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Freeware Review - Hide

Hide is a first-person horror game by Andrew Shouldice, made in a month for the Super Friendship Club's game pageant with the theme of “Justice.”  You start the game in a dark forest with sirens blaring in the distance.  Your goal (though the game never actually tells you) is to locate and read five small signs scattered throughout a snowy, wooded area. Complicating this is the fact that you are being pursued by a number of horrifying creatures who are much faster and stronger than you, meaning your only option to stay alive is to run and, as the title suggests, hide.

This is one of the most terrifying games I’ve ever played.  It taps into some of our most primal and deep-seated fears (and on a personal note, taps into a particular recurring nightmare of mine).  With pixelly graphics that obscure just enough, and impressive sound design which reveals far too much, this is a game that will get your heart rate up and your palms sweaty. There are a couple of quirks that keep it from greatness, but for free, there’s no reason not to go check this out right now.

Finding your first sign (each sign has a number out of five and a single word such as “persecution” or “murder”) is relatively painless.  You hear the sirens and your character’s ragged breathing, but no one seems to be actively chasing you.  To help guide you to the signs, a single piano note cuts through the oppressive silence.  As long as you are facing a sign, that note will ring out every few seconds, getting louder as you get closer to your destination.  However, once you get your first one, you see that there is now a creature with a powerful flashlight trying to find you.  This happens each time you get to the next sign - a new creature will spawn and join in the search for you.  

This is a really interesting mechanic.  On the simple side, it is your standard game progression - the further you get, the harder it becomes.  However, I also noted that the game had even found a way to make progress, the one thing as players we’re sure is good, frightening.  There is no comfort in this game, no solace.  Even doing well means more chances for you to die.  However, as impressive as this mechanic is from an atmospheric standpoint, it also has its problems.  In the sparse narrative of the game, you are trying to escape these creatures, so why would you go around looking at these signs that do nothing to help your escape and only seem to bring more of the creatures to you?  Why wouldn’t you just try to get the hell out of there?  Or hide somewhere until morning comes?  It doesn’t make any sense, and that hurts immersion a little.

If someone were to ask me how to improve this (no one will, but I’ll add my thoughts anyway), I would change the signs into maps (or pieces of maps), that would give you a way to escape.  They wouldn’t have to be actual maps that you could use, but rather a more “gamey” object which, when assembled, allows the escape path to open.  Additionally, I would get rid of the mechanic where each piece causes a new pursuer to spawn, and instead have that be time-based.  New creatures would come at regular intervals, which would force the player to get the maps quickly (possibly running into enemy territory), or risk having more enemies to deal with.  This, I think, would take care of the motivation problem I see here, and would make it a more engaging game overall.

But apart from the motivation issue, immersion is something this game excels at, especially with the sound design.  You can hear each footstep and each breath of the main character. The sounds are incredibly authentic, and should definitely be heard through headphones, if at all possible.  The sound of the enemies is effective, too.  You begin to hear them when they are still a ways off, a terrible growling which reminded me of the creatures in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.  This never ceases to be scary, even after several playthroughs. And as you sprint away from them, you can hear your own breathing realistically getting more labored until you find a second to rest.

But that brings up my other major complaint about the game - sprinting.  When you first boot it up, the game tells you that tapping up or W will cause you to sprint.  However, this rarely worked when I needed it to.  Sometimes tapping the button would do nothing at all, meaning instead of sprinting I was standing still.  In this game, when you need to run you need to run, and having sprinting work sporadically at best ruined several attempts for me.  I tried different things to figure out the problem, but neither the terrain nor how “tired” I was seemed to make a difference.  Not being able to rely on this very important mechanic was a serious issue which hampered my experience.

I’ve already gone on longer than I meant to, so I’ll just end with this:  This game has a couple of issues that could use improvement, but for pure, unbridled panic, I haven’t seen anything better in a long time.  For the whopping price of free, you’ve got nothing to lose except a bit of pride if someone catches you screaming.  You can download it for Windows/Mac here, and visit the developer’s site here.