Silhouette: a free hunter vs. hunted horror game that will make you panic
Silhouette by Manikin Games is all black-and-white and French film-looking, but it’s no noir. It's a free little indie game for PC and Mac that is more likely to make you hit the person sitting next to you in belligerent yelps than scare you pantsless, and I imagine it’s perfect for couples, though that remains untested by this author (I am married to the work). This is top-down turn-based slasher-fiction, a one stop stab shop with some health syringes and a key thrown in. One person plays the ‘victim’ and one person plays the ‘killer’. The victim tries to escape the house, whilst a villain I have dubbed ‘Stabby Stabberson’ is just meant to kill the victim to death. It is very simple; one person is a defenceless, bumbling idiot, one person is... well... just a dick.
"The ingenious part of Silhouette is how it creates panic."
In order to get out of the creepy mansion the victim always seems to be stuck in (there are multiple maps), the victim must pick up a key and find the door to the outside world, whilst the killer just has to stab the victim to death before they escape. The victim can pick up health to patch up those pesky stab wounds, using WASD to move and R to heal, and left shift to sprint. Hold sprint, and the victim can run past the killer. The killer has the arrow keys and Alt to stab, with a special lunge move if you hold the attack button.
The ingenious part of Silhouette is how it creates panic. The environment is made of dark shadows, the camera hovers just above your character, close enough to feel claustrophobic. You must navigate by the shape of the corridors, bumping into tables, getting stuck on corners, going into dead ends. The victim has no idea where the exit or the key is, and both players have little idea where the other is until they recognise a significant landmark or, in a moment of dread, locate each other.
Silhouette's turn-based system stretches out that tension beautifully. The timer starts at about six seconds, counting down with heartbeats until the switch of control, and the victim moves first. The timer switches control at the same speed until the players see each other, then the heartbeat increases and the time you have to make your move decreases, switching more rapidly and more rapidly between the two players until you are in an uncontrollable tizzy, pushing your partner off their seat, clamouring for the keyboard screaming MURDER. MURDER!
The wonderfully crafted sound design on this game really makes this. The slow rhythmic beat of a heart is in your ears; when the killer spots the victim a sudden shudder of sound indicates you have been spotted. The heart beats faster still, and the time between turn shrinks, until it’s just you both madly scrabbling on your keyboard, the victim bleeding all over the place and knocking over tables.
"A sudden shudder of sound indicates you have been spotted. "
Something rarely touched on in game criticism is that games have pacing, just like in film. It’s much harder to pull off good pacing in games - the creative process involves less editing-room hair-pulls and more painstaking code tweaks that can break the whole piece of work. But every good game has great pacing, and this is a mini-study in how, when your players press buttons, you can press their buttons back.
Silhouette is a tense thriller of a game that doesn’t really get old thanks to the really varied maps and the ability to swap from victim to killer. Though initially playing as victim seems somewhat unfair, as you become used to the controls, the timed system and the maps themselves, it gets a little easier until the victim and killer are better matched. Free and finely crafted, I’d recommend that couples, siblings, and perhaps even games journalists have a go. It’s not very difficult to get to grips with, is what I’m saying. You can play it here.