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Pushing Buttons: Horror game Crow Country lets you switch off the scary stuff – and that’s fine with me
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Pushing Buttons: Horror game Crow Country lets you switch off the scary stuff – and that’s fine with me

As I mentioned the other week, I’ve been playing through a PlayStation 1-style, low-poly horror game called Crow Country. Survival horror games aren’t usually my thing. They’re too intense, and full of unpleasant surprises – I even played The Last of Us with a text walkthrough to tell me when the fungal zombies were going to appear. For last year’s critical darling Alan Wake 2, I recruited my partner so I could hand over the controller whenever I felt like something was about to jump out at me.

Like Alan Wake 2, a section of Crow Country is set in an abandoned theme park – a well-worn horror setting (Max Payne did it too, as did Left 4 Dead), but one that still reliably freaks me out. Unlike Alan Wake 2, I didn’t need my partner to shield my eyes.

The game lets you turn off the enemies – so you can explore the park, solve the puzzles, meet the characters and experience all the creepiness of the atmosphere while knowing that whatever jumps out at you won’t be a killer mutant zombie. Only occasionally has this made me feel as if I’m missing out on something, such as when I walked into an empty square room that was clearly supposed to have a boss in it. Most of the time, it works surprisingly well in this game.

Turning enemies off is the kind of feature that would have a certain type of gamer clutching their pearls. In 2006, a Dragon Age writer suggested at the Game Developers Conference that some RPG players might like to skip combat scenes, and received death threats (she eventually left the industry altogether). I’d like to think, almost 20 years on, that the idea would be less controversial; a whole successful subgenre has sprung up around combat-free “cosy” gaming, “story” modes that minimise or greatly decrease the difficulty of combat are the norm, and even Grand Theft Auto lets you skip bits of a mission if you fail them a few times. People can choose whether or not to make use of such features.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor lets you turn off the spiders.View image in fullscreen

There are also a bunch of interesting phobia toggles in modern games. Arachnophobes have long lamented the ubiquity of giant spiders in fantasy games, so developers started adding an arachnophobia mode that removed or replaced them. Now it’s a standard feature in many games with giant spiders, from Hogwarts Legacy to Star Wars Jedi: Survivor to Grounded, the game about being a team of miniaturised kids trying to survive in a garden. Even World of Warcraft has an arachnaphobia mode now, added 20 years after the game launched.

Horizon Forbidden West featured a lot of underwater gameplay, so when its Burning Shores expansion came out, developer Guerrilla added a thalassophobia mode. I did not know what thalassophobia was until it did this, and it turns out I have it: fear of the ocean. I have always been scared of deep water, and felt an appropriate sinking feeling whenever a game I’m looking forward to boasts underwater exploration – I had to grit my teeth through Monster Hunter Tri, with its underwater giant-dinosaur hunts.

Horizon accommodates this by increasing your visibility in the depths, making sure nothing suddenly looms at you from the deep, and making it so that hero Aloy can’t drown. Sea of Thieves has a feature for people afraid of the water, too – an auto-float toggle that means you can’t drown if you fall off your boat.

Do these modes make the games slightly easier to play? Well, they certainly do if you’re afraid of spiders, or the ocean. But do they ruin the balance, or represent some betrayal of the developer’s vision? Nah. All of these options are part of a push for greater accessibility in games. When developers spend millions of dollars and years of their lives working on something, it makes sense that they’d want as many people to play it as possible. A no-enemies mode wouldn’t work for every game – Elden Ring would just be a big empty map – but in Crow Country’s case, it’s helped me enjoy a game that I never otherwise would have played.

What to play

Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2.View image in fullscreen

It’s been a horrible year for Xbox, but Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 is out this week and it’s been getting very positive reviews. The sequel to 2017’s Senua’s Sacrifice, it features a stunning performance from its lead character (played by Melina Juergens), a Celtic warrior who has psychosis. Watching Senua’s suffering and trauma was too much for some players, but here she is surer of herself and her abilities, leading her people against the Northmen raiders who killed her lover.

I’ve just started playing, and so far it’s a stunning action spectacle told from a unique and valuable perspective – although don’t expect light entertainment.

Available on: Xbox, PC
Estimated playtime: 8 hours

What to read

Grand Theft Auto VI.View image in fullscreen
  • Grand Theft Auto VI will be released in autumn 2025, according to its publisher Take-Two, whose CEO is “highly confident” in that timing.

  • Two big game rumours this week: firstly, a competitive hero shooter from Valve, and secondly a Star Wars-themed entrant in the Total War strategy series.

  • Ubisoft has announced a new Assassin’s Creed game. It’s set in Japan, and stars a female ninja and a male samurai based on the real-life historical figure Yasuke.

  • cwill be able to “help” you play Minecraft. I cannot think of anything more irritating than a robot telling me what to do while I try to play a video game, but if the tech giants get their way, AI is the future whether we like it or not.

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What to click

  • Purble Place: the mystery behind gen Z’s favourite forgotten video game

  • Return to Senua: Hellblade’s Melina Juergens on reprising a role she never thought she’d play

  • Lorelei and the Laser Eyes review – eerie visuals and a thrilling story

Question Block

The ‘Goldeneye 007’ game in a Nintendo 64 or N64 video game console, a fifth generation video game console launched in 1996 in Japan.View image in fullscreen

This week’s question comes from reader Mark, with a guest answer from our games correspondent and retro expert Keith Stuart:

“One of my favourite consoles is the N64 (even the bizarre controller!) and I have seen many electrical wizards make portable versions of it that play real cartridges. Do you think Nintendo ever tried to make a portable version of the N64? I know how much it dislikes emulation and this would be a way for Nintendo to make money from N64 enthusiasts like myself.”

There is a thriving market for modern retro consoles, and several modders have built their own portable N64s, mostly as personal projects. The reason Nintendo hasn’t manufactured one is simple: scale. While enthusiasts would love to see it, there wouldn’t be a large enough customer base to interest Nintendo. Its Mini NES and SNES consoles did well, but they were effectively emulators and would have been cheap and simple to produce. A console built to play old carts would be a more complex beast, and it’s unlikely that demand would be high enough to warrant the time and expense – not with Switch 2 on the way.

The good news is that the excellent retro console specialist Analogue is working on a version of the N64 named the Analogue 3D, which replicates the original hardware. It’s due out later this year and will run your old carts, is completely region-free and will even let you use those weird original controllers. It’s not going to be cheap, though. The Super NT and Mega Sg consoles (new versions of the SNES and Mega Drive, respectively) cost $190 (£150) each.

If you’ve got a question for Question Block – or anything else to say about the newsletter – hit reply or email us on [email protected].

Source: theguardian.com