They saw me. Damn it all, they saw me.
Albino Lullaby is a new Steam horror game that really wants you to know that it "doesn't rely on jump scares or gore." Having played and beaten its first episode, I can safely say that, yeah, by and large that's true. Albino Lullaby is an earnest attempt at horror through abject strangeness, and sometimes it works. Other times, it really, really doesn't. Often, those moments come right after one another.
Case in point: I'd just finished stealthing through a sort of mansion cathedral full of "grandchildren," sluglike marshmallow tumour abominations that operate as a bizarro family cult. There's torture, a single book (that I've found upward of 100 copies of), the world's most elaborate toilet — all that good stuff.
The grandchildren are fucking weird, is what I'm saying. More pointedly, if they touch me, I'm dead.
Albino Lullaby has some fantastic sound. I highly recommend you watch these videos with the sound on.
They saw me. Two of them, approaching from both sides — slowly, casually, as though I was a fly trapped in their web. Panicked, I switched from creeping and crawling to bolting and pissing. Miraculously, I stumbled across a busted out portion of the bridge railing and took a leap of faith. I ended up on a roof, and that's when things got damn freaky.
For the first time, I really heard the grandchildren. Heard them slowly congregating, amassing all around me, chattering just coherently enough that their lurching word spew made me nauseous. I felt helpless as they closed in, unseen. I felt scared.
I found a window into that cathedral I'd been skulking around in earlier. I jumped through it, but they were already there. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Except... wait. They apparently can't get through the doorway.
Funny, not to mention embarrassing for them. But also, they were blocking the doorway. So much for my clever exit.
After watching the grandchildren mucus-puke all over each other for a while, I climbed back out onto the roof.
Double-fuck. They'd found a way out there too. They were streaming off a balcony, looking like some kind of demon waterfall. I was completely trapped (and also a little miffed that, apparently, the grandchildren are psychic).
Eventually, after realising no amount of hiding would make them go away, I decided there was only one way out: down. So I jumped, and that was the end of it.
Now for the part where things go from mildly annoying and damn creepy to downright infuriating: I was sent back to a checkpoint that occurred probably 30 minutes or so before all of that went down. Before I ever went inside the mansion, let alone sneaked all the way through it, narrowly avoided a handful of sightings, picked up tons of notes, and pressed multiple crucial buttons to get me through to the game's next section. Ugh. Ugggggggggggh.
For me, that was the moment when Albino Lullaby's fragile illusion broke, when its core loop unravelled. As I went back through that section, I realised each area of the game had been pretty similar: sneak, read notes, press poorly placed buttons (and probably have trouble figuring out where to go next in the process), run, and maybe get scared shitless once or twice in the process. Even worse, a lot of that was trial-and-error ("Haha pressing that button killed you! So did platforming down that roof. You never could've known! Isn't that funny?"), and the checkpoints were almost unanimously miserable.
When Albino Lullaby works, it's great, but it falls apart easily despite its unique setup and undeniably bizarre aesthetic. And after it fell apart, after I watched grandchildren limply fall off a balcony and get stuck in a doorway trying to pursue me? The terror never really came back. I'd seen behind the curtain, or maybe there never really was much of a curtain to begin with.