Review: NightCry, the horror is in the details.

I have been a horror fan throughout my life, from movies (Alien left a big impression when I was a kid) to series (The Twilight Zone, although it isn’t entirely horrific in all its episodes, is my favorite TV show ever) and books (I read Pet Sematary when I was 8… yeah, really disturbing). But it wasn’t until the early 2000’s, that I discovered this genre on games with Silent Hill. I stopped playing on consoles when I was about 13, with my SNES, and only played on my PC, mostly DOOM, Heretic and Age of Empires. So, I missed the rise of the Playstation as a revolutionary platform, but my friends didn’t. One day they showed me this weird game about a guy who was driving with his daughter through a dark mountain and crashes, only to wake up in an desolated town filled with a thick mist and discovering his daughter was missing from the passenger seat. I remember playing it at my friend’s house, shutting the blinds to block all light during the day and screaming the hell out while discovering the twisted and terrifying town of Silent Hill. Couple of years later I played Silent Hill 2 on my PC, and until this day it remains my favorite. I was still living in my mom’s house, and I remember how she constantly knocked on my door and asked me what the hell was going on when she heard me screaming. With both games I remember having nightmares. Seriously, horrible nightmares. They both had the kind of horror that’s not all about the gore and blood, or scary creatures (although there were plenty of them), it was more about the atmosphere, the intense soundtrack and noises, the little details: a disturbing note or blood stain, or the brief apparition of a little girl running towards you and dissapearing through your legs still haunts me to this day.

Recently, a friend here in Madrid refered me to the Steam platform. I heard about it but never had the chance to use it. But with a brand new PC expecting to get tested in the graphics department, I gave it a go. So, in searching, I stumbled upon this new game called NightCry. It’s only available (for now) on PC, and you can download it for a very fair price. I read the reviews and they were very mixed, some people loved it, some people hated it. But what caught my attention was finding out that Masahiro Ito, the art director and monster designer for the Silent Hill series was involved, and also Takashi Shimizu, the japanese director behind the cult horror film Ju-On and the american remake The Grudge (yes, he directed the remake as well). Well, this should be interesting, and what better way to use your graphic card for the first time than a horror game with these people behind it? I made my mind right away.

I have to be honest and say I didn’t know about the Clock Tower games, even though they started on my beloved SNES. And this game is made by Hifumi Kono, the creator of the first two installments of Clock Tower, which I found out to be a cult classic in the gaming community. I read that they were the first games with no real firepower against your enemies, mostly a hide and seek strategy, with point and click controls that I have to say seems pretty revolutionary for that time (you can see the gameplay here). Also I find this kind of games very interesting, like Alien Isolation (the next on my list), but NightCry was far from having the budget that Alien had. I read that they started a kickstarter fundraising, and backed it up with a nice gameplay trailer, which, now that I have played the actual game, doesn’t dissapoint, it’s exactly what you get. Watch:

Now, the game.

I can understand now why so many people were thrown off by NightCry: is not your average survival horror game. And it certainly isn’t Silent Hill either, there’s no weaponry or health meter. This is ruthless, either you find the way to escape the “Scissor Walker” while you still can run (your stamina drops down very quickly so you have to find -fast- a safe spot to hide) or you’re dead. Black or white, there are no gray areas. One misstep and you get the “Dead End” screen (get used to it, you will be seeing it very often), so it’s mostly a trial and error effort. And the controls… At first, the point and click thing feels a little stiff, and you will get frustrated a lot on your first runs on the game. But no game is good without some challenge, right? My advice is that you click like crazy on everything that pops out on the screen. Once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself more and more confident on your encounters with the Scissor Walker and the overall gameplay. At this point, I have to mention the soundtrack and the sound FX atmosphere. They’re superb. After a few encounters with the Scissor Walker you may find it repetitive, but the atmosphere and sound design still puts you under a lot of tension and stress. Keeps you from getting too comfy and your heart bumping fast, so it is a job very well done.

The storyline is simple: trapped passengers in a cruiser ship start getting murdered by some strange creature. But is not that simple. As you go further into the game, you get some clues about what’s happening, which I won’t spoil, but takes the story into weird and disturbing turns. You play as different characters, so you get different perspectives about the same situation, which is a refreshing touch and a nice way to keep things going in an otherwise clichéd story. The replay value for this game is also a big plus, your actions “write” the plot and you get different endings depending on which way you turned, or what you did or didn’t do. So far I have 2 of the 8 endings, so there’s a lot for me to discover yet, and I always appreciate that in a game. But what I like the most is the details. There are some moments, “horrors” they call it in the game, that count as achievements, and after you unlock them, they appear in your game history. These are brief scenes in some specific places or after some specific actions that will scare the hell out of you. I mean, if you’re like me and play in the dark with massive and loud headphones, this “horrors” will really scare the hell out of you, your heart will stop for a moment. And that’s what makes this game an absolute joy for me. The horror is in the details, the creepiness, the nonsense, not the big scary monster. There’s a very interesting interview with Hifumi Kono, where they ask him what he finds scary, and he said:

HK:Eraserhead by David Lynch is the scariest for me. Fear is an emotion that arises in the presence of the unknown, so I find inexplicable catch-22 situations most horrifying. Because trying to explain the situation adds to the horror by evoking further troubling imaginations.This is why when I create horror games, I don’t explain everything and try to stimulate the user’s imagination. I think this is clearly shown in the SNES version of the original Clock Tower.

Now we can see where this guy comes from. Also, why this team up with Shimizu and Ito seems so natural. They’re responsibles for most of my delightfully horrific moments in gaming and film, and as a fan, I trully thank them. And please, keep more of this coming. If you’re up to a new experience give it a try. I fully recommend it.

(You’ll find some valuable info on this game here. You’ll thank me later.)

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