This creepy game is a picture-perfect throwback to PS1 horror

Mara walks through an amusement park in Crow Country.
SFB Games

Have you ever found yourself thinking that old video games used to be scarier?

I know I’m in that boat. Nothing creeps me out more than the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill 2. Some newer games might hit me with some extra jump scares, but many titles that really stick in my mind tend to be from older eras. There’s one obvious reason for that: I was younger and dumber then. But that only tells half the story. There’s something undeniably creepy about 1990s horror games made before the days of photorealism. It’s hard to put a severed finger on it, but a new indie game might help.

Crow Country, a new release from Tangle Tower developer SFB Games, is a retro horror game that looks like it was pulled from, the PlayStation 1’s library. It pays homage to classics like Silent Hill, putting players through a claustrophobic puzzle box filled with shambling monsters. In creating such a faithful ode, SFB Games gets to the heart of what made old horror games feel so scary, even if they look so goofy now.

Creeping dread

In Crow Country, players take on the role of Mara Forest, a detective who is called to an abandoned amusement park in search of a missing person. She’s quickly roped into a mystery about the park’s owner and the nefarious things he was doing there. Its a riff on Resident Evil‘s Spencer Mansion plot, but with more animatronic crows. It’s an intentionally stock story, but it works as a light callback.

After a bit of exploration, a familiar gameplay loop presents itself. I have to find keys and solve puzzles to open the park and get to the secret at its heart. When I get a bronze key, I know exactly which doors to use it on. One puzzle room tells me I need to put an egg-shaped object in a hole to operate a mechanical swan. When I do that, I find another item that leads me to my next puzzle. It’s elegant and uncomplicated puzzle box gameplay. The park itself is small and nothing’s too obtuse. The whole adventure only takes a few hours to zip through, ensuring it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Mara interacts with a puzzle in Crow Country.
SFB Games

There are monsters to shoot along the way, of course. It doesn’t take long before the park fills up with zombies, slithering blobs, and hulking flesh beasts. To attack them, I press a button to lock my character in place and then free aim from there to shoot them. Headshots do more damage, naturally, but shots also do more damage the closer Mara is to a monster. That adds a bit of extra tension, as it pays to put myself in danger. Granted, combat is mostly optional. In most cases, its easy to weave around creatures and not engage in battle at all. That’s an intentional choice, as Crow Country wants players to make choices about how they conserve ammo, but it does make action feel inconsequential at times.

Though there are some quirks to pick at, Crow Country makes its biggest impact as a nostalgic tone piece. The most striking thing about it is its low polygon art style. It looks exactly like an old PS1 game, with jagged lines and rough edges that make it look like it’s being played on a cathode-ray tube TV. Its somewhere between Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, with more color and rounded objects than you’d usually find in a horror game. It looks fantastic, and SFB Games modernizes the controls around it to make sure that style doesn’t come with the gameplay frustrations of the earlier era.

Mara shoots a monster in Crow Country.
SFB Games

That visual style isn’t just for show. Crow Country is totally unnerving in the same way that the games it calls back to still are. That’s most apparent in its monsters. Its “zombies” aren’t really identifiable as infected humans. They’re a messy collection of red polygons that erratically jerk around the screen. Its hard to tell what exactly they are — and that’s what makes them scary. How can I know where to shoot when I can’t event make out their limbs?

That’s the kind of thing that I still love about Silent Hill 2, one of my all-time favorite horror games. Every creature feels like an unnatural abomination. I fear what I can’t understand. We’ve lost that experience in gaming’s hunt for photorealism, but Crow Country serves as a great reminder that the bumps of old games aren’t mistakes meant to be smoothed over. The warts are what makes them scary.

Crow Country launches on May 9 for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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