The idea of a high school reunion is completely baffling to me. Meeting up with dozens of people that you barely tolerated many years ago, by choice?! Worse than Death realises that this setting is perfect for a horror game, although the horrors of social interaction take a back seat to grizzly murders and spooky ghosts.
You play as Holly, reluctantly returning to her home town and the aforementioned reunion, for the sake of childhood bestie Flynn. After a tragic accident ended in the death of his fiancee Grace, Flynn’s life and his friendship with Holly never really recovered. The relationship between the two is very touching, and sets a very human backdrop to an otherwise otherworldly game.
The reunion soon turns sour – and after a few brief moments of small talk with former class mates, it doesn’t take long to find your first dead body. Graphic murder scenes are in an abundance, as it seems a serial killer is hell bent on picking off several members of the small community you grew up in. Holly and Flynn soon get separated, and reuniting quickly becomes your first priority.
The gameplay in Worse than Death is simple but effective. Moving around the 2D environments is as simple as it gets, with a d-pad, an action button and a run button. Most of your time is spent thoroughly investigating each of the stages, looking for items and notes that will help you solve the puzzles blocking your way.
The puzzles have a very old school adventure game feel, and taking notes is often crucial. You’ll find yourself repairing generators, and finding codes for doors in all manner of unique ways. The solutions are never overly difficult, but keen observation and a good memory (or notepad) are the key to progress.
The puzzles aren’t the only obstacle you’ll find on your adventure, as ghostly presences wander the halls too. These translucent monstrosities are incredibly intimidating, and entirely unkillable. A lot of care was taken in making these enemies faint enough to ensure you have no idea what they look like, and even after playing through the whole game I couldn’t begin to describe them. Finding small dark nooks to hide in is the only “weapon” at your disposal, so patience and stealth is essential. The fear of the unknown made every encounter sneaking past the “ghosts” very unnerving, far more so than if I was facing a more tangible enemy.
The chunky pixel art style of Worse than Death is implemented beautifully, especially when combined with the eerie lighting of the locations you visit. When you arrive in a room coated in blood, as a single flickering bulb illuminates only vague silhouettes around you, the anxiety immediately creeps in. It’s these small details that really bring the game to life. The warm breath of Holly on the cold night air, the comforting glow of a neon bar sign; it’s just magical.
As the game progresses, you’ll start to piece together more about life in this small community. There’s a deep backstory to discover in both the town itself and its inhabitants. From start to finish there’s enough drama, horror and plot twists to keep you invested in the narrative. It’s worth pointing out that the entire experience is just a couple of hours long. I found the length to be ideal for playing in a single sitting, it just felt like settling down to watch a horror movie.
Immersing yourself in the beautiful world of Worse than Death is a great way to spend a Halloween evening. It’s not the most groundbreaking game, but it tells a wonderful story in a way guaranteed to distress you in all the right ways. It also teaches you a valuable life lesson…never go to a high school reunion!
Unnerving enemies and environments
Beautiful art style
A satisfying narrative from start to finish
Very few new ideas