I’m not going to detail how gaming has recently started undergoing a horror renaissance. It’s clear from the major releases every year: horror is back in. People like it again. There are a variety of contributing factors to this, too many to really name here. I love that horror is back in the limelight, but I have a problem with a lot of the games released under the horror label: they aren’t really survival horror.
Most horror games released today are carefully guided, mostly linear experiences. More often than not, there’s no combat and extremely simple puzzles. Classic survival horror games were linear, but they still managed to hide that fact behind exploration and challenging enemies. Resident Evil 7 may have seen this kind of game fall back into the spotlight, but there was another game back in 2012 that used this old school formula to great effect. It’s called Cry of Fear.
Released by a small developer named Team Psykallar, Cry of Fear is their follow up effort to Afraid of Monsters. The latter was a Half Life mod that contained some surprising mood and solid enough gunplay, but it lacked a lot of the refinement that marks a full game release. Cry of Fear, on the other hand, contains everything you might expect from a survival horror game from the late 90s/ early 2000s: a terrifying atmosphere, great sound and lighting design, rough voice acting, a pretty dope soundtrack, and a whole host of unlockables that add to its replayability.
Playing as Simon, a troubled young man looking to get home on a lonely winter night in Sweden, you go through all kinds of different environments and try to make sense of what’s going on. The game mixes things up by constantly throwing you into new situations. In one instance, you’re in a school that has seen better days looking for a particular item to move forward. It’s dimly lit, but somewhat comforting. When you find the item, the lights suddenly go out, leaving you in darkness that’s impossible to see through without dual wielding your phone and gun (a move which severely hampers your accuracy). Seemingly from nowhere, monsters swarm you, forcing you to stumble in the dark while actively fighting off monstrosities with bizarre shapes for heads.
The above incident is an intense, claustrophobic chase through a familiar environment. But there are plenty of quieter, more unsettling parts as well, none of which would be nearly as effective without the game’s incredible sound design, the likes of which contains perhaps the most unnerving monster noises I’ve ever heard. In fact, the whole roster of enemies proves something about horror gaming: a game can show you the details of a monster, and it can still be scary. And this ultimately boils down not to the monsters themselves, but the game design that surrounds them.
Way before Resident Evil 7 brought clumsy-but-effectively-so first-person shooting back into the spotlight, Cry of Fear used it to great effect. Despite the game’s fairly extensive arsenal, the smartly crafted aiming means you have to sit totally still in order to pull off a perfect shot. Monsters can take quite a bit of punishment before finally going down, too. Bullets are also gone forever when you reload, which means even that simple act can be an informed but risky decision.
To top everything off, and to show that Team Psykallar went above and beyond for this release, there is a whole host of unlockables once you beat the game for the first time. This includes things like special weapons, equipment, costumes (weird in a first-person game and maybe ultimately pointless, but a nice touch nonetheless), and up to five different endings. There’s even a side scenario that echoes the likes of “The Fourth Survivor” from Resident Evil 2.
But the real strength of the game lies in its mood. It deals with some very dark psychological themes by way of its structure, levels, and gameplay. Simon’s thoughts and problems permeate every element of the game, and this is, appropriately, exemplified best in the game’s penultimate stage: Simon’s neighborhood. The sun is shining, and familiar houses are everywhere, but there isn’t anybody around except for the monsters Simon has fought the whole game. The air is still, save for the screams of monsters and gunshots. It’s perhaps the most unsettling sequence in a game that is extremely effective at being scary.
The game can be frustrating at times in more ways than one—none of the endings are great, the animations are admittedly rough, the game is prone to glitching on newer hardware, the audio can sometimes fizzle in and out, and there’s a bizarre subplot about a child murderer very early on that goes nowhere. But seeing what Team Psykallar accomplished with nothing more than some modding tools and a vision for a horror game is truly impressive. The influence of Silent Hill is all over the final product, from its monsters and themes to its soundtrack and unlockables. The real magic is that it still manages to feel independent of the legendary series.
Oh. That, and it’s completely free to download off of Steam. No DLC, no paywalls. Completely free.
What I’m trying to say is, you have absolutely nothing to lose by taking my word that Cry of Fear is an outstanding survival horror title in almost every respect.