Incident at Grove Lake Channels the Sci-Fi Horror of the 90s

The truth is out there.

I want to believe.

They took Him

I told you chuckleheads that story was never gonna work.

Four phrases from two of the most significant alien abduction media of the 90s. The X-Files and Fire in the Sky. Both dealt with the terrors of the unknown, both examined proof of extraterrestrial life and the doubt pushed on that. And both feature Robert Patrick at some point. Fire in the Sky had the hunkier version though to be fair. 

Anyway, for a young sci-fi horror aficionado, as I was, this was exactly the representation I needed. I was basically studying myths, monsters, and alien sightings. I probably should have been studying math, but there are only 25 hours in a day. No, I wanted to know more about Bigfoot, Grays, the Loch Ness monster, and ghosts. Worked out I suppose.

There are surprisingly few examples of alien encounter horror games out there. Not to say there are none, but considering how cool a hook that could be, it’s far rarer than it should be. Yet in June of 2023, we get two whole alien encounter horror games. One that gained a lot more pre-release was the Greyhill Incident and the other is a humbler affair by the name of Incident at Grove Lake. So not only two of these kinds of games, but both are ‘incidents’. Odd.

The signs don’t look good for The Greyhill Incident, but Incident at Grove Lake? That’s one of my favorite games of 2023. It’s just 20 minutes long, pretty simplistic as games go, and yes, it’s another PSX horror (and who cares, it’s the gift that keeps on giving in my opinion). Yet its developer Dan McGrath shapes a concrete world in that time. Unsurprising if you’ve played his excellent 2022 found footage horror Our Lady of Sorrow. Incident at Grove Lake takes everything learned from that previous effort and adds a whole other layer on top of it.

Our Lady of Sorrow was entirely a found footage game and a bloody good one at that. Incident at Grove Lake uses found footage as a plot device in a conspiracy-laden story. The player is a private investigator in 1997, approached by a worker at Area 51 who has hard evidence of alien life in the form of recovered footage of an alien encounter. Instead of just viewing everything from a first-person perspective, Incident at Grove Lake takes a more cinematic approach to the non-found footage scenes that elevates the paranoia of conspiracy exquisitely. I see the non-found footage section acting as a hub world, with a lot of the legwork being done in that section to sell the idea of the alien encounter you play through.

There are two great moments that sell it best. The diner scene where your investigator meets his source, who is naturally quite twitchy. After the exchange is made, the camera cuts to a waiting car outside, its occupants keenly interested in the goings on in the diner. The other comes to the investigator’s apartment before watching the tape he has been handed.

Now I fully expected to walk straight over to the VCR and pop this tape in to play through the encounter, but when I heard the radio I stopped in my tracks. A talk show was playing and the theme was of course conspiracy. The back and forth between host and caller is unnervingly natural and I was just standing in that apartment, full of investigative materials, listening attentively to a radio show. Fantastic atmosphere building and ever-so-slightly nostalgic for me.

I did eventually watch the footage though. The government warnings start it off before finding myself behind the camera of someone in a forest. A few cuts show the passage of time, and a brief view of the video’s owner is shown as they sit by the campfire. Then the lights and noises begin.

The person stumbles through the forest bathed in a brilliant light from above and a booming hornlike call. More cuts and distortion follow as the light drags our poor protagonist upward. The footage resumes aboard a meaty-looking alien ship and there’s some exploration of the winding sinewy walkways. Bodies are staked around the cavernous area, serving as an ominous warning of what lies in store. By the end, we see the person dragged to a room by aliens and the camera sits, still recording, as they are subjected to experimentation. It’s a scene reminiscent of those infamous ones from Fire in the Sky and does well to serve up a slice of horror alongside the paranoia and conspiracy. The tape ends with the camera clearly dropped back into the forest, broken, but functional.

With the tape watched, the fate of the investigator has decided shortly after, and the game closes on what is supposed to be an actual phone call to a conspiracy radio show. The caller is clearly distressed and repeatedly states they don’t have much time. It’s the perfect microcosm for exploring what lies beyond us. You want to believe, but doubt will always linger, no matter how frighteningly convincing the argument might be.

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