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PSX SEA 17: Stifled Is A Brilliantly Designed Horror Experience
When I was looking for a VR game to try out, I knew from the start the first one has to be Stifled. First announced during the PS VR press conference in Asia, the Singaporean made game is now being published by Sony themselves and will head to Western markets, as well the rest of the world sometime this year. It’s not hard to see why. Stifled is built around the concept of echolocation- you can see what you hear. What that entails is the dread of not being able to see everything, and the only way you can actively see everything is making noise which makes you vulnerable should there be anyone, or anything, out there lurking for you. A solid pitch for a horror game.
And from the demo that was present at PSX SEA 2017, I can safely say the developers at Gattai Games have a good grasp of designing the game around that idea.
The demo started out in a familiar ground, everything surrounding you is bright and objects have textures. But the only way to go from there was to venture into the darkness, which acts as a transition to the dark, minimalist art style as seen here. As mentioned, you can see what you hear- so you get to see objects that produces echos. By making some noise, either by your voice (assuming you have a mic) or by pressing R2, you can light up a fraction of the area to see the outlines of what you are looking at.
But that doesn’t mean pressing R2 (or shouting at the mic) over and over is the only way to see. As you traverse the linear (but not necessarily straight) pathways, you will find objects that can be picked up and thrown- that too will produce some sound which reveals the surroundings but not by much. There were also clever uses of space and materials. Seeing small puddles of dripping water was a pleasant surprise from all the brooding darkness, and the use of flowing water to guide the player in certain ways is brilliant. I also like that in one very dark area, I made a sound only to reveal the entire room is filled with.. something.
While I am mostly fascinated by the main gimmick, this is a horror game. There were mild jump scares but not the annoyingly in-your-face kind. Instead the scares kept me on my toes, and making me second guess whether if I really need to reveal everything in the area or not. In other words, I was literally stifled.
If you’re in for a story, there is a reason why you are here and you will find clues that something terrible is afoot. At one point of the demo there is an encounter with an enemy of sorts who can only hear. Unlike the other mechanics I encountered this one didn’t really click until the developer told me about it. This is the only stumbling point I had with the demo, but otherwise I liked everything I saw and heard.
From what I’ve played, Stifled is a brilliantly designed horror experience. The pacing was just right, the echolocation concept is used in interesting ways, and most importantly I enjoyed it- this is coming from someone who actively avoids horror games. The minimalist art style certainly helps. Let’s hope this demo can is indicative of the quality of the full game.
Stifled is expected to be out sometime this year. The game will be playable without PS VR as a standard PS4 game, though PS VR is highly recommended.