At the outset of Garden of Fear [Free / Free], you wake up in a cold, dark dungeon with no idea how you wound up there. I think there's more to the story, though. I submit that your rowdy friends got you liquored up, blindfolded you, spun you around a dozen times, stuffed some supplies in your pocket, and dumped you down a hole, leaving you to feel your way to freedom while avoiding bloodthirsty monsters and a wicked hangover. That's how playing Garden of Fear feels, at any rate.
Garden of Fear's randomly generated dungeon is a snarl of gloomy hallways, dead-ends, and doors. One door leads to freedom and a nifty take on a developer credits screen; the others lead deeper into the dungeon. You don't receive a map to keep track of the halls you've traversed. Instead you get a compass and a finite amount of charcoal to mark doors and passageways you've explored.
You might think that the flayed, mouth-breather demon stalking the dungeon presents your biggest obstacle. You would be wrong. Movement feels ponderous and will test the stomach of even the most stalwart first-person gamer.
Cranking the X-axis speed on the virtual sticks all the way up and setting the Y-axis speed to zero makes you handle less like a yacht and more like a speedboat, but your character still feels floaty and drunk. Your point of view, as if you're peering through a submarine periscope, is also disorienting, but manageable.
Much like playing classic Resident Evil games, Garden of Fear provides a tense and atmospheric experience for gamers able to get past the awful controls. Your footsteps echo off the stone walls, rats squeak and scurry underfoot, and ghosts cackle and fade away just in front of you.
The sound of ragged breathing and dragging footsteps is your cue to shove yourself into the nearest alcove and switch off your flashlight, which recharges its battery and leaves you sitting in the dark while the monster drags itself closer to your hiding spot, its breathing growing louder and heavier. Fingers crossed, it will pass you by, leaving you to scurry on your way.
Unless you happen to cross paths with the creature, nothing much happens in Garden of Fear. The dungeon is stark, dark, and empty--understandable given the setting, but long periods of roaming without any sign of doors or monsters strips away tension and invites boredom.
Aside from the monster's phlegmy breathing, I noticed no link between most sudden ambient noises and relevant in-game events, reducing static overlays, bloody hallways, and swords clattering to the floor to cheap albeit effective jump-scare tactics. I also experienced freezes after opening the large wooden doors that lead deeper into the maze, though that only happened infrequently.
Despite all my gripes and nit-picking, I enjoyed Garden of Fear. Its pace fluctuates from intense to idle a little too often and the controls demand an overhaul, but players able to look past those flaws will find a brief and moody horror experience set at a fair asking price.