Home Alone… with Ghosts
Francisca is yet another jump-scare dependent, creepy, ghost-plagued adventure game, not unlike countless others that have released in the last few years. The player takes the part of Mike, a 14-year old whose parents are vacationing in Mexico, leaving him alone in their brand new house with the Ghost Next Door. It’s a ghastly game of hide-and-seek, from the creative minds at BiscuitPlay, but it leaves a lot to be desired.
Poor Mike is all alone, with his parents off on a South American vacation, because most of us would leave the country with our 14-year-old son stuck at the house for a week on his own. What could go wrong? Beyond all the practical concerns, Mike has the added issue of his house being haunted, apparently by a dead girl named Francisca, who likes to drop off presents and then proceed to play a deadly version of hide-and-seek.
The graphics in Francisca are about what you’d expect from a cheap Indie horror title, and I found them passable at this purchase price. The sounds are decent, from the thudding footsteps and creaking doors, to the weird static the ghost creates when she’s nearby. Fortunately, and unlike most jump-scare-dependent games, this title doesn’t sink so low as to use shrieking sounds and blasting special effects to drive scares home; in fact, there aren't many audio cues or signals, even if the ghost gets her hands on you. Honestly, the jump scare factor is relatively minimal, and the only time I was surprised was when Francisca teleported through a closed door and appeared in front of me.
Let’s Talk Cameras and Suspense
Without a doubt, the best part of Francisca is the video cameras and the monitoring tablet. It’s a very modern, ghost-hunting version of watching for things that go bump in the night and a refreshing change from all the static cameras in similar games. You begin with four tripod-mounted cameras on Night 1, which slowly drop in numbers as you progress through the week. It took a little finagling to figure out how to pick up, place, rotate, and secure the cameras in place, but once I had that locked down, I enjoyed using the real-time footage from the camera sent to my handheld tablet for positioning the lenses in the rooms. Unfortunately, since you choose when to spawn the ghost, there’s no suspense at all while positioning the tripods; quite frankly, after a few deaths, going through replacing the cameras at the beginning of the night gets a bit tedious.
Once the cameras are live, and the ghost is lurking around, you switch between the stationary tripods to try and keep Francisca in view as much as possible. Now, from what I can tell, having sight of the ghost doesn’t affect your fear meter at all – it just allows you to view how close she is, and how likely she is to discover you. It’s the most intriguing part of this ghost-riddled experience, but this aspect alone isn’t enough to redeem Francisca from the discard bin.
The other aspect of Francisca that lends to suspense is the player’s Fear Meter. While hiding from the ghost, your fear rapidly increases, and it seems that ending up at 100 from 0 is a sure-fire way to die. To reduce the meter, you must close your eyes and be enveloped by total darkness – something that seems counter-intuitive if you’re crouched in a wardrobe, hiding from a dead person. Once you open your eyes again, you need to bring your tablet back up and switch back to the nearest camera, which feels a bit clunky overall but lends to the trepidation of opening your peepers.
Francisca seems like yet another Five Nights at Freddy’s clone, blended with Emily Wants to Play, to combine the mechanic of camera screens with a creepy, haunted thing popping in and out of rooms until it kills you. Unfortunately, while the camera play here is a nifty improvement over stationary models, the rest of the game just leaves too much to be desired. By the middle of the week, the system that seemed to work for surviving in the early nights fades away, and it starts to feel nearly impossible to make it through the night unmolested. I suppose it becomes a more authentic version of Hide-and-Seek, and you have to keep moving within the house and the front yard rather than picking a hiding spot and trying to wait it out.
Often, I found myself at the Game Over screen with no idea why I had died, and numerous times it felt like just dumb luck that I survived – or an unfortunate, but random, turn of events that got me killed. I suppose I can see room for tactics here, but for the most part, it simply isn’t rewarding enough to beat the night to keep me trying. There’s essentially no story-line to speak of, and Francisca is just a stationary, ghostly model of a character that flickers in and out of existence; it’s only creepy because it’s supposed to be. And while this is a cheap addition to any jump-scare Steam library, it needs more content, more scares, and more motivation to survive if it wants to be a contender with bigger, better FNAF rip-offs.