High school reunions are meant to be a blast, but in this town they’re… uh… ‘worse than death’ (I’ll get my coat).
Worse Than Death is the latest game from Benjamin Rivers – creator of Home and Alone With You, two games that excelled in their storytelling. That narrative quality continues here too, with the game telling the tale of Holly: a young girl who returns to her home town for a high school reunion. Whilst I’m sure the concept of that alone would be horrifying enough for some, the fact that she uncovers a dead body at this reunion and the presence of mysterious monsters ramps up the horror ten-fold.
It’s a horror game through and through, but it has this quirky charm to it that helps differentiate it from similar games in the genre. There’s a mysterious vibe throughout and there are plenty of little twists-and-turns to uncover during Holly’s homecoming and it just makes for a charming (albeit grim) experience. I’ve got to give praise for the comic book-style cutscenes too, which help progress the story in a fun and colourful way.
Worse Than Death’s gameplay involves exploring the environment and solving the puzzles littered across it. This is one of the areas where it really shines, with the puzzles of a mixed variety and well-presented in-game. Some of them require a bit of logic to solve, some take some tinkering, whilst others will take a bit of observation on the player’s behalf to get through. Granted, none of the puzzles had me completely flummoxed, but I felt challenged enough to appreciate their simple yet clever design.
Of course, Worse Than Death is a horror game, so there has got to be a frightening threat to go along with those puzzles. That’s where the monsters come in, though these aren’t your conventional grotesque ‘horror game’ beasts that lurk around stalking you – instead, they’re invisible creatures that’s presence is marked by a rise of Holly’s heartbeat. However, whilst having an invisible monster hunting you down should feel threatening, they were just a bit too easy to evade in-game to feel frightening. Worse Than Death’s stealth mechanics are simple in design and make it a bit too easy to avoid detection, the monsters’ movement patterns are easy to predict, whilst they’re never hard to outrun either. Add to that the fact that their lack of visibility deprived them of a threatening presence a la Mr. X or Pyramid Head, and you’ll quickly find that they lack any real fear-factor.
One area in which Worse Than Death does ramp up the horror though is with its presentation. I’ve been a fan of Benjamin Rivers’ work for some time after playing through both Home and Alone With You, and one of the things those games shared was an aesthetic that played to the game’s strengths – Worse Than Death delivers there too, with the desolate environments, grim sights and eerie sound design helping add to the game’s disturbing atmosphere. It has its share of jump scares too, so players will always be wary of those things that go bump in the night to scare them (even if it won’t necessarily be the monsters).
Worse Than Death is a decent little horror game that shows its strengths in its puzzling and quirky story, but a there is a lack of fear-factor during its encounters with monsters. It’s not that the latter is bad either, but rather that it never really puts you on edge.
Horror fans will certainly enjoy seeing the tale through to its conclusion though, whilst the short run-time of three hours ensures you won’t tire of those monster encounters either. Worse Than Death might not be the most terrifying horror game you’ll play this year, but it’s certainly one that deserves fans of the genre’s attention.
Developer: Benjamin Rivers Inc.
Publisher: Benjamin Rivers Inc.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC