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You Need to Play the Most Unnerving Horror Game of the Year ASAP

The feels-bad-man game of the year.

Life Eater
Strange Scaffold

It’s a tall order you’ve been given by your god Zimforth: abduct and eliminate innocents to prevent the world from ending. But someone has to do it.

That’s the premise behind Life Eater, the “kidnapping simulator” released on Steam from indie studio Strange Scaffold, the developer behind 2023’s El Paso, Elsewhere. It’s a bizarre minimalistic horror experience that’s as fascinating as it is horrifying. Life Eater is easily the most unique horror game of the year and one that fans of the genre will want to experience themselves.

Life Eater plays out across a number of years, that are each their own level. Minimalist is the best way to describe this game, and that’s entirely intentional. Levels are set up through a grid of surveillance, where you need to investigate your target’s daily schedules to learn more about them, and make sure you have the right person. Each slot on the grid is a different activity, and you need to investigate as many as possible. The catch is that you have to choose the right way to investigate each one, and the various ways burn up different amounts of time and can raise suspicion if you don’t choose the right one.

Life Eater’s gameplay makes your horrific actions feel surprisingly monotonous, intentionally.

Strange Scaffold

The deliberately drab interface is meant to completely detach you from the horrific act that you’re about to commit, and it feels entirely intentional. There’s an elegant form of strategy that emerges from these levels, as each grid you investigate costs you time, increases the target’s suspicion and adds to an overall knowledge meter. Once that meter hits a certain threshold you can abduct your target.

What’s fascinating about Life Eater is how it teaches you about the people you are eliminating, while obfuscating enough vital information to keep you detached. For example, you might learn one person is mourning a loss and would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, and the lack of interaction they had with others suggested they lived completely alone.

Of course, levels grow in complexity alongside the requests from your god, which become more demanding. One year he might want a single person, but it needs to be someone without friends. This means you have to investigate in different ways and learn how to budget your time.

The ritual at the end of each year requires you to carefully keep track of each target in excruciating detail.

Strange Scaffold

The extra wrinkle here comes after you’ve abducted your target, as you need to perform a ritual in order to see the whole act through. You extract different organs and body parts based on specific info, such as removing a specific rib if the target has children. This means you need to catalog and remember important details from your investigation. It’s methodical and almost monotonous.

Those gameplay elements are juxtaposed against the main story, which is doled out through cutscenes at the end of each level. It’s a stark reminder that the character you’re playing as is just as isolated and lonely as the people you’re watching. This difference between gameplay and story creates tonal whiplash, drawing you in with its simplistic gameplay before reminding you what your actions are actually causing. It’s a fascinating back-and-forth.

Life Eater’s story is bleak and oppressive, only heightened by its gameplay formula.

Strange Scaffold

The only real problem that crops up with Life Eater is it all feels a little too short, like the idea could have been pushed even further before it ends. But the $15 price point does help assuage any issues of how short the game feels.

Life Eater isn’t a game that’s going to make you feel good, its horror feels grotesquely personal and unnerving, but that’s exactly what makes the game so gripping. It’s another entirely unique experience from a studio that’s built its reputation on doing just that, and Life Eater is a brilliant use of minimalistic horror that’ll leave an impression long after you’re done.

Life Eater is available on PC.

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