A tow that costs an arm and a leg
I’m increasingly convinced that a significant portion of my generation was traumatized by their Playstation 1s. Retro horror seems to have very much hit a stride, or more accurately a look, that constantly attempts to capture the era of stretched textures and fuzzy CRTs. It feels like dozens of these games come out every month and their quality is massively variable. On one hand you get solid entries like Nightmare of Decay or the demo for 10 Dead Doves, games that understand their inspirations and utilize them to strong effect. Then on the other you get the likes of Puppet Combo’s output, which borrow the aesthetic as a means of making otherwise poor games palatable.
And now we have Cannibal Abduction, a game that very much resembles the latter but ends up falling into the former. What a pleasant surprise!
Cannibal Abduction opens with one of the most classic horror openings: a shitty “hero”, a broken down car in the middle of nowhere, and a helpful stranger whose intentions are far more sinister than simply helping someone in need. Because our character is a gullible sucker he ends up imprisoned in their labyrinthine house, and you are then given control.
Said controls are simultaneously very familiar and somewhat contemporary. Classic tank controls are employed and there is no option to change this to analog. This is fine! Tank controls, used with purpose, do an excellent job of adding to the tension of a horror game and this is no exception. What stands out is the use of your very limited item slots and the fact that you cannot, at any point, pause. Item use leaves the screen visible unless you are reading a discovered note, allowing you to keep an eye on your surroundings, ever vigilant in case someone with a sharp object rounds the corner.
I should address this game’s singular enemy. There is a nameless slasher stalking you throughout the house, one who you are never safe from and can not in any way fight. There is no combat, only dread. Many modern horror titles have gone this route and while I generally enjoy the resource management of limited ammo or breakable weapons in these titles, combat is so easily botched in horror titles (looking at you Puppet Combo, with your infinitely stunnable killer!) that its omission feels like a fair fit. This game’s slasher is…competent? He will arrive, attempt to cut you, and trudge after you room by room until you manage to hide. It’s effective, if a bit repetitive when it forces you to tread the same areas over and over due to his interruptions. Saves are limited and there’s exactly one save room in the entire house, so while you are typically given the means to handle the situation deaths have the potential to be particularly punishing.
What stands out as excellent is the game’s indicator of his arrival. CA is smothered in a CRT-ish filter, and that filter serves a dual purpose as an immersive alternative to a HUD. If the static starts going nuts you’re likely about to get reacquainted with your sack-wearing friend. This works wonderfully because it’s an imperfect source of information. Is a particular pattern of static trying to warn you, or is it just interacting oddly with the current background? You have a ballpark idea but it’s never precise, and that means the game’s tension is never gutted. This is supplemented by your flashlight which serves three purposes: illumination, detecting interactables in the environment, and making the killer aware of your location. Unfortunate mix! I left it off for most of the game and only flicked it on when sweeping a new room. It worked well enough.
That tension is present for the entirety of the game’s rather short runtime. There are two endings to see, one of which requires a slightly more thorough investigation and is significantly more entertaining, though both are quite abrupt and leave a lot unaddressed. This is arguably the game’s greatest weakness – a memorable ending is key to a horror work leaving a lasting impression, often the difference between a recommendation and a “meh, it’s alright?” when asked, and CA comes just shy of that mark.
So am I saying you should skip this one, then? Not necessarily. It’s pretty good at what it does, and it doesn’t attempt to be or do anything but that, so that makes it a success for the most part. It’s definitely better than the majority of its short PS1-ish horror ilk, though that reads like I’m damning it with faint praise. If anything I intend the opposite! I’m a horror aficionado who’s often let down by games like this, so to play one that was entertaining throughout and not only executed on the aesthetic well but actively utilized it for gameplay? Pretty nice! I look forward to seeing what Esconjaureguy produces in the future – even if this game isn’t perfect, it’s clear that this is a dev to watch.