Fear is sometimes inexplicable. It has many forms, yet all unique to any given individual. Fear cannot simply be defined – it is an unshakable feeling that chews away at the psyche. The most powerful games are ones that leave a lasting impact on the player – making them think, making them question their character’s decisions and how they would have done it differently. The Swine, a new interactive horror experience from the mind of Vincent Lade, introduces its own iteration of fear – one of vulnerability, confusion and isolation.
Similar in both mechanics and presentation to those in the genre like Outlast and Infliction, The Swine favours quality over quantity. Deep in the backwoods of rural America, you and your wife Amy are pawns in an elaborate game of witchcraft. The Swine is split into five short segments represented by tarot cards (The Fool, The High Priestess, The Tower, V, and X) that serve as some sort of representation of this descent into a hellish nightmare.
The technical prowess of the Unity engine is on full display, making the rural homestead setting both believable and unnerving. The house, or the explorable portions of the game, consists of several rooms spaced out between three floors – your bedroom and television room on the top, the kitchen, living room and outdoor shed in the middle, and the obligatory, poorly-lit basement where only evil lurks. Exploration is required and often self-explanatory for progression, usually indicated at the beginning of each tarot card. Lade sacrifices a puzzle element most common in similar games within the genre in favor of a brief and linear first-person horror experience. This puzzle element usually comes in the form of environmental exploration and interactivity as the player searches for some sort of tool used for progression. The Swine encourages you to explore every interactable within the environment, including the protagonist’s vast collection of literary classics – that mold a subtle picture of his identity, albeit a shallow one due to the short runtime. There is an inventory system at your disposal, but it often feels undercooked as there is a small number of interactables in the environment, save from the books and notes scattered around.
The Swine is devoted to delivering an overwhelming experience that explores the fear of isolation and unforeseen consequences. Every enemy encounter is undoubtedly scripted, with the later tarot cards delving deeper into this nightmare. There is a central mystery to be discovered, but by the time the credits rolled, it still came off a little vague. Throughout my 45-minute playthrough, I couldn’t help but continue to make connections to Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Aster’s debut horror feature focuses on a family torn apart by their late grandmother’s affiliation with a violent cult. Replace that cult with some pig mask-toting psychopaths and you have The Swine.
Serving as more of an interactive horror experience than a typical game, The Swine strips you of defense, yet never expects you to run nor hide. It’s an on-rails horror game that grants you the freedom to move around as you please; a liberty that is both a blessing and a curse. The Swine evokes a sense of dread that permeates throughout each of the five scenarios, with the growing mystery serving as your sole motivation to walk into increasingly uncomfortable situations – and plentiful they are! Where the game truly succeeds is in its presentation.
The rural homestead is lovingly realized in the Unity engine with detailed textures, fantastic lighting (or lack thereof), and impressive NPC models. There are subtle moments where a block of darkness comes between you and your destination. You’re left to question whether or not something, or someone, is waiting for you to pass through it, only to discover later that this mentality is ridiculous. The ambiance is calm, yet unnerving – playing off of the fear of the unknown. Squeaks in the floorboards and the monotonous ticking of several clocks add to the growing tension. The little details scattered throughout the house are both impressive and completely believable. Everything culminates to a well-earned jump scare and a somewhat vague ending that leaves the story open to more possibilities. Lade’s previous work is separated into two chapters, indicating that we might see more from The Swine.
Considering Steam’s massive indie library, it’s often tough to find gold among the mediocre. Infliction, developed by Caustic Reality, made its Steam debut in October of 2018 to which it was supported by trivial media coverage and a positive community by word-of-mouth. In February of this year, Infliction: Extended Cut launched on Xbox One, PS4 and the Nintendo Switch and featured a technical overhaul and optimization, including new unlockable content, additional endings, and a New Game Plus mode. Blowfish Studios joined forces with Caustic Reality to make this all possible. The Swine, priced appropriately at £1.69/$1.99 on Steam, deserves enough recognition to eventually get a console port.
Horror games have grown increasingly more popular over the years since streaming and YouTube have come into fruition. People love to be scared, but more importantly – people love to watch other people be scared. The indie library for consoles is rather small and unnoticed, with most horror titles coming from Triple-A developers. It’s time Microsoft and Sony take advantage of the growing horror indie scene, as it could very well turnover a respectable profit, while also solidifying a promising career for some of the more obscure creative minds and voices in the industry.
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