Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Fears To Fathom Shows How Terrifying The Ordinary Can Be
Fears to Fathom is a five-part episodic horror, the first of which is called Home Alone. In this episode, you play as a young man who is, obviously, at home and alone. Waking up to your alarm clock at 8 pm you go about your daily activities; catching up on homework, watching TV, and eating probably 2kg of lasagne in seconds. But while you’re relaxing on this summer’s night and taking in about 3000 calories in four bites, danger lurks about.
Pacing is critical for all forms of horror. Keeping the audience in constant anticipation of whatever nightmare is to come is what makes a good horror story so suspenseful. The mind can only guess what is about to come, and for every second that something does not appear, the stress gets that much higher. Especially in a game without the paranormal.
The first episode of Fears to Fathom is only about 10-20 minutes long, and the majority of the game does not have anything overtly scary. You play a 14-year-old at home. And while the game is an exploration of the ordinary, knowing that something is coming without a doubt works to its benefit. The slow burn of Fears to Fathom will leave you on the metaphorical edge of your literal seat for the duration of the game.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
The game is a traditional walking simulator. Fears to Fathom has you doing a few simple tasks around the house. Putting food in the oven, getting some water in the middle of the night, stuff like that. There are a few instances where you can interact with the environment, check your text messages, and a bit of exploration of the house can be done as well. But beyond that, there’s not too much else.
Of course, the atmosphere of Fears to Fathom will keep you on edge. The evening lighting of the house puts everything in a dark tan color, and the PS2 visuals emphasize the reduced visibility. The pacing is excellent, leaving you with a feeling of deep dread and anticipation. But more so than that, the fact that Fears to Fathom takes place almost entirely within the world of the mundane is what makes the experience so great.
Fears to Fathom also has tremendous subtlety that keeps you scared. There’s nothing overtly scary about a man walking outside. Nor is walking around the house alone something that should scare you (unless you’re me until the age of like 17). But when you hear the muffled crash of a broken window or you see the feet walking upstairs out of the corner of your eye, then the blocks start to fall into place, and the terror sets in.
Spoilers ahoy. You have been warned. The choices you make in Fears to Fathom are not exactly difficult. There’s a prowler a-prowlin’ outside your home. You get the good ending if you hide and wait for the police, and the bad ending if you go outside to face down the stalker while armed with a half-full water bottle. On top of that, it is at some points pretty hard to see what’s going on. I recognize that that’s the point, but in some instances the low-light mixed with the dark tan filter, so I wouldn’t change it. But that may be a problem for some players.
How To Fix It:
Some more interesting choices would make the episode a bit more suspenseful. Perhaps allowing you to choose a response to your parent’s and friend’s texts could change the trajectory of how Fears to Fathom unfolds. As well as add to replayability, this makes the player have to take more thought as to what they will do to survive the night. More interactables in the environment would make the game feel more alive too. As the game is narrated, at one point the character states that they checked out their parents’ room. Having more like this would make the experience feel more flushed out.
A stalker in the night is much more terrifying than any goblin or ghoulie could ever be because it’s real. Fears to Fathom is not a game where the villain is supernatural (as far as we know; this is only the first episode). It’s one where they’re just a normal human like you and me (as far as you know; you’ve only read my editorials). The suspense you’ll feel just from walking around a normal house is a testament to how truly terrifying the mundane can be.
You can download Fears to Fathom for free on Steam by clicking here.