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I met a money-eating axe murderer in Sorry We're Closed and now so can you

Delicious profit

An axe murderer named Jenny kills a man for money.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Akupara Games

In Sorry We're Closed, an axe-murdering entrepreneur called Jenny is described in newspaper clippings as both a serial embezzler and as the city's "wealthiest bachelorette". Aside from being a dry reflection of tabloid reporting on women who commit crimes (bad woman! sexy, bad woman!) this is also the kind of incidental character-building you can expect in this perky, retro-styled survival horror. It plays like Silent Hill charged with the hot pink body horror of Porpentine interactive fiction. And judging by my hour of unsettled strolling through the decrepit tube station of the game's demo, it's a powerful combo.

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You play a moping break-up victim called Michelle in her "final days" as she becomes cursed with a third eye. Soon enough she is stumbling through grotty corridors and taking panicked potshots at twisted monsters that simply will not die. It's all given that late-90s Resident Evil look with cameras both fixed and following. By the time you encounter Jenny, she has already killed a man, ripped the paper money from his pockets, and shoved them into her mouth, yelling "MAXIMISE PROFITS!" She's a real catch.

Jenny eats money after murdering a man.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Akupara Games

I'm not the first of us to crawl through the demo, of course. "Its layers of London are like Silent Hill by way of Persona and Paradise Killer," said Alice O (RPS in peace) when she added it to our 75 most anticipated games of 2024 list. She was not wrong.

It gets the feel of those old games spot on. What's more, it's adept at survival horror's old habit of understatement (aka. the "doghouse" effect). In one room, a portrait of a terrifying woman looms over you, her white eyes and noseless face staring into your soul. "She is well-dressed," says the game. In another room, you find the twisted corpses of some otherworldly creatures hanging from the walls, perhaps they are even humans, mutilated beyond recognition. "This display has a strong smell," it says.

I love this. The detached narrator voice that accompanies environmental moments in old horror games, aside from being incredibly comical, suggests a kind of mental shutdown. As if part of the game itself remains in denial. As if the puppet masters of this world, perhaps even the player themselves, are detached and unmoved by the terror that assails Heather Mason or Jill Valentine. You never find a pile of severed heads and bloodied torsos. You find "nothing unusual here".

But I've focused on perhaps the wrong thing. When you play, you'll be too busy using our hero's third eye to change the environment immediately around your character. This is partly cosmetic; viscera-coated cages turn into simple vending machines as you pass by. A huge rusty safe, under the lamplight of your third eye, becomes a pile of ordinary luggage.

Michelle, the protagonist of Sorry We're Closed, asks someone if they are okay through a bathroom stall door in a grimey bathroom.
An axe murderer named Jenny threatens a man for money.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Akupara Games

It also has a practical effect. Thorny obstructions in the grimey world are reduced to spindly stalks you can pass through freely. Bathroom sinks that dispense filthy water in the disgust-dimension will spurt out clean water under the influence of the third eye's aura, restoring your health. Enemies meanwhile, will be briefly stunned when you click your fingers to activate the eye, and a weak point gets revealed when they step into the aura. Prime shootin'. So long as you remember that anything outside the aura cannot be struck.

There was a period in which old games like Silent Hill 3 and Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver were obsessed with the idea of two parallel dimensions existing within the same space. But the technical solutions applied to that idea always meant it felt like you were merely stepping from one space into another. Sorry We're Closed chases the same dimension-hopping dream as those old designers but applies the modern approach that allows you to see the difference between realms in real time.

This may not seem significant to many players in the post-Portal, post-Titanfall 2 world we live in today, but if the creators at Team Silent in 2003 could be shown the third eye effects of Sorry We're Closed (and, come to think of it, Bloober Team's The Medium), their noughties eyeballs probably would have popped out of their sockets and rolled into a fetid drain. As a developer that must be worth some pride, to know that you've got a tool in your rusty toolbox that the horror heroes of yesteryear would have loved to use, if only they'd had the chance.

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