LIDAR.EXE Dredges Up a Terrifying Loneliness With its Void-Like Night
LIDAR.EXE drops you in a pitch-black place. There’s absolutely no light anywhere. All you can do is use a lidar scanner to get a general reading of the environment around you. This gives you enough information to get around, but extremely slowly. You can only walk a short ways before you find yourself lost in an empty darkness again. By tapping into such a deep, endless darkness, the game dredges up a powerful unease at being so terribly alone.
It’s a really neat way to find your way around a dark space, though. The scanner pings the area around you with small dots that indicate positioning and depth. The scanner beam slowly crawls down objects and walls. As it does, it reveals the world to you, dot by dot. The scanner has a short reach, though, so you’ll only get a limited view of the environment. Maybe some walls and a hint of the path forward. So, the only way to see where to go is to keep scanning every few steps.
This slow reveal makes LIDAR.EXE terrifying in a few ways. At its simplest, you are just all alone in murky, depthless shadows. You can squint as much as you like, but there’s no light to adjust your eyes to. You can’t see a thing until you pull the trigger on the scanner. I’ve played through some games that were quite dark before, but you could still make out little bits of things here and there. It was dark, but not a featureless dark. Not a cloying void like you see, here.
In most dark horror games, I usually had some sort of flashlight to be able to see with. You could usually aim your light source as well. Maybe you couldn’t move too fast, but you could control where the light pointed. You’d get instant information on what was there using that source of illumination. The scanner in this game is slow. You have to point it and then wait to get a clear picture. Can’t just whip around if you hear something behind you. You have to turn, scan, and wait.
While you wait, LIDAR.EXE traps you in a deep night. The kind where light just doesn’t exist. I’ve only ever seen this kind of darkness one time in my life. Once, the power got knocked out hard on a cloudy night, leaving me in pitch darkness. During that outage, I couldn’t see ANYTHING. During most power outages, it would be kinda dark, but moonlight or emergency lights would kick in enough to see a little bit. On this night, it was black out. I couldn’t make out a thing.
I was in a familiar environment in my apartment, but being in that darkness terrified me. It wasn’t a conscious, rational fear, though. The blackout seemed to wake up this ancient terror at just how lonely you could be in the world. When the lights are all off and no one’s around, it’s easy to touch on the depth of how alone we are with our thoughts and feelings. That endless darkness and silence sweeps away any thoughts of connection with others. It feels like you’re the only thing in existence in that moment. It reminds you that, in your own thoughts, you ARE the only thing that exists.
LIDAR.EXE feels like it taps into that sense of loneliness with its darkness. You feel like you’re some place outside of existence, and that nothing is coming to save you. I’m usually all alone while playing horror games, but the depth of the game’s darkness makes you FEEL that solitude. It crawls along you skin and settles on your back. It’s something stronger – almost primal. I felt cut off from the world in those shadows, which really put me on edge.
Steadily drawing the world back in with the scanner didn’t help. The scanner is good for getting an image of the place as it existed when you pushed the button. Since most walls and structures don’t move, that’s usually not a problem. However, if you find something wandering about in the dark (and you WILL), you’ll only see where the thing WAS when you used the scanner. So, when you do a scan and reveal a humanoid shape, you know that this creature has already moved on. But you know that it was there a moment before. Something is following you that you’ll probably never see.
This presence didn’t undo that sense of loneliness in LIDAR.EXE. It strengthened it. Seeing those outlines in the scan lines told me that something was nearby. I might not have been alone in the world, but I was still alone in my safety. It sounds like a weird division to make, but the loneliness lead into a sense of the indifference of this world toward my well-being. Feeling alone can make you feel like nothing cares about you on a cosmic level, so when something is quietly following you throughout this game, you feel a strong sense of danger. You feel like nothing will save you.
Because of the limited abilities of the scanner, I also felt like I couldn’t help myself. The most I could do was learn was the lay of the land around me. I could get a limited snapshot of some walls and that was it. I could tell that something was following me around. Had no idea where it was, though. Probably couldn’t even learn the environment enough to run from it if I had to. I just had to quietly scan and hope that I would survive. But what were the chances of that in this bleak, indifferent darkness?
LIDAR.EXE stirs up some wild feelings of horror in its darkness and loneliness. The bottomless shadows make you feel lost without any escape route. The scanner gives you some help, but it’s so limited and slow that death feels inevitable. Being lost in that dark, waiting for your scans to complete, you can’t avoid feeling helpless. Utterly alone. What will you do if the creature gets close? What CAN you do? Solitude and the indifference of the world crush you down in this game, creating a sense of deep, primal terror I’m not sure I ever want to feel again.