s reality and fantasy, and confiding in someone to help him with his issues?
I’m not going to ruin the ending I got, but it was strangely satisfying yet also predictable and quite sad. It actually made me want to replay the game to discover the better endings until I saw it was coming to consoles.
Something I never talk about when I review a game is the menu. Why would you? You scroll up and down, hit Enter and start the game. Well, What Happened is rather unusual and unique. The menu is actually a first-person corridor with various rooms leading off it. There’s a toilet that you flush to start a new game (the toilet is a big thing within the game), you can flick a light to continue, and you can fiddle with a TV to adjust the settings. It’s an unusual way to do a simple menu but I thought it was quite inventive – it reminded me of the menu in Blind on PSVR.
Whilst I’m talking about the menu, there are two things to advise you on. First of all, the game has full controller support – I played it for a bit with my DS4 and the game worked fine. Second, as of today (3rd August), you can’t invert the y-axis either when using a mouse and keyboard or a controller. However, the developers have said that the next update will include this option. So, if you’re invert-only (like me), then don’t worry, the option is coming.
I had to mention this as I found it rather hilarious. Once you complete the game you unlock the ability to flip the bird on command. That’s right, you can press the left mouse button and stick up your middle finger and tell everything and everyone to “Fuck Off” whenever you want to – every game should have this as standard, going forward.
What Happened is a very detailed game with some really cool assets and character models. There are a few textures here and there that can look a little muddy and pixelated when you get up close to them, but you won’t really see them unless you’re putting your face right up to every wall and bookcase you come across. But, for an indie title, I really liked the aesthetic and visual design the developers went for. The further into the game you get, the crazier the game becomes. I simple adore the above filter (well, texture swap) where the game becomes like a pencil drawing, and there are other parts where scribbles appear all over the screen and plenty of flashing rave-like colourful moments!
Also, the game ran at an almost locked 60fps on my 2nd gen i7 and GeForce 780Ti. With all settings at the highest, it only started to drop a little bit once I reached the latter half of the game and the effects were getting quite freaky.
There is a lot of psychedelic and trippy visuals within the game, although the developers have toned it down a little in order to address the complaints that some people were feeling motion sick whilst playing. I’ll admit, I felt sick at one point, even developing a headache (which is a first outside of VR), but that was because I was tired and it was late at night with no lights on, so the strobing and flashing lights were affecting me. I will say that if you suffer from epilepsy, you may be best to avoid this game, trust me.
It would be nice if the developers added a ‘photosensitivity’ mode, so everyone can enjoy the game, but I don’t want them to touch the original vision as the lighting and visual effects are a major part of the storytelling, I just think that a separate mode would be a welcomed addition so that the game could be enjoyed by more people, including those who may actually suffer from things covered in the game yet also can’t deal with the strobes and flashing lights. But, as I said, a separate mode, not a change to the way the game is presented right now.
In terms of the voice acting and the sound design, I thought it was all well done. Each character had their emotions and feelings portrayed in the vocal work perfectly and the music really built up the atmosphere. There were a few minor spelling mistakes in the subtitles from what I recall, but nothing that would warrant complaining about. None of the voices sounded out of place either, it was well-casted.
What Happened was confusing, shocking, depressing, and increased my anxiety, which I believe was its goal from the start. Step into the shoes of a young mentally ill teenager who has just lost his father and finds comfort in drugs, it’s an experience unlike any other as you delve into his thoughts and emotions, visualising his fears and paranoia as disturbing manifestations. Although I found it hard to understand what was happening at times, the game made me feel lost, confused, helpless and alone, pulling me further into the world of Stiles and how he was feeling. The story felt like it was a little too long as there were a few sequences that dragged out the game without adding context, but overall it was a thought-provoking game that I can’t wait to re-experience on consoles in the near future.
If you are affected by anything covered in the game such as mental illness, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, or even if you just feel alone and like there’s nobody you can talk to in your life, remember that you’re never alone and there are always people who are willing to listen and support you. Safe in Our World is a fantastic charity that offers a lot of support and guidance for those looking for help. You can find a list of all the various issues they cover, and helpful information, HERE.
- - Some really cool visual effects and filters (The strobes may affect people with epilepsy)
- - Interesting story even if it's a little confusing at times
- - Covers a number of emotions and mental issues which have been enhanced via drugs
- - Good voice acting and sound design which really builds the atmosphere
- - Alternative endings based on what you find and how you emphasis with the protagonist in certain situations
- - The shark sequences were very frustrating, but I believe they were meant to be
- - Easy to get lost and confused, especially if you don't trigger the next cutscene correctly like I did a few times
- - Some scenes towards the end felt a little dragged out, offsetting the pacing a little
- - Not a negative, but the game does use the "C word" a few times