Rowen Cameron looks at some low poly horrors to give you the old-school heebie-jeebies.
With the much-anticipated release of Resident Evil Village, horror gaming has returned to the forefront and the world is hungry for spoopy entertainment once again. Or perhaps just nine feet tall vampire ladies. Promising “the next generation of survival horror with ultra-realistic graphics”, Capcom’s newest entry in the Resident Evil series appears to have plenty for gamers to sink their teeth into. Yep, that’s my bad pun and I’m sticking to it. But something is stirring around the indie scene, something lurking in the dark and growing stronger by the day. Something from a generation thought long gone.
Over on itch.io, horror games sporting the PS1-esque ‘low-poly’ aesthetic have been causing quite the stir. Perhaps fuelled a little by the buzz surrounding Bloodborne PSX of late, indie developers have adopted this vintage visual style more and more, steadily growing in numbers and popularity. Whether it’s the element of fuelling one’s own twisted imagination or simply the nostalgia of vintage PS1 horrors like Silent Hill and the original Resident Evil, indie gaming just can’t get enough of old-school scares.
So we put our sanity to the test to pick out some of the most promising low poly games and demos to feed your spoopy cravings and pixelated adrenaline rushes. Click the links in the titles to check them out!
Groundhog Day gets ghoulish in this twisted, multiple-ending venture into the depths of a medical facility. The Heilwald Loophole by Jamathan centres around the Heilwald Klinikum, once the most renowned medical institution in Germany, now a grotesque shadow thanks to the appearance of the titular loophole. You awake on the floor of a storage room, having fallen through the hole above you and with no memory of how you got there. You must now make your way through the Klinikum and uncover the dark secrets it contains.
A difficult game to sum up as to do so risks hefty spoilers, but this is a certified itch.io horror gem. The scares in The Heilwald Loophole are bountiful, well-executed and, given the loophole context, many grisly deaths are almost guaranteed. But with this comes a multitude of choices and endings: after opening a door to the storage room, you are greeted by the mild-mannered Dr. Randolph who asks you to follow him. What you do after he begins to walk away is up to you: do you follow him, hide from him or go wandering the halls of the Klinikum? Even in the short demo, there are many different outcomes to uncover and grisly fates to meet. What will you find?
The original Resident Evil gets an alternative 1920’s makeover in Alisa by solo developer Casper Croes. While chasing a wanted criminal, Elite Royal Agent Alisa wakes in a mysterious mansion wearing an outfit resembling a china doll. With no memory of what happened, she must get to the bottom of what happened and escape. However, she is of course not alone here. Alisa must avoid the clutches of the murderous mechanised dolls roaming the echoey halls and find out what controls them.
If you’re looking for a love letter to Resident Evil and other late ‘90s survival horrors, this is the demo for you. Alisa proudly displays its influences with fixed camera angles, pre-rendered backgrounds, and tank controls — even the first meeting with one of the mechanised dolls sparks Resident Evil déjà vu. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the spoop factor is diminished because of this! Dolls can pop up at any moment ready to tear you apart and clue-based puzzles peppering the mansion means your wits will have to be as sharp as your reflexes. For an experience that effortlessly echoes PS1 era horror, give Alisa a try.
Can love endure all trials and hardships — even death? This is put to the ultimate test in Of Love and Eternity. You are a medieval knight, betrayed by a blood-hungry king who murdered your true love before turning his sword upon you. You now awaken in purgatory, a skeletal armoured husk doomed to wander the void unless you reunite with your love who suffers the same fate.
While still in its alpha stages and the shortest experience on the list, the demo exudes atmosphere as you wander the paths through an ominous forest, unsure of where to go and which path leads you closer to salvation. The visuals too are simply sublime, combining the low poly style with intricately layered dot-matrix-esque graphics and beautifully smooth 3D animation and cutscenes. There are also collecting elements showcased such as souls which the player can harvest and fireflies to trap though the purpose of which remains a mystery at this stage. It undoubtedly shows a great deal of promise and looks set to be a medieval spoopy gem.
Mysterious solitary houses in the middle of nowhere always mean trouble and nowhere is this more apparent than in Echo 7 Project’s Crooked Silence. After a harrowing car crash leaves you stranded in the middle of nowhere, you go to look for help, coming across a nearby house. But there is no help to be found here and the horrors that lurk within these decrepit walls will make you wish you had taken your chances in the woods!
The only full game on this list, Crooked Silence showcases great first-person gameplay with smooth melee and firearm combat and puzzle-solving in order to progress. Resources are limited, meaning you have to have a steady hand as well as steady nerves — unloading a whole cartridge of ammo on one enemy may lead to a grisly fate further down the line! There are also various easter eggs throughout the game and multiple endings to encourage replays. The sound design is also superb and works perfectly with the strong environmental storytelling; creaks, scratches, and various other noises punctuate the silence and fuel the player’s paranoia that enemies can be lurking around every corner. Or even behind you.
… what was that?