Space Beast Terror Fright. I’m not sure what the game developer Nornware was going for with that title, but if anything, it sums up the experience rather clearly. You are in space, there are violent beasts, there is overwhelming terror, and an abundance of fright.
But anyone can read four words and make an educated guess. I’ll be blunt — you shouldn’t play this with your frail grandmother, or the friend who takes medication so that they don’t see terrifying monsters crawling on the ceiling. However, if you have buddies who do not fit either of those criteria, grab them and make sure they play this game split-screen with you as soon as possible.
The premise is simple: you, and whoever you tricked into participating, are space marines, clad in bulky armored suits and armed with big shooty guns. Your mission is to reclaim data cores from a series of terminals, scattered throughout the dark and winding corridors of a derelict ship. Of course, you wouldn’t be clad in bulky armored suits, and armed with big shooty guns, if this excursion was a simple maintenance gig. No, rather, it is an inevitability that you, or one of your friends, will be ambushed by hideous monstrosities from the depths of outer space.
It is at that point in your mission that the party’s life expectancy drops to drastically low levels, and things will assuredly go to pot if most of you are newbies. This is because of how well the game builds anxiety in its audience. With its adaptive and creepy soundtrack, and in conjunction with the low lighting that permeates every level, the players are already on edge before Terror Fright’s titular threat is actively coming for them. The music is barely present until danger wanders close by, and it builds in intensity as it creeps closer and closer. The moment the monsters come into someone’s view, the music erupts into a horrible cacophony, and their marine’s visor becomes distorted, his visuals pulsating like a terrified human heartbeat. Terror Fright follows the basic tenets of every good horror movie, subtly planting a seed of uncertainty and fear, and allowing it to gradually grow until it bears horrible fruit, and the danger shows its face. Learning to deal with this fear is needed to finish your mission successfully, and keeping cool in FUBAR situations is a crucial skill for your team.
Even if they can manage to keep calm, players will find themselves having more to fear than fear itself. For one thing, there is the danger the space beasts pose. The creatures are swift, closing quickly in the narrow confines of the environment, and because your view is so limited by the lack of good lighting, you won’t have very long to see them coming. Even worse, if you mess up and one of them reaches you, its game over. The monster topples you, and you get a brief glimpse of it tearing you to shreds before your view fades to black, presenting you with a rather matter-of-fact death summary. Your marines’ armor does little more than make you look like canned meat to the aliens, and you’ll need a steady hand and quick reflexes to come out of these encounters alive. Even worse, firing your gun generates gratuitous amounts of smoke, and you’ll only have a moment after it clears before you can see if you shots dispatched your pursuers — or if they didn’t.
There is little room for mistakes in the gunplay, especially if you encounter the beasts with your friends close by. One of the other major threats in this game comes, surprisingly, from your own teammates, and depending on how well they react in do-or-die encounters, you might find yourself blown to bits alongside the aliens. Friendly fire is more real than ever, and panic can wipe out the expedition without the assistance of the space beasts. These sorts of team-killing disasters are hilarious, but common enough to require extreme caution when the nasties pop up. Thankfully, it takes more than a couple bullets to put down your friends — but players damaged by friendly ammo will lose vital segments of their HUD, such as the navigational tools necessary to find the data cores, or god forbid, the aiming reticle that allows you to shoot straight. If that wasn’t bad enough, bullets have the tendency to ricochet off walls if they don’t hit a living target, and can potentially injure/kill you or your comrades.
Fortunately, there are numerous strategies that can help you avoid confronting the monsters entirely. Most doors can be opened and closed, and the beasts, which I assume lack opposable thumbs, must break them down in order to reach you, giving you a chance to shake them off your trail. Dormant sentry guns can be activated at various junctures, and can keep wandering enemies off your back while you search for cores elsewhere. There also exist “fences”, electrical gates that fry anything dumb enough to walk through them while active, and though they might deny you access to a section of the ship, its sometimes necessary.
Additional help comes in the form of upgrades. Collecting power cores requires the player to remain immobile at a terminal for several uncomfortable moments, but rewards the party with various HUD enhancements. Some of these include an automap that remembers where you’ve visited, heat-vision, or a motion tracker that allows you to anticipate the movement of the aliens. Players can also find terminals that repair damage from weapons fire, or replenish your finite quantities of ammo. You’ll be exceptionally thankful when you encounter these, as nothing makes an already tense experience worse than running dry on bullets, or losing the radar that allows you to rendezvous with your team.
The game is tough. The longer you take to get the cores, the more numerous the swarm becomes, and the more active. Enemies spawn continuously from breeches in the ship, and depending on the game settings, additional breeches can pop up out of anywhere, eliminating any possibility of a truly safe area. Even if you grab all of the cores and overload the reactors to escape the station, there’s a chance you won’t find the exit before the whole joint blows. To date, I’ve played over a dozen games, and my friends and I have only managed to beat one mission. The learning curve is more akin to a learning mountain, but the thrill of the experience is where the fun is anyways, and making it to the shuttle in one piece is only a bonus in my opinion.
There is a lot to impressed by when it come to Horror Fright, and I anticipate things will only get more interesting as more updates are released. Odds look grim for you and your space faring friends — but the future looks bright for this game. Give it a shot!