T’was the night(s) before Christmas and all through the App Store, not a creature was moving except… wait, was that? I thought I was alone in here!
Welcome to the world of Dark Fear, a retro-styled pixel horror game that’s creepy and creative enough to keep you tingling throughout the holiday season.
There’s a reason it’s so damn scary: Dark Fear was created by Arif Majothi, a 38-year-old game developer who got his start working on horror movies. He combined his mastery of the horror genre with his love of classic ’80s and ’90s Sierra games like Phantasmagoria (it even starts with an MS-DOS-style floppy disk prompt).
The resulting title pays homage to the past, while being spooky enough to scare the bejesus out of you in the closing days of 2015. What more could you ask for?
“I started out as a CGI artist, using computers to create special effects,” Majothi says. “I did that for many years, mainly on low budget movies. I’d also done a bit of screenwriting, so a lot of what you see with Dark Fear comes out of my film experience.”
From the aforementioned floppy disk reference to its nods to 1990s horror fare like The Silence of the Lambs, Dark Fear wears its influences on its sleeve. It’s clearly a work of passion for its creator, who worked on the game for more than one year — doing virtually everything himself.
“I did the coding, the graphics, the story, the sound, everything,” he says. “The only thing I outsourced was the music, which was licensed because I wanted it to be of a high quality.”
The end result is one of the creepiest games I’ve played on iOS in 2015: a soothing tonic for anyone who’s getting a bit fed up of the festive good cheer that proliferates this time of year, and simply wants to be scared out of their wits.
Dark Fear opens with a character waking up in an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere, with no memory of how he got there. The only clue is an aged photo on the wall, depicting a creepy old man.
Things only get scarier from there.
The gameplay is pretty darn great — with an adventure game format, combined with RPG elements, such as turn-based battles with everything from more “earthbound” foes like coyotes to supernatural creatures such as “tree demons.”
“I knew that there was an audience who grew up on this kind of thing that would immediately respond to what I was trying to do,” Majothi continues. “But I’ve been surprised at the fact that younger gamers react to it, too. Pixel art has made a real comeback, because it’s got such a charm to it. It’s cool again.”
For whatever reason, Dark Fear seems to have struck a chord with gamers, and downloads are already off to a strong start.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned with this was to start your marketing from the moment you begin your game,” Majothi says, when I ask him if he’s got any words of wisdom to impart to would-be developers.
“I used to be very, very paranoid about people stealing my ideas. I worried that if I put out the idea one year before the game was finished, someone would just come along and steal it. The truth is that nobody does that. People have ideas of their own, they don’t need to steal your one. The advantage of putting out the idea as soon as possible is that it builds up interest.”
Has there been enough interest to warrant a sequel? “I hope so,” he says. “There are still plenty of things I would like to do if I get the chance. I’d like to make [a sequel] bigger, better, and hopefully even more terrifying.”
Given the quality of Dark Fear, if this turned out to be Arif Majothi’s one and only sojourn into game development, that would be the scariest thing of all.
You can download Dark Fear for $2.99 from the App Store.