Shut In is a short 2D side-scrolling indie horror/comedy game by Cael O’Sullivan and published by Hidden Tracks. It released on Steam on October 30, 2020. Shut In explores depression, self-care, motivation, and isolation by trapping you inside your own house. I wasn’t affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns like other states, let alone how other countries are still dealing with it, so the premise of the game piqued my interest. Whilst short, and the pixel graphics are a throwback to 90’s gaming, this is a case of not judging a book by its cover. I was glad to have had the experience and I do like the clever challenge of these short indie puzzle games.
The overall goal is to get out of the house, but the sarcastic, sometimes funny but sometimes rude narrator is playing a bit of the devil’s advocate, making you question why you should bother even trying. I can’t imagine what it was like, or still is for some people, to be in lockdown during COVID-19. Being from Western Australia we were lucky, but I’ve read about a lot of people not coping well being stuck in their house day in day out. This is one of the reasons I wanted to give this game a go.
The game starts with you lying in bed sleeping. You can play Shut In using keyboard or a controller. The narrator prompts you to wake up, or not if you don’t want to. You are prompted to get up or snooze. I chose snooze first and it showed my character still sleeping for a little while. Suddenly I start to hear wood creaking and then a crashing sound as the screen goes black. The narrator pipes up with, “Oh dear. The shelf collapsed. All that heavy wood crushed your spine completely. It always was a bit wobbly. You probably should have fixed it by now. You probably should have got out of bed by now too. But don’t worry. Try again tomorrow.”
I got used to seeing this screen a lot, and it even has a sarcastic “yay” and exaggerated clapping to rub salt into the wounds. There were times where I did not see my demise coming, but ultimately those actions made sense. Other times, and in true inquisitive puzzle game fashion, I thought, “this is surely going to kill me, but let’s try it anyway.” Sure enough, I died a horrible death, but lessons are always learned!
The character’s house in Shut In is filthy and falling apart. In the hallway, a light is buzzing and flickering. As I got closer the buzzing grew louder until I walked in front of it… boom! The light globe explodes in my face and I die from shard of glass causing me to bleed out. Another scene shows a dilapidated stairway heading downstairs, but it is dark and you can’t see the bottom. I decided to jump down the stairs thinking, “it can’t be that far down.” I died again – turns out it is a very long way down! When you die, the game reloads from the scene you were just in, and each scene is quite small so there is no need to manually saving your game before trying something.
The game features some pretty dark themes and I can only imagine reflect some of the demons of depression whilst being seemingly locked in your own house. Developer Cael O’Sullivan drew on his own personal experiences with agoraphobia and wove these throughout the game. Cael also consulted with a mental health professional to ensure the game struck the right balance.
“I don’t want to make a game about what you should be doing instead of being depressed. I want to try and capture how it actually feels when you’re in it and show how hard simple things can become. But also make it a fun and funny experience. It’s a tough balance to try and perfect.”
As is customary in puzzle games like this, inspecting everything will either net you an item or at least give you clues as what to do next. I only got stumped on one puzzle in the game involving a microwave prompting me to set the timer. I found the first half of the clue but could not for the life of me find the second half. I ended up having to google the solution, as did a lot of people it seems. Once I finished the game it reported that I found 12 out of 15 items. Clearly, I missed an area or two though I thought I was quite meticulous in searching everything.
I enjoyed Shut In and whilst it was pretty dark and brutal in parts, it was balanced with challenging puzzles and good humour. I managed to complete the game in 1 hour 11 minutes but it’s a game worth experiencing if you like puzzle games. It’s also a fascinating glimpse for me into mental struggles of life in lockdown that many around the world have no doubt experienced or even still going through. Games are a great medium to be creative and have a bit of fun whilst acknowledging depression, anxiety and mental health are real issues that people deal with every day.
Almost half of all Australians aged 16 to 85 years — 7.3 million people — will experience mental illness at some point in their life. One quarter of Australians aged 16 to 85 years — 4.2 million people — will experience an anxiety condition during their lifetime. Women are more likely than men to experience depression and anxiety. These conditions can be serious but help is available. Beyond Blue are providing information, advice and strategies to help you manage your wellbeing and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This review utilised a key provided by the publisher. Shut In is available now on Steam for AUD7.50.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis