I was excited to finally dive into Heliophobia this month, after having followed the game’s production for quite some time. “Real Life” and work kept getting in my way, preventing me from sitting down in a dark room, headphones on, and seeing if this new title would spook me.
Well finally, on the weekend before Halloween proper, I got this chance, and Heliophobia certainly did spook me, but it also intrigued me and captured my curiosity, drawing me in before terrifying and panicking me with unknowable horrors: exactly what I was looking for!
Developer: Glass Knuckle Games
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by the Developer
Interface: Keyboard & Mouse
Available on itch.io and Steam
Heliophobia is a first-person horror/mystery adventure presented through a surreal, non-linear narrative. You awake on a vacant plane, given only a singular task: kill the one with the initials “J.R.”.
One of the best things about Heliophobia is that, despite how cryptic it can be and how mysterious the story fragments are, it wastes no time in dumping you into the experience. It’s important to point out that Heliophobia is non-linear, so, after the opening scene, the order in which things will happen will be different from player to player, though they all come together towards the end of things. So, regardless of which stage you begin with, you’re dumped into a surreal experience with no real direction, and only the faintest clues as to what you have to accomplish. There’s no context other than a mysterious note informing you that you’ve been wronged by J.R.
I happened to love this surreal, Lynchian fever dream of a game, but it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
The stages in Heliophobia are short experiences revolving around finding a series of notes or clues, opening doors or safes with the correct combination, or finding the appropriate key card, each punctuated at it’s beginning and end with cryptic bits of text.
Things can get a little…repetitive, and more than anything else, I would have loved for a bit more variety. Luckily, the story woven through the notes keep you engaged and interested, and there are a few intense chase sequences and stealth section that had me sweating.
Graphically, Heliophobia’s individual assets don’t stand out. The items and environments are all rather drab and unassuming, but with the addition of a grainy filter over the entire world it’s evocative of a 80’s noir bathed in static and fluorescent lights. In many ways, the graphics of Heliophobia is greater than the sum of it’s parts, only really succeeding as a whole
The only exception to this is the monster design. There’s only one type of monster in Heliophobia, but for me, that was enough. An angular man-shaped creature that moved unnaturally and seems to have too many glowing eyes? Nope. Nopenopenopenope. (Which is to say: YES. Good Monster Design. Well Done!)
While the graphics were a bit of a mixed bag, Heliophobia nails is the audio design. Creepy old-timey music, frightening creaks, clicking electronics and strange moments of intense static put you immediately on edge. In particular, the sound design of and surrounding the monsters/glitches immediately threw me into a state of terror, tapping into my reptilian brain and causing me to panic more than once.
It’s also worth commending Tamara Ryan for her great voice acting. Having the character be fully voice acted really elevated the experience of the game and added to the tension I was feeling myself.
Heliophobia is a short and cryptic experience, but it’s perfect for Halloween if your a fan of surreal mysteries or the horror of David Lynch. While it’s held back a bit by the repetitiveness of it’s tasks and it’s lack of a clear, compelling graphical direction, it’s audio design use of atmosphere and cryptic story invite curiosity and are likely to draw you in as you hope to explain that which might not be explainable.
Want to learn a bit more about where the idea for Heliophobia came from and it’s early development? Check out our Interview with Dave Gedarovich and Henry D’Angelo of Glass Knuckle Games!