Au Sable is one of the stranger games I’ve played. Made by Amon26, a fairly popular freeware developer who also created the game Gyossait, Au Sable has been placed on multiple “scariest free games” list and developed a bit of a cult following. I have no idea what its name means, aside from it being the name of several towns, a river in New York, and meaning “sand” in French, but according to its creator, Au Sable is based on one of his nightmares. That being said, let’s delve into the woods and explore a demented dreamscape that is filled with bloodshed and carnage. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Au Sable.
Au Sable is a horror platformer/run ‘n’ gun where you play a red-haired woman on the search for her sister. To find her, she’ll have to face demented beasts and a landscape that can change at the whim of a demonic god. While it may not seem like the horror genre can blend well with the fast action of a run ‘n’ gun without sacrificing atmosphere, Au Sable actually pulls off the task with surprising ease. One of the ways the game does this is by making your character very weak. The game actually doesn’t give you any weapons for quite a while and even when it does, it’s a shotgun with a very short range. In addition, even though the game does throw you an automatic gun towards the end, your character can only take one hit before she dies and enemies are carefully placed so the automatic gun doesn’t let you take them out without the enemies getting a shot off at you.
The game has an extremely creepy atmosphere. As you journey, you will be randomly whisked away to strange places where a seemingly omnipresent being will comment on your progress and give away tidbits of the plot. In addition, the world can change after boss fights and special events, twisting an already dark world into a hellish one where clawed hands reach up to grab you from lakes of blood and ash rains from the sky. The game also manages to make good use of jump scares and creepy boss fights against eldritch abominations. However, the real source of the game’s atmosphere comes from its masterful sound design. Amon26 has always had excellent sound design in his game. From the sound of your gun firing to the unearthly wails and noises you’ll be subject to, Au Sable has a great choice and use of sound effects.
The gameplay is easy to pick up despite a bit of clunky jumping. The controls are about what you’d expect: WASD for movement and jumping, while your mouse aims and fires your weapon. The game also has a quick save system that makes some of the more difficult sections of the game a bit more manageable (F5 to save, F8 to load). The only thing that might take some getting used to is the two red “eyes” that follow your character around. The two eyes unlock doors and kill some enemies by passing over objects and weakened enemies. Since the eyes float behind you of their own volition, they sometimes don’t pick up on what you want them to do, meaning that you might get killed by a resurrecting enemy or have to jump near door locks multiple times to get them to trip. Jumping also takes a bit of getting used to, an element that I’ve noticed in a lot of Amon26’s games. Overall, the gameplay is fine though it could have been better by making the jumping feel more natural and having the eyes attracted to door locks.
The game does have one major flaw however: the ending is glitched so you can only get the bad ending. The original release of the game had several glitches, so naturally Amon26 went ahead and fixed these glitches, but accidently created another glitch which prevented players from unlocking the true final boss. This means that, even if you do everything right, you can only beat the game by getting the bad ending. This is extremely frustrating and, since Amon26 lost the code for the game after a computer crash, it will likely never be seen unless you look it up on YouTube or know a friend who has version 1.0. While the bad ending is actually rather satisfying and disturbing, the good ending shows the force behind everything and is still very effective. While it isn’t a game breaker, this does hurt the experience.
Overall, Au Sable is a good game and is easily the best game Amon26 has ever made. It shows a very different way to do a horror game. While some elements could have been improved and it is disappointing that the good ending cannot be unlocked in the current version (though it is easily found on YoutTube), it is a definite must-play for anyone who wants to have a nice fright.
Did you play Au Sable and want more? Luckily for you, Amon26 made a prequel. The Hunt is a short FPS that takes place barely an hour before the events of Au Sable. In it, you play as a hunter, one of the enemies from Au Sable. While you do have a gun and can kill most enemies in only one or two shots, you are extremely vulnerable and can die just as quickly as you search a snow-covered landscape for the source of the demons that are attacking. The game has the same excellent sound design as Au Sable and some extremely tense moments that lead up to a very chilling ending that explains what happened to the Hunters. While it’s even shorter than the game that it is a prequel to, The Hunt is every bit as terrifying and worth playing.