31 Days of Horror Games, PC Edition

As we continue our 31 Days of Horror games series through the month of October, we’re going to start mixing it up a bit. Some articles, starting with this one, will be a collective effort tackling a specific platform for games. In the future, we’ll have posts dedicated to VR, free-to-play browser-based games, and some even about the retro horror games of yesteryear.

Today’s post will see three of us tackling a different PC game. First up is Nicole Rehling, Assoc. Director of Operations, playing the ‘Early Access’ release of Them & Us. Followed by Meggy Kawsek, Storyboard and Concept Artist, as she sketches her way through Five Nights at Freddy’s. Lastly, Jonathan Santoro, Exec. Creative Director, will tackle a game he’s been dying to play since its release: What Remains of Edith Finch. A dynamic group of players, a diverse set of games. Please enjoy!

Image courtesy of Tendogames

Them & Us

Available on: Windows
Played: ~2 hours
Release Date: [Early Access on Steam] September 7, 2018
Game Trailer: YouTube

Allow me to rip the band-aid off right away and admit that in hastily choosing something that was available for PC, looked badass and, most importantly, features a female heroine, I completely missed the “Early Access” caveat (even though it’s literally ALL over the download page) when I selected this title off of Steam. Regardless, I wasn’t left wanting after playing through the preview.

Them & Us comes from Japanese Indie game developer Tendogames. The full release version is slated to drop in Q1 of next year, and based on my light preview, I think it’s sure to impress PC gamers.

Inspired by the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series, Them & Us is seriously dark and creepy right from the start– even your lantern fails to light your way through the opening sequence.

As the game is still an, players are immediately dropped into the environment without any story sequence up front. It’s a bit disorienting, but having read through the synopsis prior to playing I knew the story’s background was basically as follows: set in 1978, Alicia is the sole survivor of a terrible bus crash. She’s injured, alone on a highway, and trying to remember what happened. While searching for safety, she realizes that she’s surrounded by deadly nightmares.

I find myself on the end of a covered bridge that I infer is the scene of the accident. Walking out from the bridge I see on my left a bus that’s partially on fire (NBD), straight ahead a creepy Deliverance-style shack, and a sign that points to the next comforting destination… the Cemetery, just off to the right.

Not feeling brazen enough to dive into the graveyard just yet, I decide to do a bit of sniffing around. I check my inventory and fiddle around with the controls. I find I’m equipped with a handgun, knife and lantern. I flip the lantern on but then think better of it and quickly turn it off as to not draw unnecessary attention to my bleeding, weak-ass self.

In my exploration of the grounds, I’m immediately impressed with the visual and auditory elements of everything from the bus wreckage to the scarecrow that lovingly adorns the front yard of the lean-to. It’s near the Deliverance Shack that I encounter my first adversary, a moaning and partially decomposing zombie lying outstretched in the front yard.

Exactly, Alicia… What :the fuck: happened here!?

Not to deter my progress, I shake the zombie down for everything he’s worth, which is a can of ointment and some bandages, and keep moving. Continuing my search for clues, I find that there are two sections of gameplay that seem to already be completed: the opening of the shack and whatever the hell this collection of stones is:

As these puzzles are already covered (likely thanks to this Early Access build), I’m free to take the graveyard on… oh, joy.

While entering the graveyard I get the ominous feeling that I’m probably going to die here numerous times. My precognition proved correct as I probably died ten times before I began to pick up some strategy. Call me a slow learner, but in my defense, the game’s download page does warn that controllers are highly recommended, but I was stuck limping by with a keyboard and mouse. #newb

I only get a few steps into the graveyard before a church bell alerts the “residents” of my arrival. This is when the party really gets started.

To the left is a very dramatic look at how enemies advance, but more often than not they spawn and plod toward you one by one. This may have been dictated by my selection of “Easy” mode, but I’ll never know because I’m a wimp.

One of the features that initially swayed me to play Them & Us is the “Full Dismemberment System,’ described as, “…cut them, dismember them, set their limbs flying.” I experience the system first hand after landing two heads shots, reducing the zombie’s head to a stump. Sicckkkkk.

Having not played an action game in a while (and after my repeated attempts to survive in this one) I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take on all of the zombies with my measly handgun and progress the story. I was just too slow and clunky with the controls. I did my very best, but I couldn’t stay ahead of them, especially with them constantly respawning around me.

Since I enjoyed everything I’d seen and experienced so far, I was curious to see what would come later in the demo. I found a game walkthrough on YouTube and was surprised to find a first-person section in which you uncover more on the protagonist’s background and find out how the game’s puzzles are integrated into gameplay. Both look well done and help to continue the game’s immersive storytelling.

Final thoughts: Regardless of my high death count and completing only about 60% of the demo (I’m a realist), I enjoyed my time with Them & Us. The graphics are pretty astounding and if I had a controller with thumbsticks I have a feeling I wouldn’t have struggled as much. Keep up the good work Tendogames, I look forward to the full release!

Image courtesy of Scott Cawthon

Five Nights at Freddy’s

Available on: Windows (played), iOS, Android
Played: ~1.5 hours
Release Date: August 8, 2014
Game Trailer: YouTube

If you were even slightly aware of the goings-on of the internet back in 2014, you might remember the ridiculously absurd amount of buzz surrounding Five Nights at Freddy’s. The amount of hype that surrounded the game, particularly on YouTube, was as staggering as it was organic; gamers and non-gamers alike were lured by the game’s simple premise, straightforward gameplay, and jump-scare appeal.

It’s also often named as one of the scariest games in existence, so naturally, I made every effort to avoid it.

Fast forward to October 2018 and, for reasons I still can’t quite explain, I caved. I gave Five Nights a chance. There are two reasons for finally choosing to play: the first being that the public still looks upon it with a nostalgic, albeit terrified eye, and the second being the original game was apparently so popular that Scott Cawthon made four more versions of it.

If there are sequels, it has to be good, right? As an added bonus, it’s available for a pretty great price of $5. I had no trouble parting with five bucks for Five Nights, especially after all the things I’ve heard about it. I had very different thoughts, however, upon opening the game.

At this point I knew I needed goals to get enough material for the rest of this article, otherwise, I’d abandon it completely at the first point of failure. My first goal was to last at least one night at Freddy’s. The second goal was to successfully take a screenshot of a jump-scare, a challenge that would require me to play it several times in order to properly anticipate the screenshot. Fun!

Night One

The loading screen clues you in on who you are in this universe: a security guard working the night shift at Freddy Fazzbear’s Pizza.

The previous security dude was kind enough to record some messages to brief you on what’s going on, and your job seems easy enough: occasionally watch the screens, and last from 12am to 6am. Oh, and by the way, the animatronics like to roam around at night and they definitely want to kill you. The only tools at your disposal are the door and light switches at either side of you and a tablet that allows you to switch between the security cameras in the restaurant. Using any of these tools, however, consumes a significant amount of power, and you don’t want to be out of power when one of these guys come a-knockin’.

As detailed as my knowledge of the game seems, it took me some time to figure out how the entire thing worked. There is no tutorial in the game other than what you can gather from the recorded messages, and if you’re anything like me you’re clicking around the screen like crazy on your first night, wasting power and increasing your chances of —

Screenshots do not get taken when you die this quickly.

Night One, Take Two

For the record, I wanted to shut the game off after the first jump-scare and leave it for all eternity. Hanging out with my cat was infinitely more appealing. Unfortunately there were still two goals I needed to meet, and I had yet to accomplish one. Hoo boy. On the bright side, there were some useful things I learned from the previous first night:

  1. Conserving power is important
  2. Watching the cameras consumes power
  3. Sometimes you can hear them coming

There are less screenshots from my second attempt at night one, as I was listening very closely for metal footsteps, and trying to determine which side they were coming from. I managed to shut the door on the animatronics successfully a few times and managed to last until 5 AM before I realised my power was down to 21%. In a desperate attempt to ensure my survival, I closed both doors and prayed that I didn’t run out of power until the end of the night. To my great relief, it worked.

Night Two

Admittedly, I was a bit cocky going into night two. Surely, I could survive one more night, right? I knew what needed to be done. How different from night one could night two be?

Well, apparently there’s a new animatronic in Pirate Cove that doesn’t like being watched, which makes it a total of four animatronics trying to kill me, and will be acting extra pissed. I had a suspicion that each character’s movements would change and get trickier with each night that passed. I was disappointed to find out I was right.

In my attempt to study where each character was going to be, I’d completely forgotten to listen. I knew I had truly screwed up when, at around 2 AM, I started hearing a rhythmic, raspy, metallic sound while clicking through the cameras. I got ready to take my screenshots.

It was just as terrifying as the first time but, as the adrenaline wore off, I was placated by the thought that I’d never have to play this game alone ever again.

Was It Worth It?

Hell yeah. Let’s be honest, I would never play this alone again, but I would jump at the chance to watch other people play it. Or even play it with other people in the room. The gameplay itself isn’t very time-consuming. Each in-game hour is more or less 86 seconds long, which means that finishing the game would take you approximately 43 minutes if you managed to survive all the way through. That’s a short commitment as far as games go, and an appropriate window of time that you can spend being fully freaked out.

My only gripe, truly, is the learning curve. Upon more research, I found that people who had survived until night five needed to play the game several times in order to figure out each animatronic character’s movement patterns, and even then there’s a good chance that a player might miss a cue to shut that damn door. Night five is made especially difficult with the activation of Fuzzy Fazzbear, whose movements are completely random, unpredictable, and happen while all the cameras are malfunctioning.

Overall, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a great horror game, and I understand why it is hailed as one of the scariest games of all time. It successfully and effectively feeds on the primal fear of the unknown. The desire to control one’s own environment is a very human trait, and we have this idea that if we have all the information, and if we know the rules, we should somehow be able to manipulate everything to our advantage. Maybe there is some truth to this. But if this were completely true, and if we were to subscribe to the chaotic philosophy of Five Nights, then it also must mean all it takes is one, simple miscalculation to die.

Maybe that’s what Freddy was trying to teach us all along?

What Remains of Edith Finch

Available on: Windows, PS4 (played), Xbox One
Played: ~3 hours
Release Date: April 25, 2017
Game Trailer: YouTube

Back in the early 80s, a small start-up by the name of Electronic Arts came onto the scene with a bold, article-length print ad that posed the question, “Can a Computer Make You Cry?” It went on to lay out the company’s ambitious purpose and goals, most importantly to flip the perception that software companies weren’t capable of producing true art that could pose questions like, “Why do we cry? Why do we laugh, or love, or smile?” They boldly set out to be ‘Software Artists.’

Since then, there’s been a whole catalog of interactive entertainment that has gotten me to shed a tear or two [full disclosure: I’m a big movie crier, too], but What Remains of Edith Finch, more than any game before it, felt like the most successful attempt at completing EA’s company mission all those years ago. This comes to me at no surprise as What Remains was published by Annapurna Interactive, a company born of Annapurna Pictures (and developed by Giant Sparrow games), the same publishing house that brought us Sorry to Bother You, Joy, and most end-credit-cry inducing, Her.

Apologies if I come across as a gushing fanboy, but my cheeks are still wet and my hands are still unsteady from how impacted I felt after the credits rolled. That’s right, I finished the whole game. I sat down to play it, and when I got up I had finished it. It took just over 3 hours. So, while short in length by video game standards, it will likely be the only game I finish during this series, and most definitely the only one I will be recommending to people until the day I die. Coincidentally, that’s just what this game is about: the day everyone in the Finch family tree died.

You play as Edith Finch while she explores the old Finch House following the passing of her mother. The house has been abandoned since the mysterious disappearance of your older brother and death of your great-grandmother, which you come to realize is part of a much larger trend for the Finches. The Finch family is well known for their financial fortune, but unfortunately, they’re also notorious for their frequent and untimely deaths. But for Edith’s whole life, the nature of her family’s many freak deaths, reaching back to her great-grandfather, was always kept secret from her.

The secrets themselves, however, were right there for all the family to see. Every member of the family who ever lived in the house has had their bedroom left precisely as it was the day of their death, and then locked, bolted, and cemented shut from both sides by great-grandmother, Edie. Which makes for a very interesting floor plan and architectural build.

As each generation of Finches moves on, the next moves up (literally) with a new room or wing built onto the house ever upward. A local folklore and mythos began to be spun around the Finches and the mysterious nature of their deaths, becoming so famous that at one point the death of great-aunt Barbara Finch is fictitiously reenacted in an in-world comic book ode to Tales From the Crypt. This little tidbit from the family past, and many more, are discovered by Edith using the inherited padlock key that unlocks the sealed rooms of the Finch Estate. Rooms are strung together by some of the most creatively hidden passageways, each leading to more Finch family secrets.

I really have no interest in spoiling any of the plot derived from actually exploring the house, as it’s so powerful and impressive that I feel obligated to use this time now just to tell you to go play this game. The characters are deeply fascinating, the setting is peculiar in the most delicious of ways, and the story is exceptionally well-written. But what kept striking me as most impressive is all the brand new forms of interactive storytelling and creative gameplay found throughout the story’s many character arcs. Turning the pages of a comic book in first-person while also playing out the action in the panels themselves. Completing the mundane tasks of a line-worker with the right joystick and triggers, while simultaneously controlling the story of Kings and Queens playing out in his daydreams with the left joystick and triggers. It’s a real pat-your-head while you rub-your-belly kind of challenge, all while you’re listening to a thought-provoking monologue.

Innovative gameplay aside, and back to where I started, what I will never forget about What Remains are the very real and heartbreaking emotions it had me feeling.

The rabbit scene, the bath scene, the swing-set scene, Calvin and Sam’s room, Walter’s state-of-mind; each named this way as to be meaningless to you, but will forever be unforgettable to me, and to anyone who has played What Remains I’m willing to bet you felt an uncomfortable pinch just being reminded of them.

While that may not sound too enticing, or sell you on experiencing it for yourself, I will follow all that with this: For my money, What Remains of Edith Finch is art in its highest form.

That wraps it up for today’s 31 Days of Horror Games: PC Edition. Next up in the series, Meggy will be sharing her impressions on playing three outlandish free-to-play browser-based games. You can expect it to be weird, illustrated, and in a browser!

Jump to 31 Days of Horror Games: Browser Edition