PS1 indie horror games provide long lasting stories to players

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

Walking simulators are rarely discussed when reflecting on the eighth generation of consoles, despite being so highly revered among critic circles. While they may not have the player base of many AAA Titans, they without a doubt remained a deeply impactful trend of the era.

A walking simulator is a slang term for the weird archetype of first-person narrative games that, while rising to prominence during the 2010s, arguably existed all the way back in 1993 with classics like “Myst.” They all emphasize a broad narrative that the player experiences either by directly walking through, like in games like “Gone Home,” or walking in the shoes of various characters, like in “What Remains of Edith Finch,” and some not even walking at all but seeing the story unfold in beautifully creative ways, such as in “Before Your Eyes.” 

On to today’s subject, there’s a black sheep subgenre of walking sims that mixes elements of nostalgia, horror and retro-aesthetic to tell stories that truly know no boundaries in subject. From the ludicrously stupid to gut-wrenchingly emotional. 

PS1 horror is best defined by its graphical style of low-polygon models and blurred environments (all in line with the Playstation 1 aesthetic) with a disturbing twist to it’s narrative that is exacerbated by said visuals. It’s all about capturing that childhood fear of spooky old video-games, either intercity through liminal, subtle horror or straight-up ripping off “Silent Hill.”

There are too many of these to recommend, but one that stands out is 2018’s “Sagebrush.” It’s about 80 minutes long yet tells one of the most disturbing and provoking stories I have seen in a while. 

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Set in the aftermath of a mass-suicide by a cult in the ’90s, you play as a mysterious person wandering the abandoned campgrounds of this cult, with the sun setting and the ambience of a site where horrible things happen being ever present. There is no combat, only brief moments of recorded dialogue where the world around you turns black and white, as the stories and souls of this place grow over time as you explore each and every structure of the site. It borders on a text adventure, with the old-school visuals enhancing the disturbing nature of everything. 

“Paratopic” is another gem of this subgenre, another 90 minute experience reminiscent of a David Lynch films with a pinch of “Slender Man” to it’s ambience. The plot is deeply confusing, but it’s not as much their to guide the story as it is to evoke emotions as you travel through a series of liminal, ominous places like apartments, diners, and gas stations, with abrupt cuts between scenes that keep you truly on your toes to see where it goes next. You’ll be frequently cut into a scene where you’re driving a car down an abandoned highway, almost channeling the weird energy of 1997’s “Lost Highway,” where the real fun is finishing it and trying to understand what just happened by browning reddit theories for hours. 

Lastly, a more light-hearted and silly game that still nails the aesthetic is 2020’s “Night of the Consumers,” a survival horror game where you work as a retail employee with anxiety, trying to get your shift done while avoiding customers running up to you with requests on where to find items in the store. Words do not do it justice, the aesthetic truly is vomit-inducing green, fueled by cynical attitudes to the very real anxiety of asking a Target employee where the pasta sauce is located. 

The actual game aspect is the most developed of the three, with the main mechanic of hiding in the break room to avoid customers and quickly stocking shelves when alone being genuinely intense, with a little bit of “Five Nights at Freddy’s” micromanagement going on with its horror. 

Overall, this subgenre is a joy to explore, they are relatively cheap and most can be beat in a single sitting, while providing stories that last in your head long after the credits roll. 


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