E3 2016: Stifled hands and mouth-on preview

In the absence of light, sound is your guiding force. Whisper in the darkness and the sound paints a brief snapshot of your surroundings. Yell and you can ‘see’ farther and longer.

But if they hear you, they might find you. And the tapestry of your scream will be the last thing you ever see.

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Stifled is a survival horror game with a unique mechanic: a sort of echolocation based upon noise you make into your microphone.

In the light you can see and explore normally, much as you would in a game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast.

But when the lights go out, you don’t have a flashlight or lantern to guide you. Fortunately, you have a unique ability: whisper into the dark (by physically speaking or making a noise into your microphone), and the sound will ‘draw’ your environment, if only for a few seconds.

The louder the sound you make, the more you can see and the longer you will be able to see.

Unfortunately, you can also draw the attention of the nasty creatures hunting for you. Fortunately, they are as blind as you are—but they are also drawn to any noise you make.

Story details (including why you can echolocate) are relatively scant at this early stage, but there is an actual story you’ll be playing through in Stifled. And it’s not just an indie concept gimmick. Stifled is the spiritual successor to a game called Lurking, an award-winning student game that was developed at the Digipen Institute of Technology in Singapore. (More info on Lurking can be found at www.lurking-game.com if you’re curious.)

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Hands-on in the isolation booth of doom

I played the Stifled demo at the Indie Mix event at E3 2016, where I was given a headset and a sort of makeshift ‘isolation booth’ (basically a curtained box around the PC running the demo) to help block out external noise from the event. Sealed in the dark and the quiet of just the game definitely enhances the experience (as it does with most horror games).

I discover what appears to be the aftermath of a car wreck – maybe my own but I’m not sure. I make my way down a path and towards some buildings. Ultimately, the only way ahead appears to be entering into an old sewer system.

Moving into the darkness of the tunnels, the light quickly fades to pitch black. I make ‘puffing’ noises into the microphone to emit brief pulses of light, which draws the environment for me in basic lines and shapes. Louder, longer noises provide better clarity for longer periods of time.

I can also hear…things.

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I manage to stumble through and around a series of pipes before I encounter my first “zombie” (or C.H.U.D. or whatever it is). Even drawn in simple line graphics, it’s clear the creature wants to eat my face. And when I make noises it tends to lurch more towards my position, forcing me to use my brief pulses of vision and my memory to relocate before the creature finds me.

I crouch and move quietly (am I crouching, or am I just physical hunching my shoulders in response to the game?) through a tunnel, ducking to the other side of a pipe to avoid walking head on to the creature.

But the closer I get and the more noise I make, the more the creatures key into my position. Sometimes, I’m forced to sit in pitch darkness, hearing the creature shamble nearby. I want to move but I can’t remember which direction was safe or if something was obstructing me.

I need to make a sound, but I don’t dare until I hear the creature shamble further away from my position. Eventually, I make a noise.

Bad timing. The beast finds me, eats my face, and the demo comes to a satisfying end.

Impressions

As a fan of survival horror I loved Stifled and the unique concept. Being forced to use sound and your own memory to navigate the dark successfully ratchets up the tension considerably. Played as a standard FPS style engine the Stifled demo was a wonderfully creepy game.

And the concept seems eminently suitable to a VR game.

Stifled is coming from Gattai Games on Steam sometime in Q4 2016. It will be hitting Steam Greenlight the week of July 4th, 2016.

 

 

 

 

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