Cry of Fear
By Jalen McCall
Do you ever feel like you have people who are unaware of who you truly are, or feel like you don’t truly know who you are yourself? You come to the right place, as in the 2012 underrated free-to-play steam classic, Cry of Fear, you put yourself into the shoes of a manic depressive adult named Simon Henriksson, who deals with a seemingly apocalyptic city and has to run through nightmarish and twisted versions of everyday places to find out why his environment is being twisting around him. Made by just a handful of people, this game has been received extremely positively by gamers and modestly positively by critics for its very intuitive but disturbing take on depression.
A successor to a Half-Life mod called Afraid of Monsters, Cry of Fear takes many liberties from the game with its gameplay and story structure, with its many Holy Grail segments where you have to find an item to progress the story. In the game, you start off in an alleyway, and throughout the game, you walk into different menial settings, like Simon's apartment or a college campus to a forest. All of these settings somehow relate to Simon emotionally, as throughout the game these environments at first seem normal enough but get wonderfully twisted into a nightmarish delusion as you fight to survive It is also a massive part of the gameplay, which is unique, to say the least. The game plays as a survival horror, meaning you fight monsters throughout the game, whether that be running from them, hitting them with a conveniently placed branch, or shooting them with a 12 gauge. However, this is where I feel some of the game's problems from being made by a small team come into fruition; the gameplay.
While the gameplay of Cry of Fear is unique, thoughtful and fun, admittedly some core aspects of the game mechanics fall short due to conflicting environments and/or very vague instructions. Simon has a health bar and a stamina bar. Health can’t be regenerated at all, besides finding needles on the ground that are implied to be morphine. Morphine gives you the ability to regenerate at least a good fifty-to-sixty percent of your health and makes you run faster, but taking too many at a time makes you lose control of Simon and impairs your vision and audio. Stamina is lost by running or jumping, and running for too long makes you extremely slow until a minute or so passes. This is also a detriment as in chase which is plenty, the game has specific moments where you trip, losing your momentum and it can lead to death. The balance between managing your syringe for health and stamina is very important, due to the game itself but also because of some flaws about it, like the combat.
The combat in this game is purely carried by its attention to detail and also its pure terror that it induces in the game's fights. The inventory is scarce, as the only items that are consistent throughout the game are the phone that Simon carries, which acts as a light source, and a separate slot for keys. Besides those, the game only lets you have six items at a time, which may seem like a lot, but weapons in this game are a godsend compared to the pistol, which acts as a Swiss knife, having the most ammo drops throughout the game, but being laughable weak to the late game enemies. Getting a good weapon like the shotgun or a rifle just to drop it for something that has less ammo than the starter weapons really defeats the purpose of the weapons, especially with the punishing reload mechanic. Reloading with bullets gets rid of the bullets and makes a new magazine, meaning you either have to reload and waste ammo, or shoot your shots and hope you don't get killed while reloading. The concept of this works as it presents a very tense and real scenario that I appreciate, but especially in later parts of the game it gets dumb really quickly with how many important items you actually need ( like a shovel for a puzzle in the middle of the game) to progress. I also dislike how the environment can be a detriment to your gameplay sometimes, as later in the game, you get monsters with the same handguns as you headshotting you across a continent, or scary bed people trying to give you a hug on the walls and after killing them the bed drops making you take damage. The design of the environments, while amazing and beautiful, can really be downright rage-inducing due to how unforgiving it can be. Despite this though, I really do like some of the fights in this game, as the monster designs really make you feel like you're trying to survive more than John Wick, as some of the monsters have certain elements that make them harder to fight than others, forcing you to have to be smart or learn how to get pass them. Some enemies, like the Sawrunner, the scariest character in the game, force you to run away from them, testing your awareness of the place you're currently in as it's practically impossible to kill them. Some enemies I think are more well designed than others, but overall, the enemies in the game are well done. Another issue I have with the game is the bosses, not because they lack the effort, but because the execution of the bosses is questionable at best and bothersome at worst ( I'm looking at you Carcass and Mace). The bosses act as mini puzzles, but have weird rules to follow, leading to some borderline stupid deaths that don't feel intentional half the time. The bosses also somewhat feel shoehorned in and don't really relate to the rest of the solidly design enemies throughout the game or the game's overarching theme of depression at its worst( minus the amazing and disturbing final boss). The bosses have meaning to Simon as a character but in all honesty really wouldn’t have lost meaning if they were regulated to chases or standalone enemies for that specific area like the Sawrunner. Overall the gameplay, while being a double-edged sword for me, is flawed but charming as while I did end up very confused and frustrated sometimes, I couldn’t say it wasn’t terrifying or fun.
Lastly, easily the best and most famous part about the game is its atmosphere. Being a game made by college kids with a budget equivalent to buying a bag of Trollis at Family Dollar, saying that the game's graphics are anything but funky looking wouldn't be wrong (there is a very funny-looking bike at the beginning of the game that is so weirdly placed). With what the creators have thought, they still somehow managed to create a very pretty and distinctive atmosphere in the game. The best parts of the game is when they take environments from their real life, like the part where Simon has to go to a nearby college to grab a fuse, or when Simon goes to walk to the back to the apartments and he sees the outer city skylights near the river. These moments are what really sell the game for me, as the environments really sell the mood, either having the moments of brief peace, or the darkness and grittiness of the surroundings bringing absolute terror into you as the soundtrack pumps in the back of your mind. The atmosphere also really sells the theme, which is nothing short of brilliant itself.
Cry of Fear was a game I wasn’t expecting to be all that good. “Of course it wouldn’t be” I said; “It’s free.” But I was dead wrong. Cry of Fear is an unsung hero in the indie horror game scene, as I feel this game should get more credit for its storytelling than it has gotten over the years. But recently, the game has been getting more notice and a rumored remake is even in the works. Despite me not going into the story all too much, other aspects of the game really shine through. Although the game's design issues can get really annoying at times or sometimes have an irrelevant beat here and there, the game is amazing for what it is, and does better than even some triple A games in terms of its story and atmosphere. So if you ever feel like getting spooked, disturbed, and want to walk away with a great lesson, and if you feel like you can handle it, give the free game a shot.