With Samhain well and truly gone, we can safely put away our comfort blankets and ‘Poltergusts’ as the demons of the night have retreated to their hollows for another year. Clearly someone failed to inform Atriagames, as they went and released a horror game just before Christmas. Guess I better get my blankey out again…
Breathing Fear is a 2D Adventure game, in the vain of a traditional ‘point and clicks’ like Discworld, or Broken Sword. This means you will be walking around a variety of environments, rubbing furniture with various household objects, hoping for some kind of reaction. What makes Breathing Fear stand out, beyond the perspective, is the fact it’s a horror game, or at the very least, a thriller.
You’re an unnamed, and mostly faceless, bloke who happens to have a serious case of ‘jeepers’, combined with an incredibly weak heart. How this is conveyed in game, is through a rising heart meter. Should your heart rate go too high, you die. Game Over. Your heart rate is increased either by walking around in the dark too much, or through the use of various jump scares. These could be ghosts popping up to say “hi”, or that dastardly cat from ‘Alien’ running across the screen. Heck, you might even encounter some creepy writing from time to time. Witness too many of these spooks, and you will quickly find yourself in the local newspaper.
In order to stave off the surprisingly rapid throws of death, you can find various ‘healing’ items scattered around the environment. These could be paintings of Jesus, various bottles of alocoholic beverages and even stroking the demon cat that almost killed you earlier in the game. Additionally, batteries can be found in various places to keep your torch well fuelled. If you run out, you may as well be dead, since the darkness will very quickly overwhelm your ailing heart. These items are incredibly rare with only a handful of them existing at all.
This leads into the next mechanic – permadeath. If you die in Breathing Fear, you are dead. You will need to start the whole game again from scratch. This is a genuinely fascinating addition to the formula. Firstly, you are going to die at least once. In that time you will probably encounter 90% of the interactables, batteries and healing items in the game. You will likely even know the solution to a large number of puzzles, but you died because your ran out of resources. Your second playthrough will probably see you beating the game, providing you took some notes along the way. It is incredibly satisfying running around the various locations and collecting the items you need to progress in the most effecient manner possible.
This is where Breathing Fear shines, and is where 100% of the tension comes from. Sure, none of the jump scares are scary, the environments and atmosphere don’t really convey anything particularly creepy, but that constant timer ticking away is always in the forefront of your mind. It’s an interesting little gimmick, that truly makes this game unique.
There is a surprising, yet also disappointing, level of detail when you go about your way, inappropriately rubbing against the worlds various surfaces. Most notably, if you interact with certain items in specific orders, you may end up losing healing interactions due to unforeseen events. For example, leaving a hatch open may result in a furry critter falling to its death. Petting a mangled corpse ain’t gonna do much to reduce stress. It’s a shame that their aren’t many moments like this, but it was very satisfying finding them and helped build a somewhat realistic world.
I have thus far neglected to touch on the story of Breathing Fear, mostly due to it being a bit of a let down. You are nameless man in orange, one whom was a questionable background. You have arrived at a house for reasons unknown and are rummaging through the belongings of the previous tennants for equally unknown reasons. You will come across some interesting notes, letters and diary entries that flesh out the former residents backgrounds, but even when you make it to the end of the game and uncover some pretty horrific things, you never really find out who you are. Heck, you don’t even know why you’re there. This true for every ending, of which there are a handful or so. Sure, it leaves it to your interpretation and imagination, but when all these notes and whatnot are developing a really interesting mystery, only for the mystery of your existence to be completely unresolved, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
The multiple ending thing is also a bit of an issue. Considering you are going to die at least once, maybe two or three times if you are unlucky, it is not very likely you will want to go hunting all the endings. Since 99% of the puzzles are solved in the exact same way on each playthrough, you are essentially running through the same game five or six times just to see everything the game has to offer. Unfortunately the incentive just isn’t there due to the endings not being interesting enough to hunt down. I played through the whole game once, and had my fill. This took me around about two hours, and I doubt I will be returning to the game anytime soon.
Graphically, Breathing Fear is great. It is rocking the oh-so-popular Pixel Art aesthetic that continues to ravage the indie scene, which is fine by me. Environments are suitably detailed with plenty of interesting, if a tad small, locations to explore, yet the character models are very minimalist in contrast. This gives the game a fairly surreal look, especially when characters have no defined facial features, which really help dehumanise them. It is a really effective look, that whilst not unique to Breathing Fear, is done quite well nonetheless. My only real issue is thst there are a couple graphical hiccups, such as the screen tearing.
The sound design is fairly forgettable however. The music is mostly atmospheric which helps push the horror aspect, but the moment I turned the game off I basically forgot the whole thing. Considering the games attempts at horror mostly fall flat and the tension comes from the mechanics, not the atmosphere, the music fails to really capitalise on that inherent tension.
Overall Breathing Fear is an alright experience. It is fairly cheap to pick up on the Nintendo E-shop. It will provide 2-6ish hours of gameplay should you decide to invest an unreasonable amount of time to uncovering all the endings. The gameplay itself is genuinely interesting the first time through, but that gimmick becomes tedious very quickly. Worth a look at if you are itching for something a little bit different this holiday season.
Let me know in the comments below what you thought of this tension filled romp through the woods.
Follow me on Twitter @gameswithtoasty, or join the Games With Toasty Facebook page here for exclusive updates on the future of the blog, as well as notifications for when the latest articles drop. Happy gaming.