The Devil Came Through Here trilogy is a strange beast. Developed by more or less one dude named Rem Michalski, these games are incredibly ambitious and well written point-and-click horror adventures. They also show a level of care rarely shown in indie gaming, with great voice work from relatively unknown actors, striking visuals, and stories that dig deeper into the human condition than they have any right to. Let’s go through these games one at a time, shall we?
The Cat Lady (2012)
Susan Ashworth has seen better days. She suffers from an intense depression and decides to end it all one day. The game opens with her afterlife, a strange and rather beautiful place that houses a being known as The Queen of Maggots. The Queen tells Susan that this isn’t the end. She can come back to the real world in exchange for a total stranger’s life. In doing so, she will encounter five Parasites, people who represent humanity at its most sadistic and depraved. Along the way, she must confront her own demons and past.
The Cat Lady is a favorite of mine, and probably the strongest game in the series. For one, it establishes the atmosphere that comes to permeate the games that follow. It’s one of grief, sadness, and often times pure, unrelenting terror. This game strikes the best balance of the series between pure horror and more emotional drama. Susan goes back to the realm of the Queen of Maggots after being killed by one of the game’s Parasites. The dichotomy between the detailed, real world environments and the more surreal other world never feels at odds with each other. Instead, the two complement each other perfectly.
It helps that the game’s voice actors and writing really help sell the cast. Susan Ashworth (Lynsey Frost) is simply great, injecting an air of sarcasm and melancholy in equal measure into a character who could have been largely one note. The supporting cast is great too, such as her eventual roommate Mitzi. Mitzi is not only important to Susan’s arch, but a great character in her own right. She harbors secrets that are rather tragic, and by the end you come to understand the duo intimately. They come to feel like old friends that you enjoy spending time with. Another writing highlight is one of the later stages where you must explore Susan’s building and you discover stuff about every denizen who lives there.
The gameplay, meanwhile, is serviceable, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. The storytelling and atmosphere are very clearly the primary focuses of the game, but the gameplay is fleshed out just enough to make it feel like an accomplishment when you solve one of the game’s many puzzles. Unlike older point and click adventure games, the puzzles follow a very sensible internal logic that helps make even the weirder ones feel achievable. Exploring the environments helps immerse you further into the many macabre and oftentimes scary places Susan finds herself in.
Speaking of scary, this game can be downright nasty. The Parasites all live up to their moniker. The first one you encounter is a demented doctor who preys on young women and soon sets his sights on Susan once she wakes up in the hospital. Another is a husband and wife team of exterminators who have no problem cannibalizing humans. Suffice it to say, the game is not afraid to get really gruesome, but the real miracle is that it never feels gratuitous. The violence arises naturally from the game’s situations, and never loses its horrific impact.
I’m being vague about everything because I believe this is truly a game everyone must play. Looking past its gruesome exterior reveals an incredibly human story that almost anyone should be able to relate to on some level. Susan Ashworth is one of indie gaming’s best protagonists, with layers that we see more and more of as the game goes on. It delivers on being genuinely disturbing, while also giving a proper arc for its central players.
As we will come to see with the remaining two games, it’s imperfect but still worth anyone’s time (there are a few small but significant plot threads that feel under cooked, mainly with one of the Parasites). It’s also the best game in this trilogy, with a full ten hour story filled with great characters and memorable moments. The soundtrack is pretty great too.
Joe Davis brings his wife Ivy to the Quiet Haven Hotel in an attempt to patch things together and save their rocky marriage. The hotel is seemingly abandoned, save for some very strange denizens like the beautiful Manageress and a German doctor performing weird experiments in his room. Ivy disappears, and it soon becomes clear that Joe needs to hunt down four different versions of someone named Sophie, a young woman who reflects Ivy’s insecurities and mental health problems. As the game goes on, reality becomes a pipe dream and Joe’s darkest tendencies come to the surface.
Downfall is a much, much darker game than The Cat Lady. During the events of the first game, we briefly saw Joe Davis and discovered some very bad things about him. The connective tissue between the games is somewhat unclear (outside of the presence/ influence of the Queen of Maggots), because in The Cat Lady, Ivy is in a very different state than she is in this one. Regardless, Ivy struggles with an eating disorder, and the sensitive subject matter is handled honestly but tastefully. The darkness comes from Joe, who is a budding psychopath just looking for an excuse to show his true colors.
In the game’s opening, we learn that Joe’s brother was killed in a bizarre but tragic accident when they were kids. It placed a seed in him at a young age, and when Ivy goes missing at the hotel, he sees dark reflections of himself in the hotel around him. This game plays with the surreal more than The Cat Lady did- unlike the first game, which had some pretty definite lines between the real and unreal, nothing is very clear about Downfall.
This is both the game’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On the one hand, you never know quite what to expect next. Reality shifts constantly early on, and the puzzles are outlandish. In one, you’re helping said German doctor resurrect the corpse of a beautiful woman. In another, you need to gather the ingredients for a gruesome meat milk shake (don’t ask). It lends the game an entirely unique atmosphere unlike the other two. However, it’s unclear how this ties in to the rest of the series. Not only is there some of the aforementioned continuity confusion with Ivy, but the different endings do little to clear up exactly what happened in a literal sense.
I don’t mind ambiguity. After all, I’m writing for a website named after a show created by David Lynch. But in this particular case, I would have liked to know a bit more of the concrete facts, because Downfall kind of leaves the player hanging. The strength of the other two games is that, underneath all of the horror and grue are well written, compelling stories of people dealing with exaggerated versions of issues everyone goes through. Downfall is compelling in its own way, but on a far more visceral level than an emotional one.
What we’re left with is a uniquely interesting, but kind of frustrating horror experience that is still worth looking into for its dark nature and gruesome visuals. It’s not like much that I’ve played, for better and worse. It does have my favorite theme song in the series, though. So there’s that.
Lorelai is a young woman living in very bad conditions. Her mother is a submissive alcoholic and her step father is emotionally and physically abusive to the both of them. The only glimmer of hope in her life is the start of her new job, and her young sister Bethany. But after her first day, she comes home to a nightmare: her mom is dead and her stepfather kills her in a drunken rage. And like Susan before her, Lorelai meets the Queen of Maggots, who takes an interest in her right away. As the game goes on, Lorelai must confront the embodiment of evil that has pervaded the series and her own hardships in an attempt to save those close to her.
The arc for Lorelai is a strong one. She is a troubled young woman, but instantly likeable and relatable thanks to the great performance by Maisy Kay (who also performs the game’s phenomenal theme song). Despite the dark subject matter, there’s some more comedic moments sprinkled throughout that help lighten the load, mostly from neighbor/ love interest/ indie game designer Zack. As she escapes from her abusive stepfather, you come to understand her hopes and dreams for a brighter tomorrow thanks to the as- usual- strong- writing.
This is probably the most straight forward of all the games, and also the least horrific. Sure, the other world sections are still pretty creepy, but it plays out more like a violent drama than the previous two games. On the one hand, the intimate scope placed on a small cast means we get to know them better. On the other, it holds the game back from tying into the greater narrative of the series.
According to everything I’ve read, this is the final game in the series, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. I was expecting some more connection to the previous protagonists, but most of that is done with cameos and nothing more. The Queen of Maggot’s presence here is strong as ever, but the way everything is resolved with her doesn’t seem quite… right. Without getting too deep into the game’s events (because this is still an easily recommendable game) the way everything works out regarding the overall series lore is very anti-climactic.
In previous games, the rules of the other world were kept intentionally vague, and it mostly works. It allowed the games to use surreal imagery and general weirdness to great effect. Here, though, you perform some very concrete actions, and it leads to the final confrontation with the Queen feeling like a letdown. There isn’t any real relevant connection to previous games, either. The events of previous games are never brought up at all.
It does make up for this by being a rock solid standalone story. And it comes to represent the series as a whole- memorable, incredibly ambitious, and flawed in a few specific ways. It’s clear that series creator Rem Michalski has struggled these last few years with game development from a conversation that Zack and Lorelai have. Zack mentions how much work you pour into making even a simple game and how it can all mean nothing, because even if it receives positive reception, it’s more likely than not that no one will play it. It’s a humorous nod to indie development, but also reflects what must be very real frustrations Michalski holds.
But at the end of the day, Lorelai, like the rest of the Devil Came Through Here trilogy, is an enjoyable, uncommonly well written, and visually striking game. Even though its connection to the main series is ultimately disappointing, it tells its own story of overcoming a bad home life with tenderness and care.
There’s a lot that you can say about the Devil Came Through Here trilogy, but at the end of the day, despite all its flaws, it exemplifies the best of the horror genre. Its interests lie in the humans caught up in the horror of each game. And even though it may have peaked early with The Cat Lady, the following two games are still great in their own ways, because at the end of the day I can forgive flaws in something if it’s ambitious, unique, and created with a singular vision. I don’t know if Rem Michalski plans on retiring from game development, or if he has something else in the works, but one thing is certain- horror gaming is better for him being a part of it.
All images courtesy of each game’s respective Steam Page.