I recently heard a well-respected game writer say that games are a particularly good medium for exploring horror. Taking an unlucky Everyman, putting him in a strange and unnatural situation, exposing him to events he can barely understand; it’s something every player experiences when they first start a game. This makes the distance between the player and their avatar relatively small in many horror games. It takes little effort for a player to put themselves in their avatar’s shoes.
This distance is even smaller in horror games set somewhere recognisable – such as in Yuppie Psycho, which takes on the everyday terror of that most terrible of modern curses: Working your first office job.
Our Everyman is Brian Pasternack, living in a dystopian 1990s-style society governed by rigid class hierarchy and grey corporations. After receiving a cryptic summons to the main office of Sintracorp, he arrives to sign a contract he can understand and finds bloody writing on the wall – KILL THE WITCH.
What follows is a twisted exploration of an office block, navigating unlit corridors, soulless business drones, and murderous furniture, all to survive and destroy the malevolent force wreaking havoc on his new colleagues.
Visually it’s a top-down pixel art game, with some influences from anime and graphic novels. The pixelated gameplay sequences are broken up by animated cutscenes, and the dialogue textboxes are accompanied by more detailed character portraits. Some of the portraits carry a nice dramatic punch. The frazzled Ms. Sosa, for instance, looks comedic until you talk to her and see just how crazed her eyes are.
I was expecting more of the horror to come from the visuals. Something about rendering body horror into pixels takes away some of its impact, and it doesn’t do much in the way of jumpscares. Then again, the abstraction of it and lack of detail allows for projection, and there are plenty of darkened corridors and flickering lights to allow for cautious torchlit exploration.
Most of the scariness comes instead from the audio. Despite the lack of voice acting, Yuppie Psycho makes excellent use of its music, often letting a chilling silence do the work of building up tension, paired with well-chosen vocalisations. Exploring a silent, apparently deserted bathroom becomes several times more nerve-wracking when you hear deranged chuckles from the last cubicle.
Yuppie Psycho is predominantly about exploration, puzzle solving and survival. Fittingly for poor out-of-his-depth Brian, there is no combat, though he does get attacked by various monstrosities as he explores the ten floors of the office block and you will need to manage his health. Most of the puzzles aren’t particularly strenuous and fall well within what’s expected for an adventure game; search an area, find clues, use items on other items, find a key, unlock a door.
It’s all creatively themed for the setting, though, and the same can be said for the health management aspect. Brian can search cabinets, rubbish bins, and discarded briefcases for clues and items like candy bars, coffee beans and instant noodles. Nothing you wouldn’t expect to find in a soulless corporate hellhole. All the gameplay aspects are carefully considered, from this point of view. Everything fits the world and adds to its feeling of completeness, making the twisted, horrific aspects stand out all the more.
There are some quirks to the gameplay I found frustrating. As the game points out in its opening screen, there is no autosave function. Instead you have to find witch paper and photocopier ink, and then use the photocopiers scattered around the environment to take a copy of your face to save. This is not necessarily bad – other survival-horror games use similar restricted save mechanics, to make the dangerous encounters feel that much more dangerous – but can be a point of frustration if not used optimally.
The story is weird. Players with more familiarity with horror tropes may enjoy it more than I did. It’s entertaining, characterful, and competently written, if quite game-y in places, particularly at the start. It does a great job of skewering many of the worst aspects of everyday office life. Overpowered managers who are quite literally up on their high horses; dead-eyed suits watching over a pile of horse shit; that one cheery co-worker who’s chillingly oblivious to the horrors around him. The core story itself was lacking, though, feeling somewhat unoriginal.
Surprisingly, there’s a grand total of six distinct endings in the Yuppie Psycho Executive Edition (the version to arrive on Xbox), all depending on choices made throughout the game. RPG fans will enjoy replaying it to find out how they all fit together.
Overall, I didn’t particularly enjoy Yuppie Psycho. Yuppie Psycho is well made, nicely themed, and creates a neat and twisted interpretation of office life. Despite that, the core of the story feels somewhat shallow, and the shocks are unsettling rather than thought-provoking. One for players who already enjoy weird, gore-y horror – unfortunately, not one for me.
Yuppie Psycho is on the Xbox Store