Worse Than Death is the new game from Canadian indie developer Benjamin Rivers – a short horror adventure about a school reunion gone very bloodily wrong.
Very much in the same vein as its predecessor Home, Worse Than Death is a pixel-art adventure game that unravels its mystery alongside frequent puzzle-solving. You play as Holly, returning to her home town for a school reunion and to reacquaint herself with her old friend Flynn. Flynn, and the rest of the town, still mourn for the passing of Grace, a girl who died in an accident many years ago, before Holly left, for which Flynn – and others – blames himself. The spectre of death looms over this town as things quickly turn very strange and sinister. The rest of the story sees Grace explore the school and the rest of the town, trying to make sense of the gruesome murders she’s witnessing, all the while being haunted by a vengeful spirit.
Others have said the game has a Stranger Things vibe, which is largely down to its somewhat retro style, set as it is in 1996 (millennial retro, I guess). But compared to Stranger Things, the story of Worse Than Death has fewer twists and turns than it leads you to believe.
Sign-up to our monthly newsletter
Not quite a point-and-click, Worse Than Death is much simpler than that – to its strength. As you move, a button prompt appears whenever you’re next to an interactive item, whether that’s something to observe to reveal the story, or an item that’s integral to you progressing in the game. There is no pixel-hunting, thankfully, to be found. Nor is there the traditional head-scratching or deciphering of meaningless puzzles either – some of the puzzles require you to think, but not once did I find myself stumped. However, even for a game this short, there were moments when I had simply forgotten where I needed to go next. You frequently enter rooms where there is a puzzle you cannot yet solve – the solution is to be found elsewhere – and when you encounter a number of these in succession, you’re asked to store these in your short-term memory as the game features no map or journal. My advice to other players is to note things down as you see them, especially the solutions to puzzles, as the game won’t store these for you.
Don’t let the cutesy art style of the comic-strip stills fool you: this is a horror game, and one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Besides the occasional jump-scare, this is achieved through the other key mechanic: stealth. Well, stealth-lite. You are hunted, it seems, by an unseen spirit. You won’t encounter it everywhere, but in specific rooms and corridors. It isn’t quite invisible, and you can also sense how close it is to you by the colour of your stamina bar (stamina is used primarily for running, which you’ll rarely need to do). If it finds you, you’re dead. To avoid it, you must hide behind and under specific elements scattered across the environment – it becomes fairly second-nature as to what can be used to hide. These moments aren’t difficult, but you will find yourself dying as you learn how much time you have to move between cover before the monster finds you. These hide-and-seek moments are never more than a momentary diversion and you always know when you’re in a room where the monster can appear – there’s no Alien: Isolation style hunting you from room to room. Caveat: I have not played through the game on Nightmare difficulty, and perhaps here the creature does seek you out, because (nearly) every room appears to have cover of some sort. It’s worth noting that on Hard difficulty and above, you don’t have unlimited lives. For a story-driven game of this nature, I don’t see what that adds to the experience.
This isn’t a game you play for its action-elements, you play it to unravel the strange and bloody story. The stealth sections never get in the way and provide some welcome variation, however, occasionally the puzzles tire more than they stimulate. I would have preferred more moments that felt like you were solving a crime, rather than puzzles like, for example, activating a series of paintings in the right order, which are arbitrary and remind you that yes, this is indeed a game.
Worse Than Death is a short and enjoyable horror adventure that is well worth your time. Occasionally, you’ll wish the game treated itself more as an interactive story than a puzzle game, but those minor frustrations won’t get in the way of you exploring this town’s bloody secrets.
Worse Than Death, developed by Benjamin Rivers, was reviewed on Xbox One X. Out now on Xbox, Playstation, Switch, iOS, PC, Mac.