Crow Country: retro original PlayStation-era gameplay stylings meet modern horror

It’s no stretch to say that the original PlayStation is where the survival horror genre came into its own. Many players in the late 90s spent nights huddled in front of a CRT television, sweaty palms grasping a DualShock as their heart raced, dreading what might lurk in the next room. That nostalgic feeling is what small independent developer SFB Games aims to recreate with their original PlayStation-inspired horror adventure, Crow Country.

“Crow Country is a classic style survival horror, very much inspired by games from the PlayStation One era, which is our favorite or my favorite era of gaming,” says Adam Vian, the creative director, lead developer, and designer.

Closed for the season(s)

It’s 1990, and the Crow Country amusement park just outside Atlanta abruptly shuttered two years ago. The former owner, Edward Crow, has been missing all that time. Special agent Mara Forest visits the abandoned park to solve this mystery.

I asked Adam about the inspirations behind the game’s setting. “I’m a big urban exploring fan; I watch a lot of it online,” he says. “They’ve been to all kinds of amazing places, slightly beautiful, sad places that are empty but have left behind stories. It’s so fascinating. Crow Country is about the yearning to look behind the scenes at a theme park. Get off the rides and look behind the animatronics. Go in staff-only doors and look at their machines, the control panels, and all the stuff you’re not normally supposed to see in this amazing network of tunnels. And it’s quite creepy and dark because they’re not designed to be seen by the public. But they’re amazing.”

Everything old is new again

So, what about the original PlayStation era of survival horror inspired Adam to make a game in that vein? 

“I think it’s mostly about how sophisticated the graphics were,” he says. “It was complex enough to show human characters but not yet photorealistic. Once you go too far past that generation, you’re too close to photorealism for your imagination to need to do any work. Some things aren’t quite clear, you can use more stylization. And it’s more engaging for that reason. For horror, it’s all about leaving that gap of ‘I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at.’ And it’s scarier than if I was looking at a high-resolution image.”

Modern conveniences

SFB Games had to weigh whether modern gaming conveniences should be eschewed to get that retro feel down just right. 

“I would say the big one we have avoided is auto-saving checkpoints,” says Adam. “Almost everything you play now will auto-save and give you checkpoints. One of my favorite traditions in horror games is the save room. You can rest, reflect, and calm down for a moment while you save your game. The save room loses its power if you’re not threatened with losing progress. So you have to respect that old school system.”

“We’ve got both traditional and modern controls simultaneously, so you can use the D-pad for tank and the analog stick for modern. When I play, I will occasionally find myself touching the D-pad to rotate Mara a little bit or to make her move back a little bit — two things that you can’t necessarily do with modern controls. So, if you’re choosing to play tank, only you are making it slightly hard on yourself, and that’s fine. Maybe that’s the challenge you want.” 

Regarding challenges, I asked what sort of puzzles players can look forward to solving because one of the hallmarks of classic survival horror is (sometimes very out-of-place) puzzles. “I have tried quite a bit to tell a story with the world and the details, so a lot of it will line up with relevant story details.  I also wanted variety so every puzzle would be different. You’ve got a puzzle in the arcade where you play the arcade games, but the actual logic of why you need to play them is not so realistic. I also wanted some puzzles that were part of the horror, so a couple of the puzzles in Crow Country might make you uncomfortable and go, ‘This is horrible,’ or ‘I don’t want to touch that thing. I don’t wanna go near it.’” 

Surprises all around

What else in the game are the developers excited for the players to experience? For Adam, it’s the soundscape. 

“The soundtrack was composed by Ockeroid, who created the most beautiful [original PlayStation]-esque soundtrack. It’s beautiful, sometimes very horrible, and kind of moving and dark sometimes. There are also various upgrades, secret ammo, optional guns, and things you’d expect to see in a game like this. There’s a secret way to increase your running speed. There’s a secret way to make your med kits heal you more. But they’re quite hidden, so you’ve got to look hard for them.”

“Even if you’re not a diehard horror fan, you should check it out,” says Tom. “You could approach it in exploration mode, turning it into a spooky, tense puzzle game adventure. With no risk, just a thick, spooky atmosphere around you. I think you’ll find something to enjoy here.”

Players can look forward to experiencing the horror when Crow Country launches on PS5 & PS4 on May 9. 

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