There’s a particular type of horror called forth by using religious imagery.
The Padre understands this and weaponises seemingly innocuous Christian symbolism to deliver a uniquely unnerving horror experience. The game also utilises a voxel art style to lend the experience a strangely detached aesthetic which may lessen the scares but enhances the retro vibe.
Though the gameplay experience of the game can feel slightly off at times, The Padre is practically overflowing with fantastic ideas and effortless charm.
The Padre Review
The Padre casts players as a young, quippy priest who is drawn into the mysterious disappearance of his former mentor; the cardinal Benedictus. Compelled by morbid curiosity, lingering loyalty and a divine calling, the priest sets out on a forboding stormy night to trace the cardinal’s last steps and unravel the mystery.
Thanks to the storm, the priest must seek shelter in, you guessed it, a creepy mansion.
The game’s playful tone is established early when the priest, before leaving for his quest, notes that he probably won’t need the small arsenal of ‘demon hunting’ weapons in his closet for the trip. It’s the first hint that while this game will proceed with its tongue firmly in cheek, there is danger in this world and you’re going to need to be prepared for the fight.
This danger is telegraphed even further through one of the game’s countless pop culture references as we switch to a first-person perspective of an unknown beast haunting the woods around the mansion.
This Resident Evil reference turns out to be one of the more subtle nods to the horror classic as one glance at The Padre‘s gameplay will give longtime fans a warm heart flutter.
Once the priest is inside the mansion, The Padre quickly becomes familiar and inviting as the core gameplay loop unfolds. Fans of the fixed camera exploration and puzzle solving of the early Resident Evil titles will feel right at home here, though The Padre has more than a few new tricks up its sleeve.
While the camera rests in a traditional, loosely top-down angle, the left bumper allows you to switch the camera to multiple angles in most rooms. This serves dual purposes in that it allows for easier exploration and lends The Padre a fresh, cinematic quality which feels like an evolution of its influences.
Beyond the camera options, The Padre also uses a unique art style to set itself apart from other horror games. The voxel style is immediately captivating and used to great effect throughout for both horror and comedy. It deliberately circumvents realism and instead imbues the experience with a delightfully strange cartoonish sheen which brings a degree of absurdism to some of the games more graphic moments.
Developer Shotgun with Glitters also employs a wide variety of visual trickery and manipulations to elevate the voxel art when needed.
Cutscenes cleverly use the camera and the game’s exceptional lighting and colour pallet to lend them a heft while in-game moments of graphic violence and horrific chaos are enhanced by the strange, janky nature of the voxel art.
Dancing with the Devil
In order to solve the mystery of the missing cardinal, the priest will have to fight his way through the mansion’s many demonic forces and solve a string of devilish puzzles. In perhaps an unintentional nod to the classic horror games before it, combat in The Padre can often feel a little bit clunky and unwieldy.
The priest has access to a standard melee attack, which can be charged up to inflict greater damage, as well as a small variety of ranged weapons. Ammo is thankfully plentiful and enemies go down without too much of a struggle.
This compensates somewhat for the janky nature of the combat.
While I can’t say the combat was ever overly fun to play with, it never felt frustrating on its own and served the game’s oppressing nature well.
Going to war with ancient evil is given a clever twist thanks to the game’s demonic transformation mechanic. Interacting with certain objects in the mansion, which I won’t spoil here, allows the priest to transform into a Cthulu-esque monstrosity complete with tentacles, glowing red eye and immunity from damage.
This gives you the obvious upper hand in combat but the game warns you that staying in this form for too long will cause God to turn his favour away from you.
This is one of many examples of how The Padre cleverly ties its gameplay mechanics into its overarching lore and narrative. For instance, if the priest dies during combat while in human form he will awaken in a world between worlds of sorts, saved from death by a guardian angel.
This angelic light will give you the option of restarting from several previous checkpoints but God’s grace comes at a high price. The more times you die, the more angel tears will fill a flask in your inventory. Should the flask become full, it’s a proper game over and all progress will be lost.
In theory, it’s a brilliant bit of difficulty which ties in neatly with the game’s actual plot, though in practice it can sometimes feel unfair thanks to the imprecise nature of the combat and movement. One instance saw me attempting to bypass a deadly ghost who would one-shot kill me if I messed up the precise timing of my movement.
I died several times in quick succession during this encounter, filling the flask far faster than seemed fair to the player.
The Padre’s puzzles also suffer from uneven difficulty, though to a far lesser degree. These puzzles are serviceable, if a little unremarkable, but those random difficulty spikes can lead to frustrating moments. In one particular instance involving a block pushing sequence, I considered lodging my Switch controller into my TV but this was more of an exception than a pattern.
The only other slight hitch with the experience is the strangely awkward transition of bringing a PC game to a console. Many aspects of The Padre feel as though they would be better served with a mouse and keyboard rather than a controller. Interactions with things such as the environment and inventory system can be slightly cumbersome with a control stick and although this is far from a deal breaker for those playing on consoles, the PC version certainly has an upper hand here.
The Good Book
Although the gameplay of The Padre can feel a little off sometimes, it more than makes up for it with its charming writing and commitment to balancing horror and comedy. The tethering of gameplay mechanics to in-game explanations continues to shine with the magical bible the priest carries with him.
This holy book, which has an origin story too good to ruin here, serves as a guide system which can offer hints during particular confusing sequences.
All of these components are masterfully woven together by the priest himself, who serves as one of the more memorable characters I’ve seen in a long while. Voice actor Patrick Hickey Jr. fully embodies the irreverent humour and relatable humanity of the priest, lending even the most absurd elements of the game a charming edge.
The priest’s commitment to God and his mentor make for a genuinely compelling dramatic core to the experience that takes the narrative to surprisingly dark places.
Awkward control issues aside, there is something truly wonderful about The Padre. It’s spooky, endlessly compelling stuff that never sacrifices its sense of humour or its commitment to being a horror experience. This is thanks in large part to the unique voxel art style, razor-sharp writing and a lead performance which knocks it out of the park.
Though some players may find themselves frustrated by the cumbersome controls, those who persevere will be treated to an inimitable experience that compels and unnerves its players in equal measure.
It’s not perfect, but The Padre is well worth a look for those of us who desperately long to go back to a time where the peak of horror was a haunted house on a stormy night.
The Padre was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by the developer.
Game Title: The Padre
Game Description: A retro-inspired horror/comedy romp that uses an unique art style and sharp wit to lure players into a haunted house.
Charming horror/comedy balance - 10/10
Unique voxel art - 10/10
Memorable lead performance - 9.6/10
Unbalanced gameplay - 6.3/10
Awkward console controlls - 5/10