The Distinct Style of Slasher Game American Eristics
Whilst doing my weekly scan through itch.io for new nuggets of horror goodness, I come across all manner of intriguing thumbnails that tell their own story. I liken it to the now-historic pastime of browsing a video rental store. Seeing a cool image on one of those rectangular plastic boxes would always be enough to encourage hands to grab said box and flip it to read the description.
Of course, sometimes the packshot is bogus and you find disappointment on the back of a VHS/DVD box. Or everything lines up on the outside but the film is a big fat nothing (hello to my multi-decade obsession with the film Ghoulies based solely off the cover). I never really cared what the result was though because the excitement came in that discovery of something unknown or whispered about on the darkest corners of the playground when I was in school. I love reviews of films, games, etc as a way to better understand what I’m getting into. At the same time, just having a glance at something and deciding I must try it is a more interesting experience.
That’s what picking games on itch.io is for me. The closest I’ll get to that nostalgic feeling in the modern age outside of a library maybe. But on itch.io, you’re paying anything from nothing to a few quid for the pleasure and many of the games are shorter than an episode of a television show. There’s very little to lose.
Anyway, I recently had this with the demo for American Eristics. From Noah Lewin, the creator of low-fi cel-shaded zombie shooter Vacancy Unlimited, American Eristics grabbed me at first with a thumbnail of a two-dimensional killer that looked a whole lot like a certain knife-happy icon from Woodsboro. It was enough for me to click and read the description. The description was exactly what I needed to see.
“Would you believe one of your friends is a killer? “
Andrea and Mandy return to their hometown after 4 years away at college. Reuniting with old friends and fellow survivors of a tragic party night in Lakefield. A night that created and killed the Lakefield Slasher known to the press as Zombie. Now tormented by a stranger who knows what only the original Zombie could, Andrea and her friends have to come to terms that the killer might still be alive.
That’s a summary worthy of the back of a VHS box in the 90s if I’ve ever seen one. I want to see how this story plays out. Hopefully with lots of death and blood. It’s only a demo, sure, but it has plenty that made me want to return for the full ride.
The world of American Eristics retains that cel-shaded look of Vacancy Unlimited, with flat 2D character models. It’s played through a first-person perspective and interspersed with cinematic cutscenes.
After a dream sequence opening where a character is chased through a hay maze by the Lakefield Killer, we get a fantastic sequence before the credits actually kick in. Andrea and Mandy are driving to the reunion. This part is shot like a film, but with comic book sensibilities as the pair speak through speech bubbles as they head closer to town.
The girls park in an alley near the local convenience store because one of them finds the vendor a bit creepy. When walking from the car to the store, the environment felt so open and left me feeling genuinely vulnerable. When a musical stab denoting something I should have seen happened I felt even more paranoid and unsafe. Getting to the store felt like safety and the quicker I got there the better.
Things end up being pretty ordinary in the store. Snacks grabbed and paid for, I head back to the car and the girls drive off harmlessly. But as the camera pans we see a robed and masked figure sitting outside a first-floor window across from the store. The figure then makes its way over and we get treated to a really well-put-together slasher sequence with a lot of slightly off-camera stabbing made punchier by some grisly sound effects. There’s something in the two-dimensional killer’s jerky animation that elevates them to something more disturbing than a typical slasher. It’s got a bit of a stop-motion vibe to it. A vibe that is enhanced by the backdrop of 3D environments. The missing frames make it eerie, but crucially, your brain doesn’t miss the in-between bits when the Lakefield Slasher is slicing and dicing the people unlucky enough to stumble into that store that night.
The demo then does a time jump to a later sequence that showcases a more hands-on approach. With little context that wasn’t already afforded in the opening two scenes, I was thrust into a sequence that bore a striking resemblance to Dead By Daylight.
The meat of what American Eristics will offer is basically a low-fi indie single-player take on Behaviour Interactive’s smash multiplayer hit. Tasked with searching for keys in a shut school, it’s soon apparent the Lakefield Slasher is stalking us. A little menacing musical swell announces the killer’s presence and is punctuated by the sound of threatening swooshes of their knife through the air. Running and hiding is the key here and you can slow the killer down with palettes and the light of your phone.
The sequence is fairly intense, and thankfully the player character has some degree of agility to vault over low walls and through windows. Yes, you do hear those Dead By Daylight bells ringing, but if anything, American Eristics shows just how well that structure can work in a single-player environment. Admittedly it’s a bit bare bones out of context, but I feel the accompanying story beats will help alleviate that in the long run.
I won’t go into how the demo ends too much, but it further cemented American Eristics’ slasher game credentials and left me hungry for the whole game. With a distinct look and smart use of an established system from a different kind of game, American Eristics is one to keep an eye on.
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