Life Eater is a short, gripping ‘kidnapping sim’ that’ll have you questioning everything you believe in

By admin Apr27,2024

Life Eater caught my eye the moment it appeared on my Twitter feed, having described itself as a ‘horror fantasy kidnapping sim’. My initial thought was “oh, God no,” as I immediately worried just how sadistic a game like this could get in our current climate. But, while it is somewhat sadistic, it also has plenty of heart.

And considering the game was developed by the likes of Strange Scaffold – the brilliant minds bursting with bizarre ideas such as neo-noir shooter El Paso: Elsewhere (which is soon being adapted into a film) and market tycoon, Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator – it really comes as no surprise that Life Eater is as strange a concept as it is, while feeling incredibly hearty.

Describing a kidnapping simulator as ‘hearty’ definitely doesn’t feel quite right, but it’s that thought – that jarring feeling – in and of itself that makes Life Eater stand out to me amongst other games. As you kick things off, you’ll be stepping into the shoes of a druid, Ralph, who must navigate your typical day-to-day life while completing annual sacrifices to his dark God, Zimforth.

Ralph is seen on his knees in a corridor with a cage behind him, screaming about his insolence in Life Eater
Image credit: Strange Scaffold

To complete these ritual sacrifices, you’ll need to stalk your targets to learn more about their routines within a time limit – selecting the correct target that Zimforth requests – and you wind up really getting to know who they are in the process. This is all presented to you via an analog timeline, where you can pick and choose which blocks of your target’s personal time you want to know more about. You’ll be doing this while trying to prevent arousing suspicion, and to successfully sacrifice them, you’ll need to make sure you know every last detail about what they get up to… Do they sleep more than six hours a night? Do they live alone, or have children? And so forth.

As you stalk your targets and determine who’s who – and what’s what – you’ll find yourself amidst a bit of a mental battle. I was enjoying Life Eater a lot. As I slowly figured out the game’s mechanics, it was quite the adrenaline rush discovering discrepancies in people’s routines and unlocking unique events they’d gotten up to, ultimately giving me the perfect window of opportunity (and just enough information) to sacrifice them, saving the world for another year.

But that was exactly where my mental battle emerged from; I was having far too much fun completing these abductions, and had to remind myself that I was in the shoes of Ralph, who is incredibly troubled by what he has been doing over the past couple decades…

Alas, I know Life Eater is an uncomfortable puzzle game more than anything, and I don’t need to worry about my psyche all that much, but it was definitely curious to experience a tennis match with my own mind, one that we can imagine our main man, Ralph, is all too familiar with.

An analogue timeline of the schedules of three different targets is shown in Life Eater
Image credit: Strange Scaffold

And speaking of Ralph’s experience, we get to see plenty of it between our abductions. Cutscenes voiced by Xalavier Nelson Jr. and Jarret Griffis, with a score from DREDGE composer, David Mason, often appear, filling us in on what has happened from year to year, and it’s grim. Pair them with a distinct, gritty art style, and Life Eater is definitely akin to other vibrant yet thematically dark games such as Hotline Miami, the recently-released Children of the Sun, and even Emily is Away.

The latter is a tad rogue, I know, but there’s something about the emotional conflict – and constant intrigue about someone else’s personal life – that Emily is Away aroused in me that I definitely experienced while playing Life Eater, too.

Alas, Life Eater does still have some less-than-impressive moments, but these are minor in the grand scheme of the game. For example, the routines of my victims weren’t entirely realistic at times. You’re telling me most of these people simply never need the bathroom? Other routines, on the other hand, were surprisingly easy to ‘crack’ once you learnt the mechanics of the game. On many occasions, you’ll find a special event by complete chance – and it’s usually these that determine who your target is, and the best time to strike.

Once you’re well versed in completing your annual sacrifices for Zimforth, the game can become quite trivial; analyse your timeline for a change in routine, stalk your victims to determine when they are alone, then abduct them. You’ll still need to learn enough about them to be able to complete your sacrifice – do they commute, and do they have black hair? – but all in all, you become a professional murderer by the time your short few hours with the game is up. And that’s why these qualms are minor.

Life Eater is a short experience that can be completed in just a couple of hours, so by the time you find yourself becoming a little too well-versed in these violent rituals for Zimforth, you’ll likely also be close to the finish line.

An assortment of organs and ribs are shown, with the message 'Water the Flower' beneath them all in Life Eater
Image credit: Strange Scaffold

Don’t be put off Life Eater by the kidnapping fantasy it looks like, because at no point are Ralph’s actions glorified. In fact, Life Eater features constant suffering, if anything; both the suffering of your victims and of Ralph himself. So much so that it feels uncomfortable to have enjoyed such a tragic tale, but that’s a real testament to the bizarre, niche experience that Strange Scaffold has managed to create here. It’s creative and refreshing, and incredibly nice to see a developer honing in on the strange and deeply uncomfortable rather than playing it safe.

Life Eater is available on PC via Steam. There’s no news of it coming to any other platforms at the time of writing.

By admin

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