Shorter indie games have become a recent favorite of mine, and with Halloween on the horizon, I’d been on the lookout for some different horror games that I hadn’t played yet beyond the classic titles that make the rounds every year. I stumbled across #influenced, a “slow-burn horror story in kinetic novel format,” in September — and I was immediately sold. I always find myself enjoying games that incorporate social media in some way, whether that’s through making it an interactive play element or using the game’s story to dig a little into our own relationship to social media. And the added bonus of horror elements definitely doesn’t hurt!
The game offers a mix of both of these things through the lens of upcoming influencer Dolly Pearson’s story as she tries to make it big on Instapix, the in-game social media site. Little does she know that things are about to take a very unexpected turn in her influencer journey — making her question just what she would do to make it big.
With about 30 minutes of gameplay total, #influenced offers a linear experience that slowly reels you in with bright character and game design while infusing an overwhelming sense of unease the further into the story you go — making it a perfect spooky title for pre-Halloween play.
Everything starts out normal, until it isn’t
Starting out with a follower count of 5,000, Dolly soon manages to befriend Vanessa John, a well-known Instapix user who has over 800,000 followers. Things go relatively normal for a bit: Dolly and Vanessa become friends, chat about their online profiles, and eventually Dolly asks Vanessa for some help.
This is where the mysterious figure known as Mr. A. comes into play. Mr. A. is Vanessa’s agent, who she swears by, and she puts Dolly and him in contact. He goes on to provide Dolly with different tasks to complete that he assures her will help her to gain followers.
Now, the first task he gives her is to just give herself a haircut. That’s nothing too wild — people share their new haircuts online all the time. And Dolly does see a jump in followers afterwards, so there’s nothing suspicious there, right?
If the suspenseful music playing during each interaction Dolly has with Mr. A. isn’t enough to go by, Dolly’s own questioning of his methods each time they speak is an indicator all on its own.
But what I really enjoyed as I played through #influenced was the fact that while Dolly questioned things she was asked to do, she still did them. This reminded me of a lot of characters we see in horror movies that do something that you 100% know they shouldn’t do. Each task only got worse, and you really see that wearing Dolly down as the game goes on. Initially, Mr. A. only asks her to chop her hair off, but from there, things quickly escalate into self-inflicted body mutilation territory.
A kinetic novel that aims to unsettle
While gameplay in #influenced is pretty simple (a kinetic novel follows a linear story and doesn’t provide players with any choices to make), that simple gameplay doesn’t feel like it takes away from the game in any way. Oftentimes in visual novels, it can be easy to get caught up on the decision-making process to ensure that you get your preferred ending. But with #influenced presenting only one ending, I found that it was even easier to get caught up in the story and the unraveling of urban horror as it happened.
The inability to make choices might not be preferable in every visual novel, but it really works in favor of #influenced’s particular story — especially since it is on the shorter side
And on the note of short playtime, that’s another element of the game that works extremely well. The game’s story and horror unfolds slowly, but is well-paced and unfolds primarily through Dolly’s DM’s with Vanessa and Mr. A. The slow rolling out of horror you see through Dolly’s social media use keeps you on edge,; especially when you remember that she’s interacting with Mr. A., a literal faceless profile.
I thoroughly enjoyed the slow spiral of following Dolly through progressively questionable and scary moments that came to a very satisfying peak at the end of the game. This is an engaging, short game that’s perfect for players who are looking for a small dose of horror that doesn’t involve a massive time commitment or the need to be on the lookout for jump scares around every corner.
I’d recommend checking it out if you’ve been on the hunt for a new horror game that’s off the beaten path this Halloween, or if you’re a fan of visual novels. It’s a great indie gem that packs a unique story into a horrifying package.
The #influenced game is available on Itch.io for free or “name your own price.”
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