The sheer amount of quality and polish that insanely small teams are able to achieve on games this generation continues to blow my mind. Worse Than Death, a new horror game for the PS4, was created by a team of six people!
As you read this review, keep that in mind. It’s amazing what kind of talent we have in the gaming industry. Also, if you can’t guess, I really enjoyed this title. Read on to find out why you should join Holly for the worst high school reunion ever.
A Riveting Tale, and an Atmosphere to Die For
Worse Than Death is a 2D horror game for the PS4 where you play as Holly. The game begins with her reluctantly returning to her hometown for a high school reunion. Her uneasiness, along an uncertain history with the people there, make the story immediately interesting.
You’re given a chance to converse with characters and learn more about their relationships with each other before things start to go wrong. The slow-paced introduction is a nice way to help you feel connected to the people and the town as a whole, prior to the horror that awaits.
Once the story gets moving, however, it doesn’t ever let up. As you explore the various environments, you’ll come across a lot of different posters, newspapers, documents, and photos that shed more light on what’s been going on behind the scenes of the town.
The main portions of the story are delivered via text dialogue that feels natural and sharp. The use of specific animations and sounds also drives home shocking revelations that help the storytelling feel engaging despite there not being any voice acting from the main characters.
Benjamin Rivers, the writer on the game (along with several other roles), has a great knack for telling tight and well-paced stories. His work on past title like Alone With You and Home: An Interactive Horror Adventure, show that he can tell a great story in a relatively short amount of time.
I particularly liked how the game mixed together comic book visuals and incredibly detailed pixel art (something I’ll discuss later in the review). The illustrated visuals in particular offer some truly gruesome visuals to help your imagination along.
Despite being a 3-4 hour story (keep in mind the game is $10 full price), there’s a lot of unpack here. There are also plenty of checkpoints on Normal difficulty, so you don’t need to rush through it. Between the great characters, the tight pacing, and the many twists and turns, it’s a very solid and enjoyable trip through a well-realized world.
Now, onto the gameplay. Worse Than Death offers simple controls, but adds a layer of complex mechanics and some truly brilliant puzzles throughout the story. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot to engage with and explore, but monsters are also hunting you. While they can barely be seen, you can spot them coming based on a few audio and visual cues.
For starters, Holly’s breath will come out cold when you’re in an area with a monster. You’ll also hear her heartbeat increase in speed as they get closer. The only defense you have is to hide in a dark area or behind something until they pass.
The cues work great for deciding when to run and when to hide. The game’s tense atmosphere also never guarantees that you won’t come across a monster next time you open a door. It happens enough to keep you on your toes, but not so much that you’re constantly running while trying to explore.
This is an important distinction because I’ve played other similar horror games on the PS4 that relentlessly threw their monster at me to the point where I couldn’t enjoy the exploration or even build up tension in between encounters.
All of that being said, Worse Than Death could have done more to scare me. Higher difficulties certainly could add to the tension (including one with limited lives), but I would have liked to see more encounters with different monsters, or perhaps a tiny bit more aggression in how they hunt for you.
When you’re not hiding from monsters, you’ll be working on puzzles in each of the game’s chapters. These were a standout feature for me, as they often require careful examination of the environment and more than a few moments of good old fashioned logic. Like any classic horror game, the puzzles added additional depth to the gameplay, and a good reason to go hunting down dark corridors for items that you need.
Overall, Worse Than Death could have been more terrifying if it leaned into the atmosphere it so expertly creates and maybe made it’s monsters a little more aggressive. That doesn’t it stop it from being a tense and immensely enjoyable horror story, however, and the brilliant puzzles really help keep the gameplay engaging throughout.
Eclectic Art Direction and Deep Audio Immersion
There are no shortage of pixel art games on the PS4, and while I do enjoy the art style, it can sometimes leave a little too much up to the imagination. Worse Than Death gets around this limitation in two ways: it uses some of the most detailed pixel art I’ve ever seen, and it integrates fully illustrated comic panels and setpieces into the gameplay.
For major story moments, you’ll be treated to clean and well-drawn comic panels, and for puzzles and interactive elements, you’ll interact with a fully drawn representation of the device or items you’re using.
This combination allows you to get the visual experience and immersion of a great horror world, while also having the benefit of detailed pixel art during the majority of gameplay. It’s a smart artistic choice and one that I loved.
Now, on to the audio. The game recommends using headphones because it uses 3D positional audio that really sells the atmosphere. The sharp tones used for shocking moments, combined with great ambient audio, really does an excellent job of keeping you on your toes at all times.
As of this writing, you can pick up Worse Than Death for $7.99 on the PSN store thanks to a 20% launch discount. Even at the full price of $9.99, this is a no-brainer. The quality of the art, puzzles, audio, and writing make this an excellent horror title that deserves a place in your library.
All of that being said, I’ll probably skip my next high school reunion.
Final Score: 9.0/10
A copy of Worse Than Death was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 10/10/19