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Crow Country review – breathtaking survival horror game that harks back to Silent Hill
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Crow Country review – breathtaking survival horror game that harks back to Silent Hill

It is fascinating to be playing games made by developers who have been raised on 3D games – and Crow Country’s affectionate referencing of Silent Hill is a prime example of this. A survival horror game about the dark secrets lurking within and beneath an abandoned theme park, it is also a gorgeous homage to landmark games of the past.

The look of the game is breathtaking: the thick, grainy patina over the screen gives the impression of playing on a CRT monitor in somebody’s dimly lit bedroom in 1997. The chunky polygonal figure of the protagonist, the mysterious Mara Forest, serves a stark contrast against the set and landscape, which give the impression of the lush pre-rendered backgrounds of Final Fantasy VII. However, these environments are not static in the way of their predecessors, but fully and delightfully interactive – this is a game made with real attention to detail, and clear passion for the particular period of game design. It is a sublime treat to look at, and to listen to, the sound design perfectly in keeping with the aesthetic, adding even more tension to the already grungy, bleak world we must navigate.

An arcade in Crow CountryView image in fullscreen

There are two modes of play on offer at the title screen – survival, or exploration. I chose the explore mode initially, which gave me about 10 engrossing hours of gameplay. Without the grotesque, Cronenbergian beasts that roam the park, the game still holds up as a chilling adventure throughout a constantly decaying theme park universe. When a player exits a room and returns to it later, they may find it littered with corpses and bloody text on the walls. At a certain point, torrential rain begins. The lights eventually go out. The environment is truly alive, and rammed with tricky puzzles that may seem oblique at first but are highly satisfying to decode.

After completing this mode, I embarked on the bloodier route – faced with the guests and other grotesque creatures of the park, the horror was suitably heightened. The combat is straightforward – shoot or run, and the game thoughtfully offers a set of control options for the gunplay so that players can choose their approach. The creatures’ origins are deeply tragic and strange – but with or without their presence, the game offers great suspense. Even if you know you have elected a route where Mara won’t get harmed, there is still the sense that there is something terrible lurking around every corner. This game is something of a corridor horror, and as we tunnel our way behind and below the park, things only get worse.

The mystery of Crow Country was far richer than I had anticipated: the story is very completely drawn, and isn’t without a little levity and playfulness in the face of the darkness. I found the final sequences really bold – committed to the strange and unsettling all the way through, it certainly sticks the landing. Crow Country is far more than a pastiche of the giants of the PS1 era – it is a real triumph in and of itself.

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Source: theguardian.com