‘Fibrillation’ Review – Filters, Lights And Staircases. Not Your Typical Horror
Thud, Thud, Thud, Thud, eyes open to only be dazzled by an ungodly white light, nothing seems real, all that can be felt is this thumping within the chest. Thud, Thud, Slowly your eyes start to bring into focus a ruined tower over in the distance, as you slowly pull yourself up and move towards the ruins it begins to reform, slowly, recreating itself like a puzzle. As you reach this intricate tower you peer into the abyss which lies within, thud, thud you cross the threshold, and into another dimension…..
This sums up the opening scene from Fibrillation a psychological horror from the indie development company Mechanical Starling. Fibrillation goes down the now common route of horror games by not giving the player any weapons or anyway to offer comfort from the many toils they will come into contact with throughout the game creating a very exposed feeling. In Fibrillation you play as Ewan and you awake in this strange ever-changing place, this is the entire premise however as the game develops you start to piece together the picture.
Fibrillation plays heavily on the atmosphere that is created in this surreal first person horror. Like many horrors the atmosphere generated really plays a huge part in the overall gameplay and is the pivotal point of the game and Fibrillation does not disappoint on this count. You are constantly on edge wandering around this industrial jungle stretching several different areas ever-changing and warping in unprecedented manners creating a very interesting and unique feel to the game.
Fibrillation of course plays with lighting and setting very deeply creating very eerie overtones as you start to explore the dark dank corners of this heavy industrial setting. The filters used in-game really add a lot to the game creating some great visuals that play into the overall theme very well. Fibrillation does have many moments where you can indeed feel your own heart starting to beat as your hands begin to sweat and your psychological state slowly declines, as the game presents you with ever more bizarre environments and apparitions.
It is always difficult to review horror titles without giving the whole game away as often they hinge on players not knowing what is coming next, I will do my best in keeping as many of the surprises as possible but proceed with caution.
I feel that the overall setting and feel for the game does play into the horror genre greatly hitting most of the marks you would expect from a typical horror game. The use of the heartbeat growing in-game as you use more stamina is a great idea and really does work well to emphasize the horror side, however I would’ve like to see the heartbeat more rapidly to tie into events in the game more, which I don’t think it did. The use of sound overall I found to work very well and thus all funneled into the horror side to this game though Fibrillation is more than just a standup horror.
Mechanical Starling decided to weave a very interesting (although very predictable) narrative into Fibrillation really transcending this title above the horror genre and started to put its roots more in a thriller title instead. The more I played Fibrillation the more I moved my original ideas away from horror and much closer to thriller, not that this is a bad thing at all because it pulls it off very well and provides a highly engaging experience.
Fibrillation is a very short title with my completion time averaging 35 minutes, although if it is your first time playing through it will likely be closer to 1 hours in gameplay due to some of the puzzling settings. The game is full of minor puzzles that largely come about as you are not instructed on what you have to do with several areas being quite open, often resulting in you taking a frustratingly long time to figure the area out, especially with all the eerie sounds you can hear around the levels.
The game time is very short and can be argued that the only reason the game even lasts this long is because of the rather slow and methodical pace Ewan moves at. Fibrillation is however difficult to criticise too heavily as Mechanical Starling did this game with minimal people on a budget of only $180 and the game itself largely feels very high in quality with the scenes and the overall feel for the game. I feel if this title had a bigger budget there would be much more that they could have done with it, however the overall length itself feels appropriate and does not drag on keeping you enthralled until the very end.
For all the good there is always going to be some bad points to be made about any game and Fibrillation i feel has some very weak areas in its overall great game design. Probably the biggest problem for me with Fibrillation is the voice over of the main character Ewan, I understand this game is from a Russian team so getting english voice acting can be an issue in small titles from foreign companies. This said I would’ve preferred a bit more time invested into the voice acting because as it stands it only serves to detract from the gameplay, with the far too formal expressions used that are not commonly expressed in spoken English and really pull you out of the game setting. The voice also does not ever change its consistently very collected responses even to some of the most strange points in the game, I feel it would’ve even been better to just subtitle it and leave him as a voiceless entity then the overall result.
There is a mechanic that has been put into Fibrillation which is on a left click of the mouse you can choose to close your eyes, this is a novel idea for a horror game however within the gameplay and the mechanics used this is also not useful at all to any of the scenarios. It feels that the developers just decided to throw this idea in afterwards because it would make for a nice gimmick and don’t get me wrong it does, it just serves no use in Fibrillation as it stands. I do however like the way the game will close your eyes for you from time to time as Ewan blinks adding a very interesting feel, hinting that the left click use of closing the eyes would have added an interesting feature if used.
I don’t like to complain too heavily about a small game made for next to nothing and sells for the nominal fee of $1.95, however an awful lot of the gameplay seems to take place on staircases especially in the latter part of the game. The character Ewan even remarks on this at some point in the game and I am very inclined to feel that Fibrillation seems to want to be a staircase simulator at times which often gets a little frustrating.
The final point I would like to go into in such a negative fashion is that of the replayability of this game. It is true generally horror games have little replayability however even games like Amnesia can be replayed to an extent due to enemy patterns and the unpredictability of their movements. Sadly Fibrillation does offer no replayability as the gameplay focuses around only one gimmick which by the end of the game you should realise and thus any future playthroughs would just result in being bored throughout the game. Though for such a small fee it is definitely worthwhile getting even if it is just for the one playthrough.
After playing Fibrillation the game felt very different to how I had originally envisaged it to play out and I am sure many others would also agree with me on this, it is not your typical horror title. This is a good thing because (especially around this time of year) horror games are going to be released left right and centre. The developers seem to call it a “philosophical horror” and I can mostly get on board with this as it is really not your typical horror game but the level of philosophy is still debatable within the game setting. I still like to view it more as a thriller title than horror but this is only after completing the game when everything has been revealed.
So should Fibrillation be classed as a horror game? That is a difficult question and i think it can be answered with a yes as it does invoke a great deal of fear into you as you play, I often found myself just forcibly pushing the “w” key as if I took my finger off I would not be so inclined to put it back on. It is a great showcase of a game from a very talented studio who obviously take a different standpoint on games to the convention. Fibrillation sets itself up to be an Amnesia styled game but the gameplay itself is something much more than just another Amnesia clone and does feel vastly different. I really look forward to Mechanical Starlings future releases as if they build on this model they will no doubt be great successes.
Fibrillation is a game for all fans of horror games along with people who are interested in the quirky and slight unconventional titles. Although it does have a lot of draw backs what it does do, it does very well and feels to me to be a showcase title for Mechanical Starling as a company. Hopefully their future endeavours will be fully fledged titles containing much of the new ideas in Fibrillation. Fibrillation can be purchased via the developers site here or on Desura here and is well worth your time and money.