El Jefe de Santo loves horror movies. This has been discussed prior but that love of the genre spreads to video games as well. It has, sadly, been a while since a major title has hit the market that actually got the job done. Indie titles, however, have been delivering in spades. Prepare the Indian Deathlock of Horror Game Goodness in this Double Pack Review!
It's that time of year again when the macabre becomes ever present in pop culture. I love this month and what better way to usher in October but with a Double-Plus-Good-Bonus Pack Review! Horror gamez ya'll!
So, Slender, by Parsec Productions took me by surprise. I knew of the Slender Man legend before but this little gem of a game I honestly gave no fucks about it. This is what you call a true indie title, though. The production budget is slim and, graphically, it's workman at best but the premise is so simple and SO FUCKING EFFECITVE that it doesn't matter!
You are alone in the forest and armed with a flashlight. I immediately had flashbacks to Fatal Frame 2 and Clock Tower in terms of gameplay.The simplicity in its design is what really drives home the fear. You are alone, it is dark as hell and there is something out there. You are tasked with collecting 8 pages of a manuscript. The pages say things like.. "No No No No No No No No" and various other terrified statements.
The video above is from the "Two Best Friends Play" series on Machinima, as I couldn't find a real trailer of sorts, and it accurately describes how I felt playing through Slender. The sound design might be what really hammers home the terror of the situation, though, as you hear only footsteps, your heart beating and crickets in the background. The only time you treated to anything else is when the titular antagonist is nearby. The screen starts to display an awful static accompanied by distorted feedback and then he appears.. that freakishly tall bastard. He just.. is there. He just.. GOD DAMN IT. WHY IS HERE THERE?! THIS IS UNNATURAL. AAAAHHHH!!!
Seriously. Really fun little game that is well worth your time and it's all for the price of FREE. Seriously. Download it now.
So, there is a rule of thumb with survival horror games that, frankly, even the big franchises have neglected to follow as of late. Substance is always better than flash. I say that because Jasper Byrne's Lone Survivor is a lovingly crafted survival horror game that not only channels Konami's Silent Hill 2 but also makes great strides in establishing its own identity.
You are the lone survivor of what is, assumably, a global-level epidemic that has turned humanity into nothing more than growling mutants bent on devouring everything in their path. You are a doctor, that much is clear but your name? Well, that's not important anymore.
You are alone and in your apartment complex with the shambling monstrosities roaming around every corner. You hope there are survivors out there. Somebody so at least you don't have to die alone..
The tone of the game is set right away as our hero is forced to navigate through corridors that not only show the visible signs of life interrupted by awful tragedy but these horrific things that have already killed pretty much everyone.
There is a simple drive behind the game and that is to survive, scavenge for supplies and try not to slip into the widening maw of madness. The solitude of the area you're in constantly weighs upon the protagonist as he explores more and more.
You eventually find a weapon but honestly the aiming is terrible and you have to be in such close range to use it on the mutants that really you might as well just try and stealth past them if possible. Your only real defense against all that lay before you are a surgical mask to keep out the infection and the clothes on your back. Well, that and a flashlight. You occasionally get pieces of rotting meat to distract would-be attackers with so you can sneak on past as well but for the vast majority of the game you really can't do much against the onslaught of the.. well whatever they are.
Your humanity is a major component of the gameplay as you need to stop to sleep, to eat so as not to lose your already tenous grip on sanity. There are quick-travel "mirrors" that allow you to zip around the map if necessary and there are also conveniently placed pills that allow you to stay awake longer. The problem here is the longer you stay awake the worse things get for you as your surroundings begin to get the better of you.
The graphics are a delightful throwback to 2D sprites and side-scrolling fare that actually add an interesting element to the atmosphere this game creates. It doesn't need flash to get the job done but a slow build of tension and psychological trauma. You always have to wonder just how bad things could get if you venture out too far or for too long. The muted colors and soundtrack further contribute to this building of a wonderful tension that hasn't been present in some of the more recent survival horror offerings (I'm looking at you Silent Hill..)
The artistic decision to stick with 2D gives the otherwordly horrors happening around you nice layer of nuance that might be lost on a lower-budget 3D affair. The feeling you get while playing though is what really sticks with you long after you've finished playing through it the first time. Loneliness. Heart-rending loneliness that really gnaws at you while working you way through the 3-5 hours of content. There are also multiple endings to get so player choice really becomes important on subsequent playthoughs.
If you're not a fan of the visuals then I beg you to stay for the atmosphere and the story because their both extremely well done. It may be a side-scroller but this is survival horror done right. It REALLY made me feel like I did when I first got to experience Silent Hill all those years ago. Simple controls, simple premise and all the more terrifying because of the mental terror it could induce.