Out of Hands starts with a premise that sounds absurd on paper. Imagine every single individual part of your body expressed visually by a pair of hands “acting out” its function. For example, you would rhythmically squeeze your fingers into a fist to give the approximation of your heart beating. Now imagine that very premise turned into a horror game, one where that alien concept happens to you. In practice, it manages to be an unnerving experience packed with surreal imagery and an unsettling, implied, horror left in the margins.
Right off the bat, the Out of Hands demo starts with you entering a nightmare. As the title implies the dream opens with your entire body now being made out of hands. The game expresses this with a handful of photographs depicting your digits replacing a pair of eyes, a nose, and a mouth, all put together in a rough facsimile of a face. This abstract dream logic continues with text on the screen saying you must fight against an unseen tormentor, referred to as either “The Shadow in the Mirror” or “Your Inner Demon” by the descriptive text. Finally, it seems your very consciousness has splintered into three different voices, trying to help you survive against this sensory madness.
This is where Out of Hands’ turn-based puzzle battles come into play. You have your left hand, your right hand, and your heart. Each game starts with three photos on the table. Some of these are enemies, represented as abstract mental anguish of some kind. Others are weapons, depicted as normal household objects like erasers, pens, and rulers. In addition to corresponding health and damage values, each enemy has a number that ticks down every time you make a move. If they are not defeated when the timer runs out, they damage your heart. You win when you use your weapons to reduce the boss to 0, and you lose if your heart is destroyed.
Overall, the core gameplay is solid. There’s just enough strategy between pushing your luck and being cautious that keeps each game interesting. Do you use your weapons to hit the boss and risk enemies destroying your heart? Or do you take your time, strategically taking out enemies before they overwhelm you? This is especially highlighted in the demo’s Challenge Mode where more elaborate enemy types and weapons are introduced. These include enemies that are immune to your first hit or become more powerful when enemies of a different type are nearby. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it is engaging all the same.
But what lingered in the back of my mind the most was the atmosphere. Out of Hands manages to capture a very distinct nightmare. In game design, a lot of abstract ideas are routinely expressed in stark and clinical terms. This can be as simple as charts and numbers in a tabletop RPG or as elaborate as complex coding and programming in a modern video game. Out of Hands’ horror comes from this reduction of humanity to an unsettling extreme. What happens when you stop looking at something as a person and more as a handful of mere forms and functions?
This is backed up by some great audiovisual design. Animations are done in a choppy stop-motion style, using real photographs. The descriptive text unsettles with existential musings and violent implications. The pantomiming of the various hands is so perfectly uncanny that it is unnerving. Finally, there’s a great mix of droning static and discordant synthesizers in the music that invokes the nightmarishness of Silent Hill.
All of this wonderful presentation helps Out of Hands feel like a personal descent into madness. One where the very language of video games plays a role in the protagonist’s psychological torment. Not only did this brief preview get under my skin in the best possible way, but it has also made me more than interested in seeing just how this particular nightmare will end.