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I Hate Horror Games But I’ll Play Fear The Spotlight


Summary

  • Fear The Spotlight uses familiar horror tropes in a new, intimate way to build suspense effectively.
  • The game’s audio design, lack of music, and mechanics-based obstacles add to the immersive experience.
  • Even if you’re scared of horror games, Fear The Spotlight is worth trying for its unique approach.



During Screen Rant‘s exhaustive Summer Game Fest 2024 coverage schedule, I had a chance to sit down early on my last day of the event to see a game Blumhouse Games was demoing. Nestled in a space laden with blue and purple light, between a trading card game demonstration and some bright, happy cozy games, I threw myself onto the couch in front of a screen with an ominous message: Fear The Spotlight. Visions of my ill-fated encounters with games like Amnesia and Death Stranding were at the forefront of my mind – even a little jump scare can make me drop my controller.

I’m absolutely terrible with horror games. It’s not that I can’t play them at all – I would count Resident Evil and Silent Hill among some of my favorite games in the genre, and like them well enough in theory – but that they always ramp up my anxiety to the point that it feels like enjoying them can be an impossible task at times. I’d rather watch someone else play and live vicariously through their nervousness. So it’s with a confused but optimistic mindset that I walked away from my time with the Blumhouse Games horror title knowing full well I’d be playing Fear The Spotlight as soon as it released.


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Fear The Spotlight Does A Lot With The Familiar

Telegraphing The Source Of Horror

I played the first 25 minutes of Fear The Spotlight and it was clear from the outset that there was not going to be a mysterious, unknown horror haunting the game’s outer regions. It’s a very intimate source of terror that lies at the heart of the storytelling in the game, and it feels like it will be better for it in practice. The introduction sees two teenage girls break into their school at night to conduct an occult ritual using a ouija board. It’s the type of horror trope that’s been well-practiced with time, and there isn’t anything immediately different about how Fear The Spotlight approaches it.


That said, some of the brilliance is in the buildup to that seance moment. The girls have to quickly duck the security camera in the hallway leading up to the library, where Fear The Spotlight first introduces the primary source of its scares – being observed. It takes no time at all to feel the tension among the two girls as they remain hidden behind furniture as the camera’s gaze drifts away from them, and then they’re into the library, solving the game’s first simple puzzle and sitting down to begin something they both know they shouldn’t.

I love the setup and I love how we get there in that 25 minutes, which smartly uses each beat of Vivian’s slow walking or Amy’s taunting, then panicked voice to ramp up investment in its narrative.


There are still plenty of directions the game can go, but Fear The Spotlight starts with a haunting located within its school – a fire that claimed the lives of many students. Once the girls are seated, Amy, the rebellious one, begins the ritual and has the player hold the ouija board’s planchette. It’s here that I experienced the first bit of brilliance in the game – while interacting with the planchette, our hero Vivian can move it as she wants to in response to prompts from Amy – until suddenly she can’t. The sinking feeling of realizing you didn’t input the control to move the planchette to an ominous answer immediately heightens the game’s stakes.


The back third of the demo features a much more dramatic and supernatural event taking place, with Amy disappearing and Vivian needing to look for her in the darkness of the school library. As fire erupts through the building and the library’s familiar shelves twist and bend to block her path, it becomes clear Vivian is now involved in something much bigger than a well-meaning prank from a friend with a bad sense of humor. I love the setup and I love how we get there in that 25 minutes, which smartly uses each beat of Vivian’s slow walking or Amy’s taunting, then panicked voice to ramp up investment in its narrative.

Audio Design & A Fondness For Retro Serve Fear The Spotlight Well

Headphones And A Stubborn Camera Enhance The Game’s Experience

One thing became obvious to me while I was playing Fear The Spotlight – you’ll want a good set of headphones to really enjoy the experience. The game does so much with its audio to tell its story and improve its environmental set pieces that it would be a shame to miss any of it, whether it be Vivian’s wheezing breaths in a stressful moment or the creak of a floorboard in the darkness. Fear The Spotlight smartly employs small audio cues to demonstrate something may be wrong, and I understood Vivian needed an inhaler well before the game explicitly told me it was a mechanic in my exploration.


It’s not just sound design on a micro level, though. The absence of any music to set the mood is perfect, letting Amy’s confident chattering and Vivian’s timid but affectionate responses do all the work. It’s also clear Cozy Game Pals understands that less is often more in horror – once Amy disappears and that stream of consciousness monologuing is gone, it feels so lonely to push Vivian through the darkness and try to find her friend. There are so many deft little moments that make me confident Fear The Spotlight will stick the landing on its retro horror delivery.

I’m eager to see what else
Fear The Spotlight
can do with its intelligent use of formerly ‘annoying’ mechanics.


Even game mechanics that can be frustrating are employed to great effect in Fear The Spotlight – even if they are still frustrating. A stubborn camera that moves sluggishly and feels like you’re fighting it at all times actually helps maintain the perspective of Vivian as she explores quite nicely. When you crouch, you don’t get to just see everything from an omniscient view above Vivian; you’re limited to the immediate area around her, including having your vision obscured by the objects she’s crouching behind.

When Vivian is running through environmental hazards, the camera doesn’t let you check over your shoulder easily, and you might just stumble into a fallen shelf or some books the way you might if you were actually fleeing a supernatural presence breathing over your shoulder and creating unnatural fire in a library. I’m eager to see what else Fear The Spotlight can do with its intelligent use of formerly “annoying” mechanics that are now being used smoothly to make the experience more involved and immersive.


Fear The Spotlight Is Going To Give Me Nightmares

A Horror Game Worth Checking Out Even For Those Afraid Of The Genre

Fear The Spotlight Fire

I’ll be the first to admit that my future playthrough of Fear The Spotlight is not a good idea for my sleep schedule that week. I really can’t get these types of games out of my head – even low-poly horror like old-school Silent Hill was brutal, so it’s unlikely Fear The Spotlight will have any less of an effect, provided it’s of a similar quality. But that’s the thing – I do believe it has the chance to be of a similar quality to those old-school greats, so it’s worth a shot, even for someone as terrified of the horror genre as I am.


Fear The Spotlight demonstrated a lot in the 25 minutes I had with it, but more than anything else, it was adept at building on what feels recognizable and twisting it subtly into something just unfamiliar enough it creates unease. The pacing seems excellent so far, the vibes are immaculate – minus the whole haunting element – and its retro aesthetic helps serve its scares rather than undermine them, creating some difficult to see scenes or images that make them feel unknown. I hate horror games, but I’m going to play Fear The Spotlight as soon as I’m able, and that’s as big a testament to its quality as I can provide as a genre novice.

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