Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo Review

Chills and thrills to the max

By Paul Hunter

I can never pass up a good adventure game, one of my favourite genres ever since the days of Myst and Maniac Mansion. But I was especially intrigued by Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo—available now on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC—since I grew up watching the famous film director's classic psychological thrillers like The Birds, Psycho, and, of course, Vertigo.

Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo is the latest title from the seasoned adventure genre developers at Pendulo Studios. This time they've stepped away from puzzle graphic adventures and into interactive fiction very similar to the likes of Telltale Games and Dontnod Entertainment. If you enjoy the thrillers from the late Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo is a game you're sure to like. While it's only loosely based on the 1958 film, Vertigo contains all the tension and spine-chilling moments you'd expect from the master of suspense. Let's get this adventure underway, here are three things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: Fantastic, Unsettling Characters

Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo contains a deliciously creepy cast of characters, headlined by Ed Miller, a charismatic writer that gets recurring writer's block that can last for years. He's also suffering from vertigo so bad it's kept him bedridden for some time now. Another star of the game and the second playable character is Dr. Julia Lomas, a psychologist and psychiatrist, that digs into Ed's memories in order to unearth the truth. The third playable character is Sherrif Nick Reyes, who's engaged in a parallel investigation after discovering a dead body early in the adventure.

Pendulo Studios has crafted such a great story presented from multiple different perspectives, yet all are unified by their psychological thriller approach offering mind-bending realities and plenty of unforeseen twists and turns.

Much like Quantic Dream and Telltale productions, Vertigo is a highly narrative and linear experience where your choices help shape the story. Much of the story occurs at Ed's house where Dr. Lomas delves into Ed's memories to analyze them. Over the adventure, you'll meet unsettling characters like Ed's parents and his partner Faye, who all appear loving at first but hide weaknesses and sinister motivations underneath. Learning an inconvenient truth only to later find out that's not exactly how the events played out gives you plenty to think about over the journey.

The game also cleverly avoids the use of chapters, with each scene flowing into the next, and I found it helped get me immersed in the story for hours during each sitting. It took me about 12 hours to complete the game and the whole time I was thoroughly captivated by the many surprises, plot twists and other events that took me through a wide range of emotions. Just when you think you have Ed's story figured out, another monkeywrench is thrown that flips the script on his head.

Liked: Many Nods to Hitchcock

Despite Vertigo containing all-new characters and being set in a different era than the classic Hitchcock movie, the story contains many fantastic overt and subtle nods to the film auteur.

The first wink to Hitchcock comes early in the game when one of the characters is watching Vertigo in a movie theatre, and later mentions it's one of their all-time favourite flicks. There are also birds ominously present in a few scenes and a dramatic pull-the-shower-curtain-back scene winking at Psycho.

And then there's the obvious hommage to Hitchcock: the main protagonist, Ed, is a writer suffering terribly from a bad case of vertigo. While the events of the game play out much differently than the movie, in both cases the lead character is trying to cope with their debilitating vertigo symptoms.

Beyond these references, the game's entire atmosphere evokes a Hitchcockian vibe with the creepy general settings, reminiscent of Alan Wake or Deadly Premonition. Right from the first scene where Ed wakes up near a bridge and notices his car—with his wife and daughter presumed inside—has tumbled into the ravine below, you know you're in for a wild ride. And then you find out that Ed has been a bachelor for years, throwing into doubt the entire intro.

Much like in Hitchcock's films, this game also tackles very sensitive issues including mental illness, child neglect and abuse, murder (including infant murder), sexual assault, manipulation, self-harm, alcoholism and other deep topics. Some folks I'm sure will poke holes in how some of these topics are handled, but I appreciated the numerous twists that kept me on the edge of my seat and guessing all the way to the very end.

I also appreciate how the excellent soundtrack by composer Juan Miguel Martin amplified the mood, whether that was happier moments with Ed as a child or the many haunting moments that occur in the present day. Martin's tracks are inspired by Hitchcock classics like North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds and really help boost each scene. The cutscenes are inspired by Hitchcock, too, with intentional angles highlighting questionable objects in scenes, some that end up being MacGuffins, and lots of story segments that gradually ramp up the tension until the frightening climax.

Liked: Memory Rewinds

Most of the gameplay in Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo is par for the course for the genre, such as using analog stick movements to mimic your character's motions on screen, or tapping alternating buttons during running sequences. But the real juicy gameplay happens when you enter Ed's memories. At first, you'll play through a segment, some a few years ago when Ed first met Faye and others when he was a child, and you'll experience formative moments in his life.

But then Dr. Lomas will use hypnosis to dig deeper into Ed's mind and you'll revisit the same memories with the ability to fast forward or rewind time, similar to the Batman Arkham games. The real twists happen during key moments in the memories where you can enter them as a playable version of Ed where you discover what really happened—which is often way different and darker than the initial memory sequence. I also like how these dream sequences block off areas you're able to visit with a mysterious fog that harkens back to games like Silent Hill or Stephen King's The Mist. Once you've extracted the true facts you'll then be able to advance the story.

Didn't Like: The Lip Syncing

Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo tells such a thrilling story and that's why is such a shame that the animations in the game are so stiff. The worst offender is how off the lip-syncing is: characters will be discussing serious matters but it can sometimes be hard to focus given how off the lip movements are. Character movements are a little better but still lack the realism seen in bigger-budget titles like Until Dawn or Detroit: Become Human. Some of the actions are really boring as well, like one segment where you have to walk around Ed's kitchen putting away several groceries, or another where you have to mimic the act of filling Ed's cat bowl with food.

One other potential downside is it does seem like no matter what choices you make in the game, the story continues down the same linear path. There doesn't appear to be a branching narrative tree seen in games The Quarry or Heavy Rain. Once you realize this it does unfortunately ratchet down the tension knowing your actions and dialogue choices are superficial. While I’m convinced this is the case, I'm going to run through the game a second time and take different actions to confirm this hunch.

The Verdict

Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo is a fantastic narrative adventure worthy of the Hitchcock license. Pendulo Studios has created a chilling thriller layered with captivating themes told through characters oozing with personality. If you're looking for a story-focused title that'll keep your attention from the beginning straight through to the shocking finale, this is the game for you.

Final Score: 8.5/10 - Great

Alfred Hitchcock – Vertigo details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Pendulo Studios
Publisher: Microids
Genre: Narrative Adventure
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher. Last updated November 2022.