The Coma needs to wake up to its potential

The Purge is one of the best examples of sequelizing to ever exist.  The first movie was a fairly average home invasion horror film, with a plot excuse that seemed to hint at what was a far more interesting world outside of its central narrative.  For a while, it was an excellent example of wasted potential, where the story they chose to tell was one not particularly deserving of the surprisingly clever idea underpinning it.  It was, however, enough of a success to allow the production of two sequels, sequels which massively improved on the franchise by allowing the filmmakers to actually explore the world they’d set up largely as an excuse for the plot of the first film.  Sadly, I have my doubts that Devespresso Game’s The Coma will be the recipient of the same luck.  At first, the game seems rather by the numbers: our main character falls asleep in class and awakens in a nightmarish, distorted version of his school.  But surprisingly, the game quickly picks up, offering hints of a deeper world and plot than might be expected from such a by the numbers set up.

The Coma, as this nightmarish world is called, is not a sleep deprived hallucination, but a full-on parallel dimension, where changes made in The Coma can affect reality.  Our protagonist roams the world, discovering secrets, completing quests of symbolic significance and avoiding a monstrous pursuer clearly inspired by his teenage fantasies about his teacher.  The closer our hero gets to escape, the more the school is consumed by the strange distortions of this alternate dimension, tentacles and slime rapidly consuming the setting and his pursuer gradually becoming less and less human as the game goes on.

Along the way, he encounters the game’s small but shockingly memorable cast of characters, some of who are shadow projections of their real selves, others being actual people who have entered the Coma with agendas of their own.  Consistently, there are hints that the Coma extends beyond the school and that the various people we encounter have business here outside of the school we find ourselves in.

While the game is light on actual scares, there is a definite and continuous sense of tension

In terms of gameplay, it also impresses.  While first impressions may bring to mind side-scrolling survival horror success story Lone Survivor, The Coma actually has much more to do with the classic clock tower series.  Our hero is pursued by a single, shockingly powerful entity and must sneak and hide his way through the school to avoid his pursuer.  While the game is light on actual scares, there is a definite and continuous sense of tension generated by this mechanic.

Less entertaining are the various traps set up around the school, including poisons, tentacles, swiping hands and corpses that fall from the ceiling.  These are rarely shocking and honestly more of an irritation than anything else.  Indeed, in the case of the latter, they border on unintentional comedy after your first encounter.

It’s also worth commenting that even with this being an indie game, there is a distinct lack of production values.  I’m not referring here to fancy graphics, but simply things like transitions between pages of the visual novel style cutscenes.  It may seem like a little thing, but the harsh, awkward cuts presented in these sequences do nothing to benefit the atmosphere that a game like this requires.

These criticisms however pale when compared to the games most significant flaw, being the save system.  Now, I’m more than familiar with the argument that having specific save points increases tension, and that’s fine but if you’re going to do that, the placement of those save points needs to be monitored incredibly closely. It’s apparent in The Coma that there simply hasn’t been a great deal of thought put into them.  They regularly appear before cut scenes and are often absent for long stretches of time, long enough that boredom from replaying will swiftly overpower the tension.  However, it would be unfair to say I came away from The Coma feeling the experience was wasted.  The game offers a glimpse of a compelling world and cast of characters that manages to feel bigger than the narrative the game itself tells.  There is absolutely the potential to tell a large story in this world, and the game leaves off on an excellent cliffhanger to dive in to that exploration.

it would be unfair to say I came away from The Coma feeling the experience was wasted

However, I can’t help but feel that if and when that does happen, it will leave this originating game feeling the smaller, much like how The Purge feels now that we’ve seen larger, more interesting films created in that setting.  So I’ll be eagerly watching where Devespresso goes with this, but for now, I can’t give The Coma a full recommendation.  If you’re eager to get some more horror into your life, this may briefly scratch the itch, but largely it will leave you feeling disappointed that you didn’t get more than what it has to offer.