Has anyone ever made a driving game that is also a horror game before now? It might have happened. It must have happened, but I can’t think of a single example. Dead End Road [official site] makes a driving/horror mashup seem like such an obvious thing though, by borrowing or referencing so many tricks from scary movies that involve rear view mirrors and shadows in the back seat, figures at the side of the road, and radios that inexplicably puke out bursts of static. It’s simple, effective, short and replayable.
Dead End Road has been available for a while through itch.io but I played it for the first time when it arrived on Steam recently. How could I resist such a weird combination? It makes me want the Bates Motel in American Truck Simulator to lead into an on-foot side quest involving corpses in the cellar and a Norman at the top of the stairs.
The premise of Dead End Road is simple. Like an idiot, you’ve taken part in a ritual to bring about your greatest desire (you get to pick what that desire is; maybe go for ‘a faster car’) and found that dark rituals come with a heavy price tag. Ghosts and demons are chasing you, and you need to get from one side of the map to the other in order to save your soul. You do that by picking a destination, driving for a few minutes while various visual distortions and actual physical threats attempt to force you into a fatal automobile accident, and then do some shopping and whatnot at the next town down the line.
Dead End Road succeeds because the visual effects are varied enough to startle and unnerve, and because the simple act of dodging traffic and sticking to the road becomes incredibly difficult when you’re trying to keep an eye on the weird manifestations happening all over the screen. The shopping and car maintenance/upgrades are basic and there are no out-of-car adventures, as in The Consuming Shadow, which is otherwise similar in many ways.
If you want a commute more horrifying than the London Underground during a heatwave, Dead End Road is worth a look. Just don’t expect much more than some nifty, creepy crashes.