How do you like your horror games? Paranormal with a slice of co-op? Desolate vibes and a sci-fi setting? Cosy with a dash of eldritch frights? Perhaps you’re looking for terror that’s loud, red, and relentless. If so, No Son Of Mine might be right up your alley. Developed by Maciej Radwański and published by Feardemic, this debut survival horror title drops you into the middle of a grisly murder mystery. Its opening cutscene takes place at a police station, featuring a detective reading the case file of a missing eight-year-old. His quiet pondering is quickly interrupted when angry glowing eyes appear on the screen, his surroundings become drenched in a blood-red hue, and a piercing scream rattles his mind (and likely your headphones). When the screaming dissipates, the detective opens his eyes to see that he’s no longer in his office. What lies ahead is a strange, dark world, and maybe the truth — if you can survive long enough to find it.
From the get-go, it’s clear what No Son Of Mine wants you to feel: dread, curiosity, and paranoia. After leaving a dilapidated bedroom — without any knowledge of how you got there — you come across a room with two graves illuminated by a hazy red light. This does well to establish its creepy, macabre atmosphere, and you can only wish that there was some way to get out. But you have to keep moving forward to figure out who’s in these graves and why. With your flashlight in hand, the first location you’ll explore is Corral Elementary School, where you’ll search for clues and experience your first run-in with the Boy, an ever-present and unpredictable enemy that won’t hesitate to create a third grave for you.
The environments are clearly abandoned, but you’re never alone. According to the game’s description, the enemy stalks you as you explore, and when the lights go out, you only have a few moments before it attacks. If you’re a fan of survival horror games, you’ve probably played many that don’t let you fight back, subjecting you to tense hide-and-seek sequences where you’re holding your breath as the AI draws near. No Son Of Mine avoids pigeonholing itself into that category and, instead, offers you three options: hide, fight, or run. In the first level, you’ll discover a unique device called the Cool Boy 9000 (aka CB 9000), allowing you to zap your enemy whenever it approaches you. It only takes one clear shot to fend it off. But there’s a catch — your enemy is invisible unless you toggle a red filter, which only lasts for a short time, so you’ll have to be careful about when you use it. If you opt for hiding, you’ll need to find a nearby blue closet — there are many scattered across the zones — and once you’re inside, a quick-time event pops up, which entails stopping a blue line in between the eyes of a creepy, red smiley face. If you press A at the right time, you’re golden, but if you fail, the door will swing open, and your health will take a hit. Of course, there’s always running, which occasionally let me avoid the Boy long enough until the lights flicked back on.
Initially, all of these mechanics sounded interesting, but the more I played, the more repetitive and frustrating it all became. I love the premise of a stalker enemy, á la the Amnesia series, but I’m not sure if No Son Of Mine’s AI does very much prowling, at least not that I noticed. The Boy doesn’t interact with the environment in any obvious or scary way other than cutting the lights moments before it strikes, so there’s little build-up in terms of suspense and tension. Even with the red filter on, the enemy seems to appear from nothing and quickly hovers toward you, which can be startling the first few times it happens. However, before I was even finished finding clues in the school, my fear was already replaced with annoyance. Your encounters with the enemy are frequent, so there’s not a lot of time to progress or breathe in between hiding or fighting. After five or six times, I had to admit that these sequences always felt the same, and that feeling never improved. Plus, the AI seems to trigger without clear rhyme or reason, and despite avoiding shadows and limiting my use of the sprint button, I couldn’t find a way to mitigate the frequency. It doesn’t help that the design and animation of the Boy feels uninspired, as it’s just a red body with red eyes that stiffly approaches you.
Even on Normal difficulty, I found No Son Of Mine to be extremely difficult. I rarely hid with success, since I couldn’t land the bar in between the smiley face’s eyes. My poor reflexes repeatedly got me killed since you can only take a couple of hits before meeting the “Try Again” screen, so I resolved to fight, which provided a similar kind of difficulty. Lining up a shot on the enemy is harder than you might think. You’ll aim the CB 9000 only for the foe to immediately teleport to the side, and then you’re toast. Your reaction time is really put to the test, more so than I expected from this title. Later on, you’ll find a cool item that lets you slow down time, but I often wasted these by using them too soon. Resources are quite limited, so you can easily set yourself up for failure if you’re not careful. However, there are Work Benches you can find that let you upgrade your tools, such as extending the duration of your red filter or the recharge rate on the CB 9000, which offers some variation in how you approach your playthrough.
Honestly, even with those upgrades, I died often without making much progress in between deaths since the enemy appeared so frequently. It got tedious. Other players might embrace the difficulty with open arms, but I struggled to find the fun in it. That said, I normally wouldn’t mind a challenge if the game was at least interesting in other areas, which unfortunately isn’t the case for this title. Most of the time, you’re wandering aimlessly in bland zones, as the game gives you little direction about what you’re supposed to be doing. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it risks losing your attention in doing so, and that’s exactly what happened in my case. The more I had to backtrack to find a clue or some way to progress, the more I noticed the lack of detail in the environment. The school classrooms, for example, often felt like copies of one another, which was also apparent in the design of the houses when I reached the neighbourhood section of the game.
The lack of hand-holding isn’t without positives, though, as it definitely created a sense of immersion without a map, quest log, or inventory to keep track of, but that very immersion also highlighted how boring the world seemed. There were moments when it felt like the aesthetic would get strange and spooky, whether it be an upside-down room, a floating sheet, a spooky website on a computer, or a gruesome murder scene, but it often felt gimmicky and unoriginal in its execution. The same goes for the overuse of the colour red; like the repetitive enemy encounters, it got increasingly less scary the more I played.
The absence of depth in No Son Of Mine’s world is also true for its puzzles, as there’s nothing unique or fun about solving them. Perhaps the storytelling would be a redeeming quality, I hoped, but it struggles in a similar way. While I was drawn in by the mystery at first, there’s little reason to be invested in your character, and the clues I found towards solving the mystery weren’t very compelling. Notes, for example, were poorly written and extremely vague, so much so that I often wondered, “That’s it?” I kept waiting for the game to give me a reason to keep playing, narrative or gameplay-wise, and it just couldn’t deliver.
The best thing about the game is that it’s functional on the Nintendo Switch. I never encountered a bug or a crash, and the default keybindings were comfortable to use. The audio is also spooky, with haunting music and distorted sounds from the enemy. I wish it was easier to look at, though. I played with Switch docked and in handheld mode, and in both cases, I found myself squinting to see anything in the distance. The environments are extremely dark, even with your flashlight turned on and the brightness turned all the way up. Walking is also disorienting and hard on the eyes as your camera is very wobbly when you move.
No Son Of Mine peaks with its opening, as it’s one of those titles where the more you play, the less you enjoy it. There’s a tough line to balance in the horror genre; you don’t want to make the game too easy or too hard, and you want your scares to land with a gut punch of adrenaline or add to a growing uneasiness. Unfortunately, this title doesn’t find a balance that’s enjoyable.
No Son Of Mine (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
The best thing about No Son Of Mine is that it’s functional and it tries to implement some good ideas. But it’s ultimately more frustrating than it is frightening.