Midnight Scenes Ep.1: The Highway
Her name is Claire Barnes, age 29. She’s driving alone at night along a desolate road, a road to nowhere that will diverge from reality and make her question everything she thought she knew…
The Twilight Zone-inspired camp of Midnight Scenes, a mini-game anthology, presents portraits of psychological discomfort through the filter of 2-bit black and white penny dreadfuls. Seemingly an homage to “The Hitch-Hiker”, a woman’s road trip is interrupted by a downed power line that unfolds nearby horrors. Clickable items and inspectable background objects allow you to intuit most of the story without the need for unnecessary exposition, although at times this makes for somewhat slipshod context for the classic Twilight Zone twist that’s to come.
Technically excellent, with nuanced sound design and good intuition required to progress you through the sometimes obtuse puzzles, it lacks the emotional depth and heady social commentary of Rod Serling’s series but sticks the landing with clean visuals and plenty of atmosphere.
I AM NOT WHAT REMAINS
With a description billed only as “she will reach out in horror”, I AM NOT WHAT REMAINS is a browser game that’s an inch wide and a mile deep and packs a hefty punch in its zippy two minute run time. On the surface, it’s an unsettling speed run through a dying game server as the scenery tessellates and decomposes around you. A running commentary delivered through a warbling text-to-speech bot parts the curtain just enough to show that in these last few moments the algorithm behind the server – or perhaps the server itself – has become self aware and what we’re witnessing isn’t just pixels and bytes collapsing, but the gasping death rattle of a new form of sentience.
The procedurally generated script seeps out steady nonsense with a fixation on the physical: unfinished thoughts on cancers, organs, and bodies intermingle with drolly delivered emotes that will make your skin crawl. (On one play through, “disintegrating and screaming” was repeated three times in a row like a dull hammer to the player’s psyche)
The fuzzy boundaries of the map and the randomized bot-speak makes it ripe for replay, and each two minute play through adds a little bit more to the complex narrative machinations hidden in between the techno-babble.
The Open House
In the midst of a pandemic, all the sterile trappings of technology are on our side to help perform mundane tasks from the safety of our homes, right? Anyone with a line of credit will know that nothing is more mundane or sterile than house shopping – the parade of empty rooms with recently polished floors, a cookie cutter realtor in Brooks Brothers chinos whispering nonsense words like “farmhouse” and “subway tile”. Developer Corpsepile preys on this glassy-eyed complacency with a browser game wrapped in the package of a virtual open house that utilizes the format creatively to create genuine unease, but is still just schlocky enough to be fun and games.
Point and click your way through 15615 Hollow Oak Lane, a generic 3 bed/3 bath McMansion decorated in a soft palette of gentle colors and unremarkable furniture. Easy listening music plays while you inspect newly renovated bathrooms, recently installed washer/dryers, and, occasionally, stumble on glitching objects indicative of a sinister murder ritual to unspecified horrors.
The game bounces between eerie and absurd like a low budget Blumhouse flick, and any technological gaffes or low-res jokes that don’t land are neatly insulated by the fiction of the world: of course the stock photo of the “realtor” is disturbingly one dimensional because of course a real estate company wouldn’t be able to figure out the cutting edge technology handed to them. While flirting with highbrow ideas like using technology to retcon and sterilize very real terrors, the crescendo of the game is ultimately a hokey bloodbath that is simply too fun to write off completely.