Mistaking Graveyard keeper for just a Stardew Valley clone dressed up for Halloween is easy to do, but skip this macabre little delight at your peril. I downloaded it out of curiosity, and a weakness for games where I can rule over the lives of tiny people, and next thing I knew it was 2am and I was harvesting human fat to finish my candle collection.
Because that's how it starts with Graveyard Keeper. One minute you're a normal person who has - through a confusing turn of events - found themselves in the role of graveyard keeper for a small village. You collect the corpses, repair the gravestones, chop down some trees to craft a trunk for his things. But then, well, it turns out that to get home you need to please certain people. To get the materials and resources to achieve this you'll need cash, and suddenly you're keeping bees, farming carrots for a communist donkey and pulling intestines, bones, and skulls out of bodies and burning them rather than messing up the perfect alignment of your cemetery.
No bones about it
I wasn't just fondling corpses for the thrill of it, not totally anyway, it's just that to unlock the game's bounty of skill trees you need technology points of various kinds. Blue points, which correspond to faith and are the very hardest to earn, can be acquired by doing things like studying body parts in the church basement, or showing your faith by making candles. Candles with a distinct ‘eau de cadaver’.
The worst part is that Graveyard Keeper doles out its creepiness so slowly that it sort of sneaks up on you, and seems entirely reasonable. Usually in games I'm a complete suck-up, a goody-two-shoes who agonizes over any dialogue tree or action that doesn't make me seem like one of the holy angels on a really good day. Now I've got a thriving trade in human flesh, thanks to some paper wrapping and an ever-so-slightly-dodgy meat stamp. Doing all this nefarious crafting and collecting is so satisfying too. You can pretend you’re doing it to rebuild the church and the local's faith to open up a portal to find your way home, to help a cursed man or a befuddled old witch, but really you're in it for the sheer pleasure of unlocking some new skill or watching your small cottage grow into its own little estate.
The game has its minor irritations; it's not always clear what you need to do or when, but those are just grains of grave dirt in the otherwise comfortable autopsy boots. They won't get in the way of you sitting down to forge a pickaxe, and finding yourself clammy and greasy haired at 2am, squinting at the recipe for baked fish and wondering if it's time for Comrade donkey to bring another body.
Graveyard Keeper is out now on PC and Xbox One.