Search Party Review: This World Ain’t So Happy
Developed by Games By Lum
Published by Torture Star Video
Available on PC
What do you get when you toss together some Resident Evil and Clock Tower inspiration in a blender with crisp, SNES-style visuals, and sparse yet amazingly effective sound? You get Search party, a top-down survival horror game by Lum. Search Party opens in the early 90’s, with a newspaper article explaining that a young boy has gone missing, and that his mother and sister Claire have gone missing during the search. After reading this you step into the shoes of Claire, recently separated from her mother, searching the woods. After a moment you come across an old, boarded up house in the woods. The environment is on full display here with bright fall visuals all around. The small touches like the particle effects on leaf piles instantly evoke a feeling of fall. This is a Haddonfield, Illinois-type of Autumn though, which you’ll soon find out.
After entering the house you realize you’re locked in. You then begin puzzling through the house. As you move through you find weapons like knives, fire extinguishers, and shovels. These are initially used to break open boxes containing coins, which come into play later. As you move through the house you’ll note the many locked doors on offer. Slowly moving upwards to the attic you find evidence that something isn’t right in this house. It’s not nearly as abandoned as it looks. On reaching the attic you find a dead body, along with a psychopath wielding a sickle. At this point your options are to run, or fight. In a game like this it’s almost never wise to fight. Lum understands this longstanding horror dynamic, and Claire is absolutely no match for the crazed killer. Run. Run far away. If you want to stand toe-to-toe with the killer you absolutely can. With a bit of clever movement, and picking your shots, you can even drop him. The downside is this takes a fair amount of time, and the killer won’t stay down long.
Running is so preferred to fighting in Search Party that you can even turn on a speed run timer in the menu. This allows you to have an excuse for why you’re completely avoiding the killer. You can save face with your friends if it’s a legit speedrunning strategy and not fear that compels you to run. The controls work well after a quick re-bind which was added in an update. The only thing I can really ding Search Party on is the strange control scheme. I understand this was probably the developer’s vision; but re-bindable controls were probably for the best. After a bit of tinkering, the controls felt tight and responsive, with decent combat and puzzle animations. Special notice has to be taken for the small clues you find throughout the world. Grimy, half-destroyed photos litter the ground in some rooms, and they can be picked up and examined. Usually you can’t tell what they”re showing, but just having an inkling of what you’re seeing is more than enough.
The music is subtle, almost barely noticeable. I was probably 30 minutes in before I realized the faint music was coming from the game and not a TV in another room of my house. I like this a lot. The music isn’t aggressive and playing over the top of everything else in the game. Doing so would drown out the excellent environmental sounds. You can hear the gentle thrum of the woods around the house, along with the killer stalking the hallways, occasionally crunching over a discarded bottle or stack of papers. The killer is a smart cookie, often hiding in places like wardrobes to jump out and startle you. The music becomes less subtle when being chased, with the gentle tones being replaced by an ominous and distorted hum. Following in the Resident Evil tradition, there are save rooms. These rooms have what is required of the best save rooms: Fantastic music. It’s a complete shift when entering a save room. The killer will quit tailing you and stand, slack-jawed at the doorway, unable to break the cardinal rule of save rooms: Monsters can’t come in.
After my first chase I exited to the backyard of the house and entered a shed. Inside the shed there was a helpful…elongated arm with a…giant hand that…asked me for money. After paying off the hand to not strangle me or dribble me like a basketball or whatever giant limbs do, I was rewarded with a max health increase. The spooky hand acts as an upgrade store to give some use to the coins you’ve been finding. Find enough coins and buy enough things and the lanky limb will maybe give you something a little special, eh? As you’re buying and finding new items, you’ll realize the inventory is criminally small. Three whole spots (without upgrades) to store your weapons, keys, and health packs. Inventory management is rampant in survival horror games, but Search Party is far more lenient. When finding a key item or weapon, there is usually an item box nearby, so you can sort and store all you want. I did notice that the killer ignored me if I was checking out an item box, but that might’ve been a bug, or the thing is super polite.
After some time with the game I thought I had the killer completely figured out. I knew when to dodge out of the way, when to attack, and most importantly; when to run. I was patting myself on the back for my sick skills when I entered the living room in the house. This is an area you see a lot. It’s your access to the kitchen, backyard, front yard, and stairs. Suffice to say, I’d seen it a lot. There was a statue there. I was confused, because while I had previously pushed a statue through the floor for a puzzle, i hadn’t pushed it into the living room. I gently approached and the statue split into a mess of teeth and lunged at me faster than the killer ever thought to. All my training, wasted.
In summation, Search Party is an excellent addition to Lum’s roster of spooky happenings. The gameplay is tight, the sound wonderful, and the scenery gorgeous. It has multiple endings. I attained two. The game can be beaten in about 10 minutes with the worst ending if you know what you’re doing. Proper playing and discovery pushed my final time closer to 5 hours and change. If you need a good scare, well, Search Party is right there.