Shiver Review
Shiver Review
Shiver could have used more: more narrative development, more attention to themes, more gameplay, more cohesion. But the developers at Kowai Sugoi Studios show promise, and I think they will deliver more in future endeavors.
Posted: 10/30/17 | Category: Review | Developer: Kowai Sugoi Studios | Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac

Genre: Point-and-Click Horror Adventure
Release date: October 25, 2017

October seems to demand a slate of new horror titles in time for Halloween, and I suspect Kowai Sugoi Studios had this in mind when they released Shiver, their first commercial title. Known for a free pixelated point-and-click horror game called Cozy , the two-man team has transposed some of the tropes from their first title (the sinister danger of being stuck in the snow; the interior of a car with a pine tree air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror) into a new game with fully painted scenes and a longer playtime. The result is well-constructed but sparse, focusing on atmosphere but failing to deliver much of substance in story or scares.

The premise: your character (whose gender is arbitrarily unclear until the end of the game) is driving through the snow at night to visit (spoiler alert) his father in a retirement home. This being a horror game, a dark shape appears suddenly in the road, causing your car to swerve and crash through a guardrail. You’ve got to seek shelter from the storm, which will mean exploring Windy Oaks National Park to find help. The facilities you search seem abandoned, but the echoes in the night and the shadows flickering at the edges of your periphery suggest otherwise.

I was quickly plagued by questions, but not the mysterious kind. Why didn’t the character seem to need any medical care for his broken arm, and why didn’t it hamper his ability to climb up tunnels at all? Who resigns from a job by leaving a note in a mine shaft? What was the purpose of the yonic tree in the woods? These questions distracted from the game, but were quickly usurped by bigger ones.

As with any spooky place, the national park is connected to a dark inciting incident. In this case, that genesis point is a sinkhole that opened deep in a mineshaft, killing dozens of miners. Now we’re being harassed by a humanoid creature who’s got something against us.

How the accidental deaths of dozens of miners could result in a single deformed creature with a vengeance against what? — people who visit their aging parents in retirement homes? — is beyond me. There’s an attempt to combine sinister elements together to form a lengthened gameplay experience, but these pieces aren’t actually connected. There’s no thematic tether between the character’s actions and the history of the haunted place he finds himself in. The greatest cautionary message that could be pulled from this game is the danger of driving in slick conditions while listening to a cassette tape. There’s no moral value to ascribe to a natural disaster such as this sinkhole, even if it killed people. 

Memorable horror plays on our fears and our guilt, creating dread through careful pacing and a deadly understanding of human nature. This is difficult to capture in games, where the experience can’t be perfectly controlled. It’s hard to build a sense of mounting dread without heavily scripting the player’s movements, so video games often rely on jump scares to induce shock. Shiver (like its predecessor, Cozy) relies on sudden noises and visuals to make the player jump, but being startled isn’t the same as being scared. There is a contingent of gamers who enjoy the jump-scare niche (the expansive Five Nights at Freddy’s universe proves this), but even calculated startles are more effective when backed up by a cohesive narrative arc.

Despite flimsy plot and horror elements, the game’s design is clean and intuitive. The opening scene, set in a car, demonstrates the controls unobtrusively and introduces a clever hint-giving mechanic: smoke a cigarette and the protagonist will helpfully muse upon his current goal to help you stay on track. Puzzles stem naturally from the character’s need to find rescue, and the solutions feel earned and believable. The developers made an especially smart design choice later in the game, when the protagonist finds himself wandering through a maze of tunnels searching for an exit. The first time you’re exploring the tunnels, you have to find the correct route, but on subsequent trips back and forth, your character bypasses these tunnels now that their narrative purpose has passed. A less considerate developer would have allowed players to waste half an hour searching every dead end of every tunnel for an exit rather than helping them to focus on the relevant scenes for a solution. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that this game is short. It took me 46 minutes when playing at a leisurely pace, and the $4.99 price tag might seem steep if you’re expecting something expansive.

Shiver could have used more: more narrative development, more attention to themes, more gameplay, more cohesion. But the developers at Kowai Sugoi Studios show promise, and I think they will deliver more in future endeavors. There are fewer developers than I would like to admit who respect a player’s time and attention – that’s the really scary thing.

 
Puzzles are straightforward and serve the story
+ Design is clean and intuitive
+ Attempts at creating a specific mood and tone
 
Story is underdeveloped and doesn’t fully support the atmosphere
Horror atmosphere is more startling than scary 
Less than an hour of gameplay for $5 may disappoint some gamers 
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Trailer:
 

System Requirements

MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows XP SP2+
Memory: 500 MB RAM
DirectX: Version 9.0
Storage: 800 MB available space
  
MINIMUM Mac:
OS: Mac OS X 10.9+ 
Memory: 500 MB RAM
DirectX: Version 9.0
Storage: 800 MB available space
  
MINIMUM SteamOS + Linux:
OS: Ubuntu 12.04+ or SteamOS+
Memory: 500 MB RAM
Storage: 800 MB available space
 
Specials from Digital Download
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