Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review of They Breathe

They Breathe is a rather interesting specimen.  Primarily because it's a horror game starring a cute defenseless frog--not the sort of thing you see popping up on Steam everyday.  It's not your typical horror game, either.  No jump scares... no "scares" in the traditional sense.  Just a subtle feeling of dread and maybe one or two dark revelations.

It's actually quite a good little horror game.  Not frightening, per se, but it does manage to be unsettling.  Enemies strike a nice balance between grotesque and comical, the watery environment is atmospheric and becomes gradually more menacing as the game progresses, and the whole experience is nicely-paced and doesn't outstay its welcome.  Visuals and music are both adequate--not amazing--and do their respective jobs well enough.

The one big issue I have is that They Breathe just isn't very fun or engaging.  As a cute defenseless frog, you deal with enemies by avoiding them, or by tricking them into taking damage from other sources.  While it does a fairly good job of coming up with ways to vary its basic mechanics, there's little getting around the fact that They Breathe is a game of swimming around, and nothing more.  Swimming around a very small screen, in encounters that feel increasingly messy.  The whole time, I just felt like I was jumping through irritating hoops to progress.  I suspect a lot of this has to do with personal preference more than anything.  It plays a lot like an arcade game.  Like something you'd find on Newgrounds, or some long-forgotten Atari game.  If you enjoy that style of gameplay, you might enjoy the experience.  Personally, I just found it dull.

There's very little else to say.  They Breathe is a very simple game, and I think it does what it sets out to do fairly well.  It's nice to see a horror game that understands "horror" as more than just jump scares and chase scenes, too.  But unfortunately, I found the "game" part unengaging.  And ultimately, if a game isn't fun to interact with, the other parts aren't going to do much to help.