Fun fact: Saturnalia eventually became Christmas once the Julian calendar was introduced and religions were consolidated, but you aren’t here for the history lesson.
A celebration like no other, Saturnalia is an ancient, mid-winter holiday honoring the God of Agriculture, Saturn, and beginning on the arrival of the winter solstice—the birth of a new sun. While the Ides of Winter are typically painted in a pleasant light marked by gift giving and a jovial atmosphere, indie game developer Santa Ragione pays tribute to the Roman pagan commemoration by delving into an alternative background, one riddled with wickedness and trepidation. An unholy story pregnant with impenitent unholiness, Saturnalia is a survival-horror action-adventure you’ve never seen before.
In the heart of Sardinia, Italy lies the plagued settlement of Gravoi. Tormented by its devilish past, Gravoi is haunted by a primordial evil that once played host—or so you think—to demoded practices oozing with repugnancy and chaos. The blasphemous sacraments of old now cast a sinister shadow looming over rooftops which intertwines with the blighted brick and mortar on which the village stands.
With more secrets than timeworn megalithic edifice cobbles, Gravoi rests in vibrating silence. But if you listen carefully, whisperings of mayhem tell tales of venomous customs performed by the false pious, driven by their souls as dark as homespun sin.
Is the hair standing up on the back of your neck yet? Well, baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Set in the year 1989, Saturnalia enlists an ensemble of unique playable characters to investigate Gravoi. As long as the village has been around, it’s renowned for the way people disappear from the world and reappear on the back of a milk carton. Armed with only flashlights and matches (typical survival weaponry), your characters must traverse the winding halls and paths to find the heart of the village’s maleficence. But the journey isn’t easy. With twists and puzzles at every turn, players should stay on constant alert, because what lurks in the shadows may be the culprit to their very demise.
As an ode to survival horror royalty, Saturnalia adopts the gameplay format of one of the genre’s all-time greats: Sweet Home. Like its predecessor, the Saturnalia labyrinth stays the same throughout the game unless all of your characters meet their maker. Should each character bite the dust, the map changes, leaving your team of novice investigators back at square one. At the same time, the story follows no linear progression, so depending on who lives and dies, there are multiple endings you’ll get to experience.
What separates Saturnalia from other survival horror games is the extraordinary unique animation and artwork. The stylized visuals captivate players by resembling something akin to pencil sketchings. Supplementing the harrowing imagery is an animation format inspired by stop-motion and rotoscoping film art. The audio of Saturnalia combines a symphony of ancient music and sounds while integrating an electronic accompaniment that thrusts players into a bone-chilling atmosphere.
As someone who enjoys the Sunday Scaries and gets lost—sometimes literally—in petrifying survival horror games, I’m on the edge of my seat awaiting the release of Saturnalia. For this game, I’ll probably leave the lights on.
Are you ready for an adventure through the wretched maze of Gravoi? I know I am. Well… I think.