Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: It Steals Will Steal Your Heart
I’m not even quite sure what the premise of this game is. I think the confusion is the point. It Steals has you playing as a nameless character in a labyrinth with a big freak. A typical premise for indie horror. But what makes It Steals so harrowing is the monster in your maze, in addition to being weird, really loves surprises. Specifically, surprising you.
Typical AI in indie horror is simple. Follow you around, but not too well. You don’t want the player to be unable to escape, right? Unfortunately, this is a tough line to walk, since all too often, the monster ends up kind of dumb. Not just in indie horror, but in horror games as a whole. A lobotomized creature with a range of vision of ~3 meters isn’t nearly as scary as one that knows exactly where you are, waiting in ambush.
That’s what makes It Steals so great. The monster’s AI is incredibly well done. It won’t just lumber straight towards you. It’ll duck behind cover when you spot it. It will run up at impossible speed and run away just as quickly. The Freak is so unpredictable and hard to reckon with that it will be a breath of fresh air for any fan of the genre.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
I guess the gameplay of It Steals is almost like Pacman. You’re in this maze, collecting glowing balls, hoping to god you don’t encounter anything (which obviously you will). There are a few different game modes, one where you have a flashlight, one where you use a camera’s flash to scare the Freak away, and a few others. But for the most part, it’s your typical spooky maze adventure.
It Steals is good in just about every regard, but in the monster’s AI, it reaches another level. The Freak moves in terrifying and uncanny ways, its eyes will light up entire corridors when it gets mad, and is impossible to keep track of. This is one of those games you’ll have to experience for yourself, because the creature is so unusual compared to the genre standard that it feels like another genre entirely.
There is some extreme pixelation going on here. The filter takes the game down to what feels like 480p at best. On a big monitor, with black and white checkerboard walls, in the heat of a pursuit, it’s tough to see what’s a corridor forward and what’s not. Beyond that, It Steals has very little problems.
How To Fix It:
I realize this is a stylistic choice and emphasizes the fear, but I could go without it. A slightly less pixelated filter would be a good option to have. With it, the game looks like you’re two shots of tequila deep. Not a huge issue, but It Steals could definitely benefit from some clearer visuals.
Much of what makes horror interesting is the element of surprise. Not just in regards to jumpscares, but all aspects that defy your expectations. We’ve all played a survival horror game with some kind of nemesis who wanders about looking to kill you. But an AI who’s only capable of walking directly towards the player in order to poke them isn’t all too novel. What makes It Steals so interesting is the unpredictability of the Freak, elevating it from a genre standard into something truly great.
You can download It Steals on itch.io for $5 (on sale $3.75 now!) by clicking here.