One of the more philosophical questions here.
As we await for the endless void to consume us all, it makes us wonder what exists out there that makes us beg for the sweet release of death. Current world state jokes aside, there’s not much realistic in terms of physical pain or emotional agony that can be truly called Worse Than Death. I know one thing, though: this game! Ho-hooooooooooo!
This is the latest release from Canadian developer Benjamin Rivers Inc., run by one Rivers, Benjamin. This is the third release from Rivers and co., after a successful brace with Alone With You and Home, with the latter gaining some fairly large acclaim. Worse Than Death has also been on the Apple Store since July, but Apple sucks—sue me—I prefer tactile feedback. Let’s go.
You play as Holly, a woman who is making big waves in physiotherapy, and she’s returned to her home town for a school reunion. After meeting with her former BFFL Flynn, you learn that the reunion is one with bittersweet context, as Flynn’s fiance Grace died before they were to be married. That’s all irrelevant, however, as there’s someone or some-thing hunting them down, aiming to murder everything.
Right from the get-go, it’s hard trying to figure out what Worse Than Death wants to be. The main menu and its quirky theme imply a Scooby-Doo! angle, but when you get into the nitty-gritty, you have the same visceral undertones as The Long Reach. Then, it’s also aiming to be Stranger Things. At the end of it all, it’s more Whispering Willows meets Twin Peaks, although I don’t think the inconsistent tone is an aesthetic choice for the narrative.
It doesn’t know whether it wants to be an accessible horror game for the kiddies or an in-your-face slasher flick from the 80s. There are mad Slaughter High vibes throughout, but you don’t have the comfort of watching Caroline Munro in her late 30s pretending to be a teenager. Worse Than Death seriously thinks it can handle two completely different angles of horror.
Take the actual horror, for example. There’s only one enemy in the entire game: a transparent Venus Flytrap-looking thing that scours short pathways, with said paths being predictable and filled with dim holes you can hide in. Unless you run, chances are you will not alert them in any way, shape or form, so walk slowly, and you’ll be right as rain.
What is the horror behind that? Jumpscares. Worse Than Death absolutely fucking LOVES jumpscares. You can’t go one level without glass breaking, a door slamming, a small music sting, or unrelated imagery popping up on the screen for a brief moment. I wouldn’t mind it so much if they actually had thematic connections to the story, but… they don’t.
I’m not going to go into spoiler territory, but it’s like if, in Claire, the Friendship Bears are what saved her from the primordial horrors. You can practically hear the Care-Bears theme playing as all of the plot threads are quickly tied up to explain as much as possible. It still doesn’t explain enough, but then, I put that on the cumbersome writing.
Almost all of the …