The year is 1996, Holly is returning to her hometown for her 10 year high school reunion. As expected, she’s less than thrilled to be seeing her old schoolmates. All except for an old flame who has recently lost his partner and your mutual friend, Grace. Despite this, they both agree to make the best of the event and use it as a chance to reconnect with each other. Of course this being a Benjamin Rivers game, we know things aren’t going to go according to plan. Not long into the reunion a classmate is found dead in a rather gruesome way, the world changes, and veiled monsters begin to hunt our protagonist. This is the world of Worse Than Death.
Playing much like the creator’s previous works, you’ll find yourself exploring areas, inspecting items, and solving puzzles in basic 2D fashion. The majority of the game will be spent finding clues and items to progress, while talking to various characters to unlock more of the story in this sleepy town.
I’m happy to report that the puzzles are aplenty and at times very challenging. While I’m not saying you’ll need the help of an internet hivemind to solve these puzzles, they do require some thought for the most part. It’s so refreshing to see some actual thinking when it comes to puzzles in horror games. I’m glad to be even slightly challenged with puzzles in a game, and for that I thank Worse Than Death immensely. Other horror games take note: stop giving us puzzles akin to Resident Evil 7’s shadow puppets, thanks.
The game is presented in a retro style, as with the previous releases from Ben Rivers, such as Alone With You and Home. The difference this time around is the inclusion of fully hand drawn art for dialogue and cutscenes. The visuals are both charming and well done. The art is rendered in lovely high resolution glory and it looks crisp and beautiful on my 4K display. The 2D is handled masterfully as well. With a great use of lighting and atmospheric effects, the game does an incredible job of immersing the player without using the usual photo-realistic graphics. I swear I could feel the cold air blowing when wandering through the snowy darkness of the game.
Many horror titles in recent memory fall into a barrage of tropes when it comes to the story, and Worse Than Death is no exception. While the story is engaging, interesting, and well told, it suffers from too many overused situations that we see all too often in horror titles. Luckily it’s not hindering to the flow or enjoyment of the game, I just wish it had presented some more fresh ideas.
One of the most interesting things about Worse Than Death is how the stealth mechanics work. Rather than relying on visual cues, the game instead uses audio to build tension and tell the player when to hide or when to run. Rumblings and the increasingly fast thumping of Holly’s heartbeat is the roadmap to your survival. Fail to follow these cues, and you’ll find yourself facing death again and again. The game informs players to use headphones during the start up, and boy is it right. The audio work is absolutely top-notch. Creating huge amounts of tension and stress, I honestly cannot recommend using headphones enough. Hearing the audio design in its full glory is a must to truly experience this game.
The game creates a fantastic, immersive atmosphere that kept me on edge with subtle horror and moments of intense action. While I know many won’t consider the title “scary”, and I myself hesitate to call it that, the game is designed with a steady build of dread and tension. It’s not the jump-scare machine that most modern horror games are, and I think that’s a good thing.
Overall, Worse Than Death is an interesting horror adventure that presents players with great atmosphere and astounding audio design, in a package that lasts just long enough to satisfy. It’s a great experience for any horror or suspense fan looking for a cozy afternoon of mystery and monsters.