The Tartarus Key does a great job of bringing back classic horror for modern day gamers

These days, we live in an age where PS1 games are getting remade, not reinterpreted into something new.

So in comes The Tartarus Key, with an aesthetic clearly inspired by retro Silent Hill or Resident Evil, building out an intriguing, first-person escape room with puzzles and jump scares. Just to mix things up.

It helps the game stand out, especially with the level of work that’s gone into making it late 90s authentic, which all leads to a unique feeling experience in 2023.

They’ve accomplished this through lighting which adds borders and outlining, smooth movement through the world, items and environments modelled in full 3D but all achieved within this jagged, pixelised world.

But it’s not just the look that makes this a winner, also the substance. You start the game as Alex, a woman who suddenly wakes up in a room all alone. She doesn’t know where she is, how she got there, and why she’s been kidnapped.

The door to the room is locked and all she can see is a bookcase, drawer and cabinet. There’s a camera watching her above and no clear view from outside the window. So begins the mystery of The Tartarus Key.

But you’re not just following the story of Alex, you’ll also meet with others in this oversized, Victorian style mansion. Each person very different from the other, but all find themselves in this peculiar predicament. It’s down to you to figure out why you’re there, what links you, how to escape, and who will make it out. Alive.

Getting out of the first room is just the start. Before long, you’ll be climbing oversized staircases, checking out grand paintings, and even visiting a planetarium. On the surface, it feels like you’re exploring the Spencer Mansion all over again, but each room is full of tricks and traps. And with several different people caught out by them – one stuck to a wall, another with a vice around their neck – it kind of feels like you’re living through a Saw film.

Beyond Alex encountering each new semi-friendly face, wandering long corridors, unlocking doors and finding hidden entrances, she’ll have chats over a walkie-talkie to keep in touch with people she finds. It’s a great way to learn more about where you are, but also to have some light hearted relief.

Despite the horrific themes and scary developments, Tartarus Key has some really witty, fun dialogue, particularly through Alex’s interactions with Torres.  You can have optional conversations about gloves, or comment on how infuriating the peeping toms are through the cameras. And even through all of this, the game also does a brilliant job of building tension. You never really know who to trust.

Some conversational back and forths do get a bit long winded, though, and the game does have a bit of an obsession with codes and numbers to unlock safes and lockers. Ultimately, that’s what a lot of the puzzles do boil down to, although there’s a few unique offerings which are fun to figure out.

Throw into the mix multiple different endings with the possibilities of things going right and wrong, and this is a game that keeps you on edge from the minute you start.

That’s what’s special about The Tartarus Key, it’s around about 6 hours – closer to 10 if you go for all different endings – and it really builds suspense throughout unlike most other games in the genre. It doesn’t try to infringe jump scares on you every two seconds, but it creates unease as you turn every corner, examine every item, meet a new character.

And the use of aesthetic really bleeds into that. Playing these classic horrors scared me as a kid, this acts as a kind of throwback to that time, keeping me invested. I still remember feeling afraid to move between rooms in Resident Evil and I kind of got that vibe here even despite the threat being different.

This is a game less about combat, more about brainteasers as you move statues around a board and align patterns to activate power sources. So when trouble does come to your doorstep, it makes you feel all the more anxious.

Played from a first-person perspective, gameplay is smooth, everything is easy to interact with, and the engine adapts surprisingly well to it, considering most of these games would have been played at set camera angles and occassionally side on, third person views.

Frankly, The Tartarus Key was an unexpected pleasure to dive into. Puzzles ramp up nicely, the story and its characters are well written, the mansion gradually opens up to you as the mystery unravels and it all looks and sounds great. Minor puzzle repetition and dialogue fatigue aside, once you’ve thrown in a few twists and turns, this is definitely one you’ll savor and enjoy.


The Tartarus Key successfully reimagines classic horror games in a way that suits modern storytelling. But rather than focus on guns and melee weapons, it offers some challenging brainteasers and eerie suspense. An enjoyable ride with multiple outcomes, this one was an unexpected fright that delivers some great moments. 


+ Unique, well-designed aesthetic and suspenseful setting
+ Great puzzle-solving
+ Good writing and character development


– Puzzles do tend to follow a similar set and style

The Tartarus Key launches today on PC, PS, Xbox and Switch

Code Kindly Provided by Armor Games for review purposes

Played on PlayStation 5 

About the author

Sam Diglett

Sam grew up with a PS2, spending hours howling at the moon in Okami and giving students wedgies in Bully. Fortunately, she also likes Pokemon because otherwise life could have been quite annoying for her.
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