Where the best horror games trade on creeping dread and genuine jump scares, multiplayer horror games often veer toward the comical. They reveal our actual shamefully limited capacity to step into a survivor's bloodied shoes and face a creature from the darkest depths of the human imagination. Scroll through viral videos of Dead by Daylight, Demonologist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Outlast Trials, and you'll find players throwing their friends to the wolves, cries of joy harmonizing with shrieks of rage.
Whereas those games play it as straight as possible, Macabre is a new multiplayer stealth horror from Sydney-based Weforge Studio that leans into the bleakness of a survivor's situation. The narrator in Macabre's reveal trailer has a sardonic air as they introduce us to a lightning-fast monster that impales humans as we might assemble BBQ skewers.
Macabre hopes to strike its own path in survival horror by refusing to hold your hand and instead giving you the space to abandon and betray your friends.
The trailer that premiered in today's PC Gaming Show showed four players hiking the snowy mountains of New South Wales. They’re congregating around what looks like an alien structure, waving their phones in the air for a signal when a stick snaps and alerts them to an emaciated, pale monster eyeing them from the shadows. If this were a Ubisoft-style E3 reveal, with faux live headset chatter, this is the moment someone would have chimed "nope".
The hikers are trapped in the Rift, a semi-multidimensional knot of timelines. Like Theseus in a fourth-dimensional labyrinth, they must find the thread back to their timeline to escape and return home. Unfortunately, the Rift is home to its own minotaur, these... things.
"Crossing into a Rift is a one-way ticket, with many people who have ventured into its depths never returning, likely lost somewhere within the infinite timelines or, well, consumed," Macabre's creative director Jay Topping tells me.
Macabre's trailer also reveals your Ariadne. Though, rather than a princess leading you out of the labyrinth, it's a crusty old man called Banjo. He’s an eccentric lone ranger who inevitably knows more than he's letting on.
"Banjo is certainly unhinged," Topping says. "He encapsulates the inner conflict that permeates throughout the game. It's deliberately ambiguous whether he is there to help the player or not, yet he's kind of the only hope they have in this challenging situation."
While Macabre has jokes, Banjo isn't a vessel for one-liners while players recuperate and restock at the Ecolodge safe haven; he has an agenda borne from a life stuck in this place between worlds. "[He's] been trapped in a Rift filled with monsters and death. One can imagine that he has grown numb to the horrors he has witnessed," Topping says. "Using humor as a coping mechanism, he navigates the darkness with a twisted outlook on his world."
From the Ecolodge, you can strike out into the wilderness to look for weapons, artifacts, and gear that will help you solve puzzles and open up new areas. However, if you die on an adventure, you'll lose all the items you’re carrying and revive empty-pocketed back at home base.
Each time you explore, your adventure randomly generates elements—maps, objectives, and puzzles all shift and change. The map will scale depending on the number of people in your squad, avoiding stretching the suspense out over unnecessary distances, and modular map additions allow for diverse and unpredictable matches with new locations to discover.
Banjo gives you an Atomic Space Shifter, a device to transport your team out of harm's way and back to the Ecolodge. You can also use it to detect anomalies—portals to hidden locations or sites where important objects are "bleeding" into the current timeline. Perhaps most importantly, you can use the device to revive fallen teammates.
While you do find weapons, Topping is clear that "Macabre is not primarily an action horror game. It's highly unlikely that players will have access to weaponry to defeat the monsters outright. Instead, players will need to rely on their strategic thinking and resourcefulness to outsmart the monsters. Perfectly-timed distractions, stuns, or sacrifices may be necessary to navigate encounters with the creatures."
Alien Isolation was a major inspiration for the artificial intelligence driving the monsters, as well as examples from the natural world such as cheetahs and spiders that constantly change their hunting strategy for the prey they’re stalking. Like Alien Isolation’s Xenomorph, Macabre's creatures learn to track and predict your survival strategy, blocking the path to your favorite hidey-hole. "Our goal is to make our monsters feel smart and alive, not just mindless killing machines," Topping says.
"When players encounter the monster for the first time, it assesses their presence, determining whether they are a threat or potential prey," Topping says. "As the monster becomes more familiar with the player's actions, it adjusts its behavior accordingly. It may become more aggressive, testing the player's resilience and adaptability. This adaptive nature adds depth to the gameplay experience, as the player's choices and responses can deter or provoke the monster further."
In Alien Isolation, you face the monster alone but don't think having friends along for the ride will make things easier in Macabre. "Players won't necessarily be directly rewarded for working together, and this intentional design choice contributes to the conflict we aim to create," Topping says. You have to share what you find in your excursions into the Rift, so if you want to get some good loot for yourself, it can be beneficial to explore alone or leave your friends rather than risk losing the artifacts you’ve found.
Aside from the science fiction time knot setting, Macabre will also showcase a side of Australia you may not have seen before. The landscape is inspired by the snowy mountains in New South Wales, Topping says. "It's a stunning and unique region where vast twisted eucalypt forests are often blanketed in snow during the winter," Topping says. "The combination of the picturesque landscapes and the remote, eerie atmosphere is almost like a winter wonderland version of Wolf Creek."
While Weforge Studios isn't ready to talk about Macabre's release date, the team is working on a demo that will let us dive into the snowy mountains of New South Wales and experience the thrill of abandoning our friends to be shish kabob'd like a mouse in the path of an scorpion.