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Saturnalia: a great team returns with a thrilling, frightening prospect

Alone in the dark.

With sparks rising and muttered incantations, Santa Ragione returns at last. This Italian micro-studio has taken us out into a perfect little galaxy in a ship we didn't know how to fly, set us breezing down 1970s highways and navigated clear-edged quantum tunnels. Now it's Sardinia, sometime in the early 1990s, and horrors are afoot in a small town. Find your matches. Call for your friends. Step into the expectant dark.

Saturnalia (the game is co-produced with the board game design studio Horrible Guild) is a survival horror adventure and I've just played the time-limited ten-minute demo. Who knows, I may play it again when my wife comes back from work and the house is not so quiet. This is almost a roguelike, but Santa Ragione is so good at side-stepping traditions I don't really want to call it that. You play as a group of friends in town on a very bad night, trying to make your way through the murk and mists and survive in amidst threatening rituals. You play as this group one at a time. They're your lives, I guess. And they can die.

Things randomise each time, I gather, but the mood remains the same. This is lovely stuff to look at, dark streets a little too narrow, buildings a little too prison-like, all delivered with hectic ever-shifting pencil shading as if the night is being hatched into being around you. I started in a church. It was almost too dark to see anything so I lit one of a handful of matches I'd been given, the gloom giving out in a sort of sulfurous yellow cloud that flickered as I walked. Doors were locked. A staircase beckoned. I fumbled around, opened a door to the outside, picked up a key that might come in handy later and then stepped outside and was immediately killed by a shadow that had been stalking me.

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Time to bring in another friend. He's deep in town somewhere, hears the scream, grabs matches and lights a fire for a third who is ailing on a sofa. Then out into the night. More fumbling around, moving through those narrow streets, many of which terminate in dead ends. Notes on doors, machines that will dispense things if I have any coins, one building I can actually get into that gives me wire cutters and a few other helpful trinkets.

Back outside again a shape flits past. Or does it? The place seems to loom in from every direction. I need to get back to the church - the church that I've never been to as this character, I suddenly realise. A map on a wall suggests the village has several points of interest - a school, a chemist, etc etc. I stumbled around and find myself in some kind of underground pumping station. Sadly, when I emerge I've only got 14 seconds left on the game clock.

I cannot tell you how good it is to know that another Santa Ragione game is on the way, and to see that the team is still experimenting and still refusing to really repeat itself. Saturnalia is out next year and I'm already very excited - and a little freaked out.

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