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Review: The Mortuary Assistant [PC] Halloween Update

When we were kids, adults would often ask us what we wanted to do when we grow up. Common responses usually ran in the vein of firefighters, doctors, police, and athletes. There were always the “oddball” selections: garbage man, explorer, ballerina. The last one was my pick before I discovered the dark world beneath the tulle. Dark and horror were the furthest from my mind. Frankly, I was absolutely terrified of the world of the dead, monsters, demons, and the like. You see, I was exposed to movies like The Black Cauldron, Kujo and Thriller as a small tike. After that, I decided I was done with the spooks.

So, the irony is not lost on me that I am the resident “Scream Queen” of Mega Visions Magazine’s stream team. Somewhere along the way, I decided to own my fears and found a deep love for lore-based horror entertainment. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to play some real gems.

Horror games are a tough genre to get right. It’s a niche community, and often, unless your game is published by bigger studios like EA Games, Bethesda Software or Capcom, horror games slip through the cracks. Even the backing of a big publisher doesn’t guarantee success. White Night is a good example of this, a gorgeous little black and white noir mystery, published by Xbox. Don’t remember it? I’m not surprised.

The demo that spooked the world

More horror games are now produced by indie teams and proving very successful. Poppy Playtime and the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchises are two such breakout hits, providing some truly thrilling chills and a massive following. Hoping to join them is The Mortuary Assistant. From solo developer Brian Clarke and his studio DarkStone Digital, and published by Dread XP, The Mortuary Assistant has been the talk of horror fans for the past week. Even some “I don’t play horror games” players are getting in on the hype.

As someone who doesn’t get scared often (real life is scary enough!) I was, at first, skeptical of the scares. After all, I heard PT was terrifying, but when I played it, I was less than impressed. Don’t come at me… it’s just my own experience.

When TMA’s demo released earlier this year, I watched several playthroughs, but had no intention of playing it myself. Until I noticed something. Each playthrough was different. Events that say Markiplier experienced were nowhere to be found in SpookyLoopz. I knew I had to try it out for myself. And sure enough, when I played the demo in June for Mega Vision’s Indie Game Showcase, I got spooks I had not seen before. The thrill of the adrenaline rush from not knowing what was going to happen next coupled with the atmospheric noises that I could not pinpoint as within the game, or without, had me buzzing for two days.

Which meant I HAD to play the full game. I have not been this excited for an indie horror game in a long time. And for the most part, The Mortuary Assistant does not disappoint. I am currently up to 9 playthroughs and will play more.

What makes it so intriguing, almost addicting? Call the Winchesters, grab some letting papers and let’s break some bones as we sus out the mysteries behind The Mortuary Assistant.

Heading into the mire

The year is 1998, in Connecticut, USA. Rebecca, our protagonist, has just finished up her degree and is looking to take on an internship with her old professor at his local mortuary. Her grandmother, a kindly, but concerned woman, expresses her congratulations at Rebecca’s success, especially considering the hard time she has had in the past. She gives Rebecca a necklace and says it should be hers anyways. So far, so normal.

We next travel to River Fields Mortuary. This serves as our tutorial, giving us a rundown of how the controls work. Here we meet Mr. Raymond Delver, the owner of the mortuary. He’s working but tells Rebecca to take one body back and exchange it for another. We obtain a clipboard with a checklist and begin our tasks. Everything is straight forward- check the body for marks, blemishes, and the like, mark it down and then fill out the embalming report on the computer. Rebecca begins the embalming process, and Raymond says he has set out everything for us. Don’t get to attached to that aspect.

It is during the examination of the body that we get our first indication that things are a bit sideways in the workplace. As a window slams shut, Raymond says it’s just the old building. He uses similar excuses for the bottles flying off the shelves as she embalms the body, but it is obvious that there is fear in his voice. Before Rebecca can even finish her tasks, he sends her home.

We open next in her apartment, a simple place with only a few things to interact with. She’s on the phone with her friend Megan and gets a call waiting buzz. Raymond apologizes for his abrupt dismissal but confirms that she has the job and asks her to come in that night to take care of three cadavers. He mentions he isn’t feeling well. Rebecca excitedly accepts and leaves her apartment.

Locked in!

Almost as soon as she enters the building, things begin to go wrong. The doors shut behind her and she sees a person outside. The phone rings. Raymond is on the line, and Rebecca assumes he will send help when she tells him about the figure she saw.

She assumed wrong.

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The lobby of the mortuary is lovely… in a dark, morbid way.

Raymond apologizes again and tells her that he’s the one outside and he has locked her inside. When she expresses her outrage, he reveals that she has a demon attached to her and has already begun the possession process. Of course, Rebecca’s first reaction is to call bullshit. He says to remain calm and that she should go about doing things normally. It will help keep the possession from progressing further.

There’s a box on the desk that contains a tape recorder, an old key and the hall key. Also on the desk is a stick pad and pencil. Those are all necessary for understanding and keeping track of issues along the way. Taking those, Rebecca heads back to the embalming room.

Rebecca, are you ok? Are you ok, Rebecca?

Again, the phone rings with Raymond on the line. This time, he explains that she needs to banish the demon. To do this, she will need to figure out which demon it is, learn its name and what body it’s inhabiting, then mark the body and burn it. He tells her to listen to the tapes, as they will give her vital information. Believing this is an unprofessional hazing right, she tries to ignore it and just get to work. The player can choose to do just that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

If you choose to follow Raymond’s instructions, Rebecca will need to open up the old cabinet by the desk and look at the contents inside. The regent fluid and letting strips are the most importing things to grab at the moment. Holding up a letting strip can reveal how close the demon is. If it smolders and bursts into flame, a scorched sigil will appear somewhere close by. That sigil will correspond with the wooden ones in the cabinet.

Guess and guess again…

From here on out, the experience is different for each playthrough of The Mortuary Assistant. The scares can start as soon as the first body is pulled out of cold storage. From the lights turning off and the doors closing, it starts ‘mild.’ In one shift, all the cupboard doors were open as soon as I came back into the room. In another, a sigil appeared almost immediately and the hall doors close. And as the night continues, these events only increase in intensity and speed. Rebecca’s immediate reaction is the same as my own- “Nope, nope, nope. New job.” I even tried to leave, but no dice.

Deadly past comes haunting

The Mortuary Assistant story is more than just embalming the dead and fighting off possession by some demon. It appears that Rebecca has a dark past, with metaphorical demons as well. Through various flashback, possessions, and context, I played connect the dots. She was a runaway at 14 with a drug problem that led to the loss of her father. As a result, Rebecca suffered from an extreme amount of guilt, and often such strong emotions can lead to demonic takeovers.

As I’ve said before, horror games rarely get me to jump. In my first playthrough, there was a moment where the lights in the hallway had turned off, making it pitch black. But there, hovering in the doorway was the painted face of a disfigured woman. She quickly disappeared into the darkness, and I incorrectly assumed that event had passed. Oh boy was I wrong. She popped out, grabbed Rebecca, and dragged her towards the dark hallway. It was such a shock, I jumped up onto my knees on my couch and dropped my controller, screaming in horror.

By the end of that shift, I had encountered the white child, the painted lady and the shadow man. The painted lady was by far the most terrifying spook. The few times I have encountered her since then have been just as scary, causing my heartbeat to spike rapidly. She is truly the scariest freaken thing I’ve ever freaken seen, no joke.

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There’s no escaping the painted lady.

Distorted bodies corpses, with bones cracking, and demonic voices added a visceral type of horror, making me cringe more than a few times. The white child has a haunting grin that oddly almost seems friendly… until it isn’t. And the glowing red eyes of the shadow man pop up at random times. Each spook has no warning and is randomly encountered throughout each playthrough. What I got in one, I may not see again. And the whole idea of “expect the unexpected?” Throw that right out those rainy windows, at our grandma screaming abuses at us. There is absolutely no way to prepare for what will happen or when.

And the thunder rolls

Another part of what makes the scares so on point in The Mortuary Assistant is the perfect timing in atmospheric elements. The night is truly dark and stormy, with thunder cracking overhead and loudly through my headphones. I’ll admit it made me jump more than once. Doors and windows slam. At some point, the bell over the entry way may jingle. There’s no one there of course. The phone randomly rings, with voices mimicking Rebecca and people in her life. And if you’re lucky, the cold storage’s doors may slam repeatedly with extremely loud, clanky sounds. Often, these events require some interaction from the player. However, even inaction can cause some reactions.

The Mortuary Assistant almost feels like a living, breathing entity. How the player handles each of the encounters and events will determine how the game reacts as well. In my most successful unintentional speed run, clocking in at 38 minutes, I didn’t react to anything but the “major” events. I simply hunkered down and did the job, while taking the time to make regular sweeps with the letting papers. Once I had 3 of the 4 sigils, I marked and burned the body. That run was the mildest playthrough, and I was able to get the “Good Ending.” I found the more I panicked, the quicker I reached a not so good ending, of which there are 5 in total.

What an interesting tattoo you have, Grandma.

A buggy start

With a game like this, the idea of emersion is vital to the success of the player’s experience. The Mortuary Assistant does a good job of this, from the jiggling of the female body’s breasts to the movements of the feet as Rebecca moves the gurneys about. The embalming procedures, while somewhat gruesome, have realistic sounds, down to the squish of the bellies and crack of the bones.

Unfortunately, part of that emersion broke because of a buggy release. And there were several game breakers. Some of these bugs wouldn’t allow me to progress the story, such as the eye caps disappearing from the drawer, or the sigil disappearing from the entryway. At one point, I decided to start my game over from the top and found Rebecca floating in blue space.

Ironically, one of the biggest glitches I encountered was on stream Thursday night, when I burnt the body of a possessed corpse with a mark I was sure I had correctly identified. The cutscene went as expected, only to find that I had gotten one of the bad endings. I had not actually obtained this ending before, and so was excited to see how it played out, even though I was confused as to how I had gotten the wrong demon. In a tweet today, Clarke explained that this was a bug that he had now patched.

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Clarke has tirelessly worked to make The Mortuary Assistant run smoother, taken DMs, Discord threads and Steam reviews and improved it. It is because of this, I have gone back in after each patch, and still came away spooked to my core. The horror community has responded positively to his hard work. And he has plans to continue updating the game with new bodies, fresh haunts, and modes, including an embalming only, and story event free mode.

Tricks and Treats

As promised, October dawned and so did the Halloween update. Adding in new events to chill my blood, new bodies to examine and a very messed up embalming room. At least the reception room is cheery with decorations that reminded me of the horrors of elementary school. And that tinkling music box tune couldn’t possibly get any more unnerving.

Apparently, no one told the ghouls, and more than a few gave me a fright. Since The Mortuary Assistant is something of a timed experience, the feelings of panic and doom are always on my tail. And our very nice, but don’t have a clue, receptionist Zoe has restocked the mortuary supplies. Unfortunately, she has no idea where anything is supposed to go. As I have learned to memorize where things are to reduce my time in playthroughs, this added a layer of anxiety.

Have a holly jolly Halloween. Now, where the fudge is my stuff?

I did successfully find the right demon and the correct body during this playthrough, but because of the still ongoing bugs that plagued the game, I wasn’t able to finish that night. It was morbidly funny to see the body phase through the crematorium doors, with the head flopping about on the outside.

Are you ready?

No matter what, even with the bugs, The Mortuary Assistant stands out as this year’s most terrifying entry into the horror genre. It messes with you psychologically, hits you physically with true terror and makes you question happenings around you for days after playing. And it is a game I keep coming back to with tripidation and excitement. Player discresion is advised. The game does deal with and show suicide,drug abuse and realistic horror aspects.

The Mortuary Assistant is on PC through Steam. The title will release on consoles at a future date.




Despite the number of bugs that plague The Mortuary Assistant, the game still remains the scariest entry into the horror genre this year. Immersive play leaves the player wondering what is real, imagined or insanity. Every venture into the game is different, and for this very reason, the game never gets old.

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Alicia Graves

A bit nerdy, a bit punk rock princess, and a whole lot of mom, I'm constantly in motion. I have an enthusiasm for gaming and the cultural complexities of entertainment, both past and present. I don’t believe in limiting myself to one kind of genre in books, comics, manga, anime, music or movies. I prefer to seek out hidden gems in panned pieces, uniqueness in the mundane and new outlooks on nuances.
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