I have a strange relationship with horror. I consider it one of my guilty pleasures, but I’m also a huge wuss when it comes to things jumping out at me. So, while I enjoy a good horror movie, I’ve never been really big into actually playing horror games. Due to a misguided sense of boldness I decided to try out Akuma Kira’s new demo for the Kickstarter project, Lost in Vivo. It was, deeply unsettling.
The demo features early 90’s Doom style graphics, which already messes with my depth perception. The pixelated corridors took some getting used to. I had to constantly glance down at the floor to reorient myself. If you’re worried that the choice of dated graphics somehow takes away from the experience, don’t. Coupled with dark environments and relentlessly oppressive sound design, Lost in Vivo’s demo was surprisingly effective.
The demo kicks off by flashing through some still images to convey the story thus far. It’s a little vague if you didn’t already know the story, but it gets the premise across without wasting any extra time.
There’s an anxiety clinic, a charming corgi service dog, massive storm, a broken sewer grate, an open man-hole. Then you find yourself surrounding by walls with the open man-hole far above you. Time to go get your dog back.
After messing with the controls and figuring out which smears of color were walls and which were tunnels (I really do have trouble with these type of graphics), I set off. Initially you can walk, walk faster, and occasionally whistle. The whistling prompts your dog to bark which, thanks to 3D audio, lets you know which path to follow.
The background music starts off nominal, but the longer you wander the darker and more oppressive it becomes. I felt a real sense of dread building in my chest as I searched. For a large part of the demo you’re really just wandering corridors, worrying that each turn will drop you in the path of danger. Still, there’s not any creepy crawlies sneaking up on you, right?
Whistling In The Dark
I whistle again for my dog, no bark, he must not be close. As I turn to go I hear something else whistle back from the lighted tunnel before me. Great, wander further into darkness or go towards creepy sound? Before you think me too brave, I checked, the darker tunnel dead-ends. Whistle tunnel it is.
I find a sledgehammer resting on some boxes. This is a mixed blessing in my eyes since on the one hand, now I have a weapon. On the other, if the game is giving me a weapon there must be something I need to use it on.
I round another corner and catch my first sight of my wayward dog behind a fenced off area. Before I can work out how to liberate him, he perks an ear and turns to run off. I call out to him (or at least my computer screen) just as an ominous figure appears from a side-tunnel and follows him. Shit.
I quickly begin working my way around the fence, taking in the creepy graffiti as I move. Turning another corner I jump when there’s a man standing there with a knife. I’m not sure I even notice the knife as I begin swinging my hammer at his face. Eventually, he falls down and I get a key prompt to kill him. Odd, why is that a separate decision? What happens if I don’t kill him? I decide not to chance it.
Blood on my hands I continue my search. The music is louder in my ears now, an almost pounding sound that keeps pace with my quickened heartbeat. More corridors and a tight tunnel crawl. As I descend further into the darkness I feel a fleeting sense of relief anytime the tunnels lead me to a slightly larger area. I take the time to breathe before plunging onward.
Without giving away too much (because if I had to suffer through this, then so should you) the demo takes a turn for the surreal. No worries though, by the time that happens you’re already fully committed to your quest. There’s no turning back, only plodding forward as the walls continue to close in.
It’s cool to see a game willing to take on the more psychological aspects of horror. Here the feelings of claustrophobia and mounting tension are the real boogeymen. The demo takes about 20 mins to play-through with you almost, but not quite, finding your dog at the end.
The terror is subtle, but no less real despite the less immersive aspects. Kira said the final game will likely feature some sort of key fetching or item combinations, but with the bizarre twists fans of Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion had come to love. After all, he’d hate to make a horror game that was boring.