Imagine, if you can, that you’re an escaped convict who comes across an abandoned house in the dead of night. If you’ve ever played a game, watched a movie, or read a book you know what to do: run away fast. No good story started with finding an empty house. Even the abandoned abode in Pixar’s Up is a prelude to heartache and misery. Just go. Don’t open the door.
Breathing Fear makes you open the door.
Essentially, it’s a side-scrolling pixelated horror game. You explore a spooky house and unravel its secrets, all the while trying to stay calm. If your heart rate goes above 70, you die of fright. It’s the opposite of Ring Fit Adventure, pretty much.
Luckily, your heart rate starts at 0. Yes – the rate of a dead man. Is this a clue to the spooky goings-on? No. The developers just didn’t think the system through very well. If you’re going to do a heart rate meter, make it roughly analogous to a human heartbeat, surely?
How does your heart rate spike? Well, spooky things, mostly, like paintings falling or other unspoiled jump scares. Even though a crook, the pixilated protagonist is scared witless by the dark too, so make sure you have the torch on and go hunting for spare batteries.
Fortunately, alcohol, medicines and clean clothes are scattered around, and these make your heart rate dip. It’s a bit of a frustrating system. We understand the need for fail states in games, but we just felt annoyed when our rate went up. You know where the scares are, but it’s impossible to avoid them. It just becomes a case of making sure you’re doing everything in the right order.
There is fun to be had by dying and repeating, trying to get the order of events right and trying to find all the hidden diary entries. It becomes a bit of a memory game because true to adventure games rules, you can’t use certain items without first doing the action associated with it.
For example, upon finding a box of fuel and a generator, you can only pick up the box of fuel after you’ve been to the generator and seen that it’s empty. At first, I found this quite irritating, but I eventually discovered that it gives the game a Simon-Says feel about it; like finally putting together a Rude Goldberg machine.
Breathing Fear’s biggest issue is that the pixel artwork doesn’t suit the genre. A tiny pixel cross falling off a wall just isn’t scary. It’s even less scary the 100th time you’ve seen it. Mixing up the events would have been nice, but it still wouldn’t solve the problem – a more realistic approach would have been needed to make me even a little uncomfortable.
The quality of writing is also lacking. There are three different endings, but they’re all rather similar, and while there is a plot, it’s sketched out ambiguity feels like it’s a result of fill-in-the-blanks horror storytelling. The diary entries suffer from being minimal and dully written too.
We still had a reasonably enjoyable time with Breathing Fear, but its charms certainly aren’t limitless. If you want to spend a few hours enjoying a little saunter around a creepy house, you could do worse. It’s just a shame that the writing isn’t good enough to elevate the experience to anything anybody needs to play and that the scares are as generic as its title. If you want to spend a fiver to be terrified, the film CATS is out now in cinemas nationwide.