By Nathan Grayson on August 15th, 2012 at 9:00 pm.
If you ask me, we’re in a new golden age for horror games. Between heavy hitters like Dead Space and less costly efforts like Lone Survivor, Amnesia, Slender, and Asylum, we’ve got enough things going bump in the night that I’m surprised they haven’t stepped on each others’ toes and ended up in some cringe-worthy slapstick shenanigans yet. But that’s sort of the problem, as well: it’s just the same thematic beats, time and time again. Haunted houses, dark rooms, spooky forests, the undead, etc. But as human beings, we fear the unknown. We fear difference. Weird shit. So then, who better to design a truly bizarre take on horror than the folks who brought us the equally-bizarre-but-for-entirely-different reasons Vidiot Game? And thus, The 4th Wall was born. This game is basically brilliant. After the break, I will tell you why.
The 4th Wall is, in short, completely abstract. It takes place in some sort of computer grid television fuzz dimension, and as you walk around, things just sort of… happen. I don’t want to spoil too much, but ethereal lights dance about – sometimes spiriting you away to unsettling new locales – and oddly threatening electronic sounds litter the sonic landscape. 4th Wall’s excellent, too, at introducing you to some gut-wrenching new sight (say, an infinite expanse of blackness where eyeballs appear and just kind of blink at you) and then – just as you begin to get comfortable – pulling the rug right out from under your feet again. And sure, it has a few “OOOOGHAABOOOGHA” leap-out-of-your-chair moments, but it largely opts to focus on the extremely unsettling alien-ness of its world.
The whole thing runs on this strange, almost dream-like logic. Occasionally, that caused me to lose track of what to do next, but by and large, it only drove home 4th Wall’s otherworldly nature. For instance, at one point, my movement slowed and it was like my character was fighting against his/her/its own limbs to trudge ever forward. There was definitely a certain sleep-paralysis-like feeling to it. But, taken in conjunction with the sights all around me, it just kind of made sense.
To be honest, this one’s incredibly tough to explain. Fortunately, there are three ways you can experience it, and two of them are completely free. First up, there’s an old version that was made for 7DFPS, and – while not quite as polished or lengthy – it won’t cost you a cent. Then there’s the new version, which will run you a measly $1, or – if you’re still on the fence because your frugality knows no limits – there’s also a free demo of that version.
So then, get to it. Also, without spoiling it, I must inform you that there’s a truly wild “twist” ending. You won’t see it coming, but believe me: you’ll know it when you see it. I’d recommend going in free of foreknowledge, but if you need more enticing, here’s a trailer.