Strobophagia Review – Panic! at the Rave
Developed and published by Green Tile Digital
Available on PC
It’s always nice to see a game with some STYLE. To be specific, that’s STYLE in all caps, not just regular style. Strobophagia immediately caught my attention thanks to having the STYLE that I craved. Something about the neon-drenched people and loud thumping EDM music doesn’t quite feel like it should fit in with a traditional horror game. So does it manage to come together and be a truly unique experience?
You play as an unnamed character who’s attending a rave in the woods known as The Headless Rave Festival. They don’t really have a reason to be there, in fact, they only seem vaguely aware they’re at the rave at all. Where in the world is it? Why are all these people attending it? These aren’t really questions that get solid answers, because the game isn’t really about that. In fact, the rave is really more of a concept than an actual event, but getting into that is starting to get into spoiler territory. The important thing is that you’re here and you’re here to party. However pretty early in one of the people running the rave asks you to complete some rites, and soon the whole thing gets supernatural.
The game’s story is conveyed entirely through text messages and environmental clues, with no spoken dialogue. Sometimes this works fine, and it can really fit the rave theme when you see a bunch of people staring at their phones after a new message goes out. This also means sometimes you’ll grind everything to a halt so you can read a text dump. Ultimately they made me wish I could just find an audio log or a recording where one of the party-goers just monologue out loud so I could move and story at the same time.
You’ll spend quite a bit of time moving as well. A large part of the gameplay is using your phone to follow wi-fi signals that will let you access more text messages and figure out what to do next. Sometimes this means solving basic puzzles as well. At one point I had to convince a really rude party goer to give me directions through a maze, which he agreed to if I caused a little chaos by glassing people with beer bottles. Another spot saw me having to distract a crowd that was in the way by hijacking a stage to play some DJ beats. One particularly intense segment saw me having to run around and down as much beer as possible to get drunk before an otherworldly monster could come and rip my head off.
Yes, there are monsters in Strobophagia but they’re not really the norm. Early in the party, sometimes while wandering in the woods, a party goer would run up to me and attempt to push me to the ground. For the most part, they were hilariously frightened off by shoving back, causing them to go running back into the woods. Later in the game, a much bigger monster was introduced, one that you can’t fight. Should it catch you, it’ll rather gruesomely pick you up and bite your head right off. Your only choice is to avoid it, something that is rather hilariously easy to do because the monster will only move in a set pre-determined path and can’t hear you. You can easily just walk behind it to get to where you need to be.
This describes a lot of Strobophagia, with a game that is very clearly going for STYLE over substance. It took me about three hours to finish the game, and there weren’t any particularly fantastic gameplay segments on display. On the other hand, nothing was awful either. It’s a game that plays just fine, with just enough gameplay to keep me interested. The real star is moving through the party and checking out both the visuals and the music. It’s all lovely and terrifying, making for neon-drenched images of hell, something I’ve never really considered before and am really happy to see.
Or, almost really happy. There’s one blemish on Strobophagia‘s presentation, and that’s that, at the current time, the game is super glitchy. I had to restart the entire game at least once after becoming trapped in a section with no way to escape. The monster lost a lot of its shock value when it was partially clipped through the floor and only actually came up to my knees. The player character would try to take pictures without the phone, AI partygoers would get trapped in environments, objects would become stuck in my hand, and UI tooltips would fail to display. It felt like the game could have used a few more months ironing these out.
Despite all this, I really did enjoy my time with Strobophagia. I wish the gameplay was a little more interesting, and I certainly wish the game was a lot less glitchy. But I can deeply appreciate any game that commits to a style so hard that it manages to look more unique than anything else out there. Maybe give it a month or two for a few patches, but I think there’s genuinely something special here that is worth experiencing.