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Fear the Spotlight is a creepy (and surprising) start for Blumhouse Games

A woman hides from a spotlight-headed creature in Fear the Spotlight.
Blumhouse Games
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

When I first heard that Blumhouse was going to start publishing video games, I had some very specific expectations in mind. The movie studio is behind some of this generation’s most beloved horror films, so I expected it to go a cinematic route for its games. Perhaps we’d see an approach similar to Until Dawn, giving players an interactive slasher movie loaded with A-list actors. That’s not the case.

As revealed at this week’s Summer Game Fest stream, Blumhouse is instead focusing on small-scale indies, some of which feature a retro feel. Fear the Spotlight is one of the first games in that crop. It’s a loving ode to video game horror, not movies. It’s a retro throwback to 1990s classics like Resident Evil, complete with eerie exploration, puzzle-solving, and crunchy PS1-era visuals. That puts it more in line with smaller indie games like Crow Country than Blumhouse’s cinematic heritage. Would that style really work for the new publisher? Based on a 30-minute demo I played at Summer Game Fest, the prognosis is great — but you shouldn’t judge Blumhouse Games by that just yet.

Returning to the Spotlight

While Fear the Spotlight might sound like a brand-new game, it actually isn’t. Developer Cozy Game Pals originally launched the project last September, but took it off Steam one month later. A note to its community said it would be retooling the gameplay, offering more translations, and bringing it to console.

As it turns out, that move happened thanks to Blumhouse Games. The publisher found the game through its small, dedicated community and personally reached out to the two-person team behind it to offer support. The two struck a deal and the game was taken down to create a second version of it, which is set to feature an additional one to two hours of content. The partnership put a game that barely had 100 Steam reviews last October at center stage. So it’s more of a safe soft launch for Blumhouse Games than a grand opening.

A woman shines a light on creepy monkeys in Fear the Spotlight.
Blumhouse Games

That odd publishing history shouldn’t overshadow what Cozy Game Pals has been cooking up since October. The demo I played at Summer Game Fest showed off a promising horror game that’s much more than a retro throwback. Though it looks like a PlayStation 1 game, it’s actually more of a cross between Silent Hill and Life is Strange. I take on the role of Vivian, who breaks into her high school one night with a friend. I quickly learn some backstory as I find out the school had a deadly fire in 1991 that killed multiple students. While there’s some classic interactable lore tidbits strewn around, a lot of the demo’s story is told through more modern voice acting and lo-fi cinematic sequences.

The core gameplay will be familiar to fans of ’90s horror games. To get a spirit board out of a locked case, I need to track down a key in a library. And before I do that, I need to find a keycard to the office it’s locked in. It’s a traditional Resident Evil puzzle box gameplay loop, but it’s a little more tactile here. I can actually click and drag to slide open the glass case, making it feel more like a point-and-click game in those moments.

The deeper I get, the more the horror elements begin to seep in. The end of the demo has me using a spirit board to contact the dead. Naturally, that goes south when a ghost appears. A surreal chase sequence ensues where I have to run out of the library as it burns around me, its dense pixels slowly getting engulfed in flames as I run around. It’s the kind of sequence you’d expect in a big-budget game, but done with a retro twist. It’s a fusion of new and old that feels right in line with Blumhouse’s own signature tone.

A player interacts with a meat grinder in Fear the Spotlight.
Blumhouse Games

While you could spoil it for yourself and watch a playthrough of the original on YouTube right now, the developers stressed that there’s significantly more story coming in this version. They’re keeping the details of what’s new very closely guarded, but they confirmed that this version will be closer to a five-hour game. The duo came up with most of its story content after the Blumhouse deal came togethe, and they have worked incredibly fast to put the new version together considering the fact that it went offline in October. I’m shocked that the twosome has been able to work that fast, but can’t wait to see what they’ve cooked up with additional resources.

Though the circumstances surrounding Fear the Spotlight are peculiar and don’t really give a good sense of what Blumhouse Games will be, it’s a neat first step for the publisher. It shows that Blumhouse doesn’t just want to turn games into movies, but rather wants to engage with the medium’s own horror history. In that sense, backing a promising ’90s throwback that needed more support feels like a good faith first step. It shows that Blumhouse is paying attention to the space enough to see something special in a retro oddity that was barely a blip on Steam. I hope the relaunch benefits every involved — and based on my demo, I imagine it will.

Fear the Spotlight is set to relaunch later this year on PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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