Skip to main content

This creepy game is a picture-perfect throwback to PS1 horror

Mara walks through an amusement park in Crow Country.
SFB Games

Have you ever found yourself thinking that old video games used to be scarier?

I know I’m in that boat. Nothing creeps me out more than the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill 2. Some newer games might hit me with some extra jump scares, but many titles that really stick in my mind tend to be from older eras. There’s one obvious reason for that: I was younger and dumber then. But that only tells half the story. There’s something undeniably creepy about 1990s horror games made before the days of photorealism. It’s hard to put a severed finger on it, but a new indie game might help.

Crow Country, a new release from Tangle Tower developer SFB Games, is a retro horror game that looks like it was pulled from, the PlayStation 1’s library. It pays homage to classics like Silent Hill, putting players through a claustrophobic puzzle box filled with shambling monsters. In creating such a faithful ode, SFB Games gets to the heart of what made old horror games feel so scary, even if they look so goofy now.

Creeping dread

In Crow Country, players take on the role of Mara Forest, a detective who is called to an abandoned amusement park in search of a missing person. She’s quickly roped into a mystery about the park’s owner and the nefarious things he was doing there. Its a riff on Resident Evil‘s Spencer Mansion plot, but with more animatronic crows. It’s an intentionally stock story, but it works as a light callback.

After a bit of exploration, a familiar gameplay loop presents itself. I have to find keys and solve puzzles to open the park and get to the secret at its heart. When I get a bronze key, I know exactly which doors to use it on. One puzzle room tells me I need to put an egg-shaped object in a hole to operate a mechanical swan. When I do that, I find another item that leads me to my next puzzle. It’s elegant and uncomplicated puzzle box gameplay. The park itself is small and nothing’s too obtuse. The whole adventure only takes a few hours to zip through, ensuring it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Mara interacts with a puzzle in Crow Country.
SFB Games

There are monsters to shoot along the way, of course. It doesn’t take long before the park fills up with zombies, slithering blobs, and hulking flesh beasts. To attack them, I press a button to lock my character in place and then free aim from there to shoot them. Headshots do more damage, naturally, but shots also do more damage the closer Mara is to a monster. That adds a bit of extra tension, as it pays to put myself in danger. Granted, combat is mostly optional. In most cases, its easy to weave around creatures and not engage in battle at all. That’s an intentional choice, as Crow Country wants players to make choices about how they conserve ammo, but it does make action feel inconsequential at times.

Though there are some quirks to pick at, Crow Country makes its biggest impact as a nostalgic tone piece. The most striking thing about it is its low polygon art style. It looks exactly like an old PS1 game, with jagged lines and rough edges that make it look like it’s being played on a cathode-ray tube TV. Its somewhere between Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, with more color and rounded objects than you’d usually find in a horror game. It looks fantastic, and SFB Games modernizes the controls around it to make sure that style doesn’t come with the gameplay frustrations of the earlier era.

Mara shoots a monster in Crow Country.
SFB Games

That visual style isn’t just for show. Crow Country is totally unnerving in the same way that the games it calls back to still are. That’s most apparent in its monsters. Its “zombies” aren’t really identifiable as infected humans. They’re a messy collection of red polygons that erratically jerk around the screen. Its hard to tell what exactly they are — and that’s what makes them scary. How can I know where to shoot when I can’t event make out their limbs?

That’s the kind of thing that I still love about Silent Hill 2, one of my all-time favorite horror games. Every creature feels like an unnatural abomination. I fear what I can’t understand. We’ve lost that experience in gaming’s hunt for photorealism, but Crow Country serves as a great reminder that the bumps of old games aren’t mistakes meant to be smoothed over. The warts are what makes them scary.

Crow Country launches on May 9 for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
Xbox Game Pass loses some horror greats, but gains a kid-friendly racing game
A custom car built drives around Lego 2K Drive.

We've learned what games will come to Xbox Game Pass over the first half of this April, and leading the batch is Lego 2K Drive, a Lego racing game that's a solid alternative to the Forza Horizon games that are also available on Microsoft's subscription service.

Lego 2K Drive was released in May 2023 and is an enjoyable racing game where players can build their own Lego vehicles and race throughout several open worlds. It found the middle ground between the likes of Mario Kart and Forza Horizon and thrives in that space, even if the microtransactions can be a little aggressive for a game aimed at children. Playground Games has not yet confirmed if another Forza Horizon game is in the works at this time, so Xbox fans can play this game to fill that void until a new one is announced.

Read more
If you’re looking for a great new Switch game, you’ll dig Pepper Grinder
A giant beetle stands in Pepper Grinder.

Look, it’s been a busy time for video game enthusiasts. Rather than easing out of a busy holiday season, the first three months of 2024 have been filled with enormous, high-profile RPGs that can eat up an upwards of 60 hours each. I’m tired. You’re tired. Don’t you just want to play something short and sweet at this point?

If the answer to that question is “yes,” then you’re in luck. Pepper Grinder, the latest release from publisher Devolver Digital, is out today and it's the perfect change of pace for anyone exhausted from playing long RPGs for months. And it helps that it’s a fun little platformer with a unique hook, too. Actually, “hook” isn’t exactly the right word here. I should say “drill.”

Read more
Open Roads is a short family drama video game that leaves a big impact
Tess and Opal ride in a car in Open Roads.

Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to connect with your family.

That idea kicks off Open Roads, the latest indie published by Annapurna Interactive. The short narrative adventure begins with Tess, a young adult growing up in the wake of September 11, 2001, sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after she passes away. That somber process gives way to a domestic mystery that sends Tess and her mother, Opal, on a road trip to discover the family’s secret past.

Read more