Trenches Review

Only the dead have seen the end of war

By Paul Hunter

There are lots of horror games that take place in creepy mansions, isolated villages or ravaged space stations, but surprisingly few have tackled one of the scariest locations in history: the muddy, bloody trenches of World War 1. That all changes with Trenches published by Ratalaika Games and created by the sole developer at Steelkrill Studios. This first-person survival horror game places you in the boots of soldier James R. Johnson as he goes behind enemy lines and experiences a terrifying supernatural nightmare. Let's head into the trenches to see what the game offers, here are two things I liked about it...and two I didn't.

Liked: Frightening Jump Scares

Trenches begins with a bang, literally, as your character wakes up from an explosion clutching a photo of his family, whom he'll never see again unless he can escape this nightmare. During the brief introductory section you'll learn about the game's basic gameplay elements, such as walking on wooden boards will make a creaking noise that alerts those around you. You'll also quickly figure out that you can crouch to reduce your footstep sounds or you can run to escape dangers, but the drawback is you'll make very loud noises.

After completing the tutorial area you'll enter the main trench maze and that's where things start to get really spooky—and grotesque. Your primary objective is to collect nine fetus babies scattered around the modest-sized trench labyrinth, and you'll know you're getting close to one when you hear its cries, and yes, the wailing sure gets annoying.

If you're out of earshot from the baby you can blow your Trench Whistle to briefly amplify its cries, but you'll also alert a monster that constantly stalks you within the trenches. The abomination is a constant threat similar to the Witch in Do Not Open or Slender Man in his titular titles, and one touch means game over. There are a handful of hiding spots you can duck into to avoid the monster's detection, but these safe places are surprisingly few and far between. Running away is another option, although you'd better hope you don't wind up in one of the maze's dead ends.

Surprisingly the monster is among the least scary elements of Trenches, and that boils down to its AI being fairly basic. Once I learned that if I kept on walking in the opposite direction of the beast's creepy child voice grunts I would rarely, if ever, encounter it, the fright factor was quite a bit diminished. Luckily, though, the game's most terrifying component is the many, many jump scares.

In most horror games I find jump scares to be a cheap tactic, but I was genuinely impressed with how these surprise moments were integrated into the game. The trenches are filled with supernatural forces that creeped the hell out of me, including a ghostly woman that stalks you a la Kojima's P.T. There are also disfigured hands that come out of the walls and try to grab you, reminding me of the eerie helping hands in 1986's Labyrinth. You'll also occasionally hear a whispering voice saying they're right next to you before an apparition appears for a quick shock scare.

Beyond the numerous ghostly jump scares, you'll also notice random crates, barrels and other objects near you will suddenly and unexpectantly move. There are also frequent, loud war noises that made me jump quite a bit, like fighter planes whizzing by with a deafening roar, or sudden bouts of gunfire and loud bangs. From time to time photographs of the war will flash in front of you, and in a disturbing twist, apparently they're real shots taken during the war. While I usually dislike jump scares—especially at the obnoxious frequency Trenches dishes them out—I genuinely thought this game handles them quite well.

Liked: Chilling Sound Design

Another big highlight of Trenches is its superb sound design that really immerses you in the game's combination of World War 1 warfare and supernatural horror. As you navigate the dark and muddy trenches you'll hear the war and people suffering all around you; distressing sounds that made me feel constantly ill at ease.

The game's many unsettling sounds, from the weeping baby to the sharp cracks of thunder to the constant footsteps of the monster that stalks you, all coalesce into an incredibly scary audio experience. And it's relentless too, as soon as one ghostly apparition is done shrieking you know the next bang, bellow or sudden creak is just moments away.

I was also impressed with how panicky the wooden boards made me, as one wrong step would unleash a rickety creak that would immediately alert the trench's wandering monster. Running away from the creature was truly terrifying as I needed to get away fast, but not too fast so it'd hear me, plus contend with the barrage of jump scares thrown at me all the while. I played using headphones and moments like these were frightening as all heck. Ironically, it seems the developer recognizes how disturbing this game can be to some players, so they've included a No Jump Scare mode that cut outs most of the sudden frights. If you enjoy very chilling horror games, you'll surely love the immersive sound design in Trenches.

Didn't Like: Visual Elements

I give kudos to the developer for setting this horror game in the terrifying trenches of 1917 as it's truly a unique location that fits well for this genre. However, graphically the many windy corridors of the trenches all look the same and there's a real lack of visual variety. Not only do the trenches appear dull and drab, but the sheer similarity around every turn makes it very hard to identify where you are at any given time.

Compounding the visual issue is a horrible spotlight that peers down into the trenches and makes it near impossible to see. There's way too much lens flare and it's especially distracting when you're actively trying to run away from the monster, or dash to a new location after making a loud creaking sound. The game also has a thick soupy fog that doesn't come off as realistic and further hinders your vision. I played on PS5 and I've read reports that the PC version is graphically a lot better, so it's something to consider if you play on console and PC.

Didn't Like: Low Replayability

Trenches took me about an hour to beat, including dying once to the monster because of a silly mistake on my part. Once you collect the nine baby dolls you'll need to locate a ladder to escape the trenches and that's the game. I ended up collecting around 70% of the trophies on my first run, so I suppose if enjoy the pop of getting the platinum there's an incentive to give the game another run. Beyond that though, there aren't many reasons to revisit Trenches as in one game you can easily see it all.

In fairness, the game is priced fairly at $9.99 US, so at least the team factored replayability into the cost. If you really love jump scares and the thought of getting creeped out in a nightmarish World War 1 trench appeals to you, this game is certainly worth playing through.

The Verdict

Trenches is a bold first-person survival horror game that delivers chilling jump scares in a unique war-torn environment. The audio design is the real winner here, and playing the game with headphones on is a must. The visuals wear thin after one playthrough and there's not much incentive to reply this short game, but at ten bucks it offers a couple of hours of intense scares that are worth experiencing if you're a big horror buff.

Final Score: 6.5/10 - Okay

Trenches details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Steelkrill Studio
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Genre: Survival Horror
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.