You Will Die Here Tonight Review – Old School With A Twist
Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before. It’s 1996. You’re a member of an elite American law enforcement unit sent to investigate a creepy old gothic mansion. You’re looking for a target with connections to some sort of shady pharmaceutical corporation. Cut off from your squad shortly after you arrive, you discover that the whole house is swarming with the undead. To survive, you’ll need to manage resources, solve puzzles, and find keys. Oh, and there’s probably an underground lab somewhere. Welcome to Reside– oh, hang on, a zombie just killed your ass. Permanently. Wait, what?
You Will Die Here Tonight is the first outing from indie developer Spiralbound Studios, and what an outing it is. It takes classic survival horror elements and reinvents them, hitting that almost paradoxical sweet spot that nostalgic retro gaming aspires to. It creates something refreshingly new, whilst also giving us what we loved from the past. The result is not just one of my favorite games of 2023, but a serious contender for one of my top survival horror titles of all time.
The game puts you in control of the ARIES team (stars, geddit?), a six-man squad trying to survive the monster-infested Breckenridge Mansion. Each team member has their own specialties and limitations, like different running speeds and the number of healing items they can carry. If you die as one of them, you choose another operative and carry on from where their fallen comrade left off. And you will die. A lot. YWDHT is classic survival horror to its core, and that means no handholding. Deadly traps are abundant, and even basic enemies are more than capable of taking you down in a few hits. If you run out of resources or team members, it’s game over for you buddy, and no two ways about it. Make no mistake; You Will Die Here Tonight isn’t bluffing with its title.
Mechanically, what makes YWDHT stand out is its dual-aspect gameplay. Most of the game is played from an isometric perspective, using a pixelated art style to create some suitably retro yet nicely detailed environments. In combat, the game becomes an arcade-ey FPS with low poly, PS2-looking models and backgrounds. Probably the nearest comparison gameplay-wise is House of The Dead, the other big 90’s zombie game, but slowed down for a more methodical combat style that takes account of your often limited ammunition. Think The House of the Dead meets Resident Evil 4, perhaps. It’s a neat spin on something as fundamental as the camera angle, and pretty well executed too. You often have to gauge whether it’s worth initiating FPS combat at a distance or trying to run past an enemy and risk getting grabbed. Between YWDHT and the recent Holstin demo, I hope we see more of this kind of experimentation with multiple perspectives in the future.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the amount of humor in You Will Die Here Tonight, as the game contains quite a few genuinely funny moments. Most of the laughs come from the ARIES team themselves. They’re all stock tropes, but their dialogue is so tongue-in-cheek that it elevates them above the clichés they’re based on. It also makes them quite likable in the bargain. Personally, my favorite was a toss-up between Sgt. Vincent, who’s basically every black Sergeant/ desk captain from every American action film ever (though missing a cigar and a ‘two weeks from retirement’ schtick), and Lt. Eric Downs, a goofy not-Chris Redfield himbo and weapons expert. Besides the giggles, the story YWDHT offers is also pretty compelling too. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but let’s just say that this isn’t the same old Biohazard story you’re used to. Something weird is going on in the mansion, and it only gets weirder as you progress.
On the technical side of things, performance in YWDHT was decent. It doesn’t require particularly beefy specs to run, and only takes up a paltry two and a half gigs to install. I didn’t notice any framerate drops, although I did encounter a few bugs, especially towards the end. None of these were particularly major, though. Most of them were either a few missing lines of dialogue, or a couple of times where items appeared in my inventory but failed to register and vice versa. Frankly, I suspect these will have been patched within a few weeks anyway. I got a good run out of my time with the game, and managed to complete its campaign in about 15 hours on my first playthrough. It’s a game that lends itself to speedrunning as well, so you’ll be able to get some more mileage on top of that.
You Will Die Here Tonight is an amazing achievement, and all the more so because it’s from a small team that’s appeared virtually out of nowhere. There are so many little details that give the game a real 90’s character, from its CGI helicopter intro to the chunky shoulder pads on the ARIES uniforms. But rather than stick rigidly to an archaic gameplay formula, Spiralbound mixes things up with new ideas, modern quality of life improvements and some slick writing to boot. If you’re suffering from those post-Halloween blues, this is the indie horror game for you. Even if you aren’t, this is still one mansion any survival horror fan should dive into. Just… don’t get too attached to your teammates.