Sin(e)s is the New Quake(s Simulator)

I live on the South Coast of England and we get very little in the way of exciting/terrifying weather or natural disasters here. Maybe a snowfall that lasts a day. Or a heatwave that only feels bad because we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with anything beyond mild heat. This is the Mild Place. The most consistently devastating natural disaster we get is the Tories.

Still, it can’t hurt to be prepared for the worst, can it? Just give me instructions through some kind of game and I’ll lap it up.

On the surface, Sin(e)s is a lost instructional program from decades ago. It’s an educational computer game that’s supposed to give you good advice on what to do in an earthquake. It boots up in a pleasingly retro 90s PC fashion. All the beeps and boops, the soft whir of a nonexistent box thinking things through. If you’re of a certain age, there’s something quite delightful and slightly haunting about this recreation. It’s impressive, and when you actually get into the program, it continues that slightly unreal version of a digital past.

It looks pretty normal at first glance. A bunch of clickable links, with a gentle persuasion to check out the written information before playing the game. You absolutely should do that as well because it enhanced the experience for me.

The guides are fundamental earthquake survival tips, understandable considering they are supposed to be from decades ago. You know the stuff. Where you should and shouldn’t seek shelter and no, earthquakes are not nature’s extreme skateboarding mode. Standard stuff. 

That sets an anticipation for the game part of the experience. My mind was cast back to a multitude of edutainment titles of my own past. I must admit I was wary of a horror version of that kind of thing, mainly because like so much of the horrification of nostalgia misses the mark. I needn’t have worried though because Sin(e)s evokes the strange low-fi atmosphere of them without actually playing exactly like one.

The environment appears to be that of a collapsed underground area in the aftermath of an earthquake and you play as the poor sod trapped down here

The setup is similar to a point n’ click adventure, just simplified. The keyboard keys denote a direction of travel and with a single press of one, the screen judders in the chosen direction, then either offers up an interaction or further directions. There’s a lot of ambiguous back and forth that will doubtless test patience for many, but it’s entirely the point, and is part of Sin(e)s slow-cooked visual storytelling.

Occasionally, you get over to a Radio/computer hybrid and play a mini-game where you try and sync to the radio waves (think the Batman Arkham frequency mini-game) and you’re rewarded with some text on the computer screen and occasionally the sound of radio chatter. Sometimes there’s a hint of movement above where you’re buried, and if this wasn’t labeled a horror game, I don’t think I’d have had any trouble guessing what was coming. That’s the beauty of the weirdo setup though, it bleeds doubt into reasoned thinking. That is exactly how it should be in this tense, stressful scenario after all.

As each cycle of movement progresses, the chatter and text get increasingly worrisome. A much-repeated mantra on the screen states that whatever is trying to get you may look like you, do the kind of things you do, and probably have mixed feelings about the last few seasons of The Walking Dead like you, but THEY ARE NOT YOU. A paranoia over what’s scratching and stretching potential entry points sets in and suddenly the cycle of progression becomes an ominous portent for what will follow.

When it does eventually arrive at the moment of truth there’s a bit of a head-slapping ‘of course!’ instance, but it’s not without a modicum of shock too. The way the camera just lingers on the dreadful outcome is intoxicating and mesmeric. The final sign-off of the computer you’re supposedly playing this game on declaring there’s been an error and shutting down the program is a full-blooded, tongues-in chef’s kiss of an ending.

The payoff for Sin(e)s is a satisfyingly haunting one. A tale of what happens when you give into fear during a traumatic incident. The delivery method being some cursed old edutainment program just makes it all the sweeter.

Check out DreadXP for more horror game reviews, interviews, and editorials.