Interference: Dead Air Explores the Horrors of Helplessness
Interference: Dead Air is a horror game, but one where you’ll never see any frightening creatures. As a security guard working in a booth outside, you’re far away from the action. So, how can the game be scary? By making you care about someone inside the building that you’ll need to help escape with very limited tools.
You haven’t been working here for very long. Just the same, a few months as a security guard is enough. The hours of nothing have worn you down. That’s the nature of the job, though. Most of your time as a security guard involves keeping an eye on absolutely nothing. You watch monitors with nothing happening. Take walks down empty halls. Listen to the exact same silence for hour on end. Boredom and nothingness are your biggest foes.
Your security booth is built around this. You have a few monitors and a radio to keep an eye on. Besides that, Interference: Dead Air gives you some notes to flick through. You can watch some public domain movies on your tv. There’s a small basketball hoop you can take shots at. You have a radio and some tapes you can play around with. You have a handful of things you can do to stave off the boredom during those empty moments where nothing is happening. However, SOMETHING is going down tonight.
You have a friend inside the facility. Valerie periodically calls you to talk. You’re old friends, but she is pretty upset that you’ve decided to quit. Clearly, she’s never worked security before. Anyway, she is your line on the inside, and a source of information on what’s going on as your quiet night turns into something chilling. She’ll be the one to tell you that there’s cultists running around the building. That they’ve let an alien out that feeds on energy. She’s the person you’ll have to help to escape.
How do you assist her throughout Interference: Dead Air? Valerie is a bit lost in all the mayhem of the alien escape and the rampaging cultists. She needs your guidance on how to get out. To do this, you have to lead her from room to room using a map on your wall and a couple of push pins. That’s all you get. Valerie will tell you bits of information on where she is at points, but for the most part, you need to find her exact position and carefully track it yourself.
If you make a single mistake, it’s very easy to lose track of her. She’ll stick to using the rooms (so she stays out of sight) and you can use that to help you. If she doesn’t see a door in the direction you tell her to go, you can use that to triangulate where you went wrong with the map. If you’re not very careful, though, you’ll send her straight to her death.
As for the alien, you’ll know where it’s moving by keeping an eye on the power. Interference: Dead Air provides you with a computer that shows the various sectors and the state of their energy consumption. If they’re online, the alien will avoid those places. Full power seems to overload the creature and make it run away. So, you can watch sectors that are offline to tell you where the alien is currently at. You can also turn the breakers back on to chase the alien away. However, you need to make a quick phone call, wait for a security code, and then punch it into the computer to do this.
These two mechanics bring great tension to the experience. You have to carefully listen to what Valerie is saying through her radio in order to know where she’s at. While tracking this, you’ll also need to keep an eye on the power grid on the computer in case the lights turn off in her current location. I’ve given her an instruction to move just as I watched the power turn off in her sector. Had to scramble for the phone to get the power back on. Wait agonizing seconds while the line spat out a code. Accidentally overshot the right numbers while punching the code into the computer.
It’s the waiting and silence that make Interference: Dead Air so effective, though. There are lots of times when Valerie goes quiet as she moves from room to room. There’s just moments where she isn’t speaking with you, and you’re left to think about her situation. All you can do is watch the monitors and wait for her to call back. Even in moments like the one above, you have to wait and pray she’ll call again. Did I get the code in on time? Did the alien find her? Have I gotten her lost and lead her into danger?
You spend a lot of time doing nothing while waiting for these calls. There’s these huge gulfs where you just sit there wondering if something happened to her. You could fuss around with the radio or your movies, but how can you? You can sit and try to just watch your monitors for power fluctuations, but all the while, you just keep thinking about Valerie. The silence screams with all of these images of her death. She’s not calling because you screwed up. You weren’t fast enough. She died because you messed up the map. You feel totally responsible and utterly helpless all at once.
Interference: Dead Air does a stunning job of using helplessness in a creative way. The game draws up feelings of fear by making you care for someone else and limiting how you can help them. It makes you wait and worry because you can’t directly control what happens. The game often leaves you alone, waiting to know if your friend is safe. It separates you from the action, but in doing so gives you an incredible investment in something that you don’t have a whole lot of control over. And, most of all, it makes you wait and wonder, fear eating you alive as you hope your loved one makes it out.