Growing up in the ’90s, I played a lot of games that I probably shouldn’t have. Not satisfied with brightly coloured platformers and cheery mascots (although I did love this) I quickly turned to genres that had a more mature target audience. I spent countless hours dodging monsters in survival horror games and even longer rubbing almost every item onto something else in point-and-click adventures. Being a shameless and nihilistic 90’s kid, I’m also the first in line when it comes to anything that even slightly references something from my past, to try and capture that fleeting sense of joy I felt as a child with far too much time on my hands. However, in order to evoke that powerful sense of nostalgia, a homage has to really be done right, otherwise, it just turns into a sad and messy affair. I think you see where I’m going with this.
The Padre is a stylised hybrid of old school survival horror and point-and-click adventures. It references and draws inspiration from classic games like Resident Evil and Broken Sword but also cult favourite movies and comics like The Evil Dead and Constantine. You play as ‘The (titular) Padre’, a wisecracking, demon-hunting priest who has a long history of battling evil forces in the world and offering salvation to sinners. You are charged with locating your estranged mentor, Cardinal Benedictus, who has mysteriously disappeared after investigating dark disturbances. Hot on the trail, you end up trapped in a haunted mansion, bereft of your usual tools of the trade and hunted by the living dead. It’s a cool premise on paper and the religious spin is one I haven’t really seen explored before, but unfortunately, the game is ultimately let down by several deadly sins.
Just out of shot is a cupboard full of weapons…that you don’t take with you
I’m all for bold stylistic choices and The Padre approaches survival horror in a way that certainly stands out from the rest. The environments are reminiscent of geometric early 3D games and look pretty cool, but the characters all look like they were lifted from Minecraft or Roblox. As I said, it’s a bold choice, but sadly it strips away any sense of dread from the experience because everyone looks like a really abstract rendering of a slightly spooky Halloween costume. I don’t hate it, I just feel like it took away from the experience, rather than added to it. I do like that each room within the mansion exists in the centre of the screen with a large serving of negative space surrounding it, but I can’t tell if that was a design choice or if it was just easier to build levels that way.
If you are going to take a risk on presentation, you have to make sure that the game design is good enough to pull it off, but sadly The Padre is lacking here too. Exploration is fine but combat feels clunky and poorly managed to the point of frustration. Although the mix of crappy melee attacks and even worse shooting is a staple for old school survival horror, I’m used to a much smoother experience these days and bad design just felt lazy. The old ‘check everything in my inventory on everything I can see’ part of the point-and-click side was average too. Item combinations were just weird enough to be annoying, but not weird enough to be funny. To make matters worse, at the start of the game you get an item which is apparently supposed to offer hints to aid your progress, but literally, every time I checked it, I was met with, ‘Try to solve things on your own,” or “Go away, I’m reading a book”. I still don’t know if it is bugged or an intentional troll.
Believe it or not, I’m engaged in combat here
An example of the below average game design would be an incident where I had to soft reset the game because it locked me in some kind of unwinnable loop. Without spoiling anything, there is a part of the game where you become temporarily invincible. I walked into the next room where there were two enemies, which I tried to attack. They surrounded me and started hitting me, which meant that I was unable to swing my crowbar, shoot my gun or even just step out of the way. Due to the unfortunate fact that I was invincible, I literally couldn’t even die to get away from this, so I waited it out for a while before caving and quitting to the menu.
There is also an…interesting mechanic whereupon if you die too many times, your save file is deleted and you need to start the game again. There is a way to ‘cleanse your sins’ and be granted more chances at continuing before the final death, but it’s not something you can do frequently. It definitely makes you feel more cautious, but in a game where it is quite easy to die (due to clunky controls and combat), it can seem a little unforgiving. I had actually reached my final life just before the first time I found a way to cleanse, and when I did my reaction was, “Oh, great…I get to keep going”.
You’re gonna see this screen a lot, then your save will be deleted
It’s not all bad though, there are tonnes of pop-culture and gaming references throughout that fans of similar games will get a kick out of. Also, the gruff narration from our rebellious reverend can be pretty funny at times, even though it does sound like he gargles gasoline and glass every morning. It also does have some very cool looking environments and neat twists on classic survival horror tropes like fixed cameras and jump scares.
The Padre is a bold attempt at paying homage to a lot of classic games and genres. The unique direction it tries to take is sadly let down by average design and frustrating gameplay mechanics. Perhaps my opinion of this game was clouded by recently playing a fantastic remake of a quintessential survival horror game (Resident Evil 2) and an amazing indie title (Hollowknight) both of which are proof that these kinds of things can be done well. I’m finding it hard to recommend this game, but I do love supporting smaller developers so if you watch the trailers and think it looks cool and you can accommodate for its shortcomings, you may end up enjoying an evangelical jaunt through a nightmare mansion.
Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher