Boreal Tales (opens in new tab) is a PS1-style surrealist horror adventure about a small working-class American town plagued by television static. The story follows several of the town's residents as the invisible force slowly seeps its way into the community, creating anger and sickness beneath its peaceful surface.
If you want a better grip of Boreal Tales' vibe, think the Twilight Zone fused with the body horror of a Cronenberg film. The story takes you through a string of eerie vignettes, letting you play a group of characters who show you different sides of the troubled town.
These stories are all interconnected through the main character, a teenager called Bree. She's trying to unravel where the static came from, and thinks it might be related to her sister, Sarah, who disappeared after starting a mysterious ritual involving television signals.
The PS1-visuals aren't just used for creepy effect, the aesthetic ties in with Boreal Tales' fascination for old technology. You'll be watching VHS tapes, listening to old recordings, and searching for symbols through the eyepiece of a camcorder. Boreal Tales has found an unusual intersection between technology and the supernatural and uses it for great effect. As you delve more into Sarah's disappearance, you find out that she's been dabbling in 'static scrying' and 'tvmancy', trying to understand the hidden meanings in the signals.
Even with its low-poly visuals, Boreal Tales doesn't shy away from some gruesome horror. If the original Silent Hill and Resident Evil games have taught us anything, it's that graphics come second to atmosphere in horror. There are disembodied heads, bloated corpses, and contorted bodies throughout Boreal Tales. They all talk to you about the town's sickness, adding more mythos to this benevolent force.
I love Boreal Tales' twisted dream-logic and unnerving dread, but what really gives it depth is the element of realism to the horror. A large number of the community relies on working at a mill that deals with toxic chemicals. Even after complaints of strange dreams and mysterious murders, the mill's higher-ups turn a blind eye to the dangerous working conditions, seeing the community as a faceless, malleable workforce.
As you delve further into different dream-worlds, the secrets of the mill become shockingly clear. In one moment of horror, a character with a deformed face and elongated neck tells you, 'that factory squeezed me, it stretched me.' Even with its surreal sequences and dreamlike visuals, Boreal Tales' horror is grounded in real working-class struggles. It tells the story of a group of people facing something they have no power to fight against, supernatural or otherwise.
Boreal Tales is available on both itch.io and Steam for $3/£2, which is a steal if you love retro-horror games with an interesting twist. When I first played, there were some hiccups using the game's save slots, but a patch has been released recently that should have fixed it.