If you want a single-player Lethal Company, don’t miss the developer’s previous It Steals

By admin Apr28,2024

Great was the consternation of singleplayer horror likers at the popularity of Lethal Company, a landmark creepfest and satire of corporate piecework that is best enjoyed in groups of four. When will developer Zeekerss give us a proper singleplayer campaign mode, the loners of the gaming community wondered, peering from their boltholes and eyries. A Lethal Sole Trader, as it were – or failing that, how about some bot support? Well, this particular monkeypaw finger has curled. It curled about four years ago, actually, when Zeekerss released singleplayer-only horror compilation It Steals.

I’ve been playing It Steals (available on Itch and Steam for £4 or $5) as part of our latest Lethal Company-dedicated Game Club, and let me tell you, it makes Lethal Company look positively, er, Nonlethal. There are many points of comparison between games, but while Lethal Company is geared more obviously for laughs, with its whoopie cushions and ReactionTube-friendly co-op mechanics, It Creeps just wants to scare you shitless. It’s also brilliant.

If you wanted to play a mean trick on an innocent friend you could characterise It Steals as a Pac-Man homage. Each of the five unlockable modes has you searching a maze for orbs, while avoiding creatures akin to Pac-Man’s ghosts. But the mazes are three-dimensional, each a pixelated warren of grubby checkerboard tiles that is explored in first person, with furnishings such as ceiling fans and locked doors behind which you can hear deeply worrying noises. The orbs are scattered widely, after the example of the pages in Slender: The Eight Pages – another game you could characterise as Pac-Man, now that I think about it. Their locations are marked on a radar screen that gives you a fractured sense of the layout, but which can’t entirely be trusted.

A view of a blue orb on a checkerboard floor in It Steals

A spinning ceiling fan with a light in It Steals

There’s a choice of graphics settings – it doesn’t have to look this pixellated. | Image credit: Zeekerss

Your other tools vary by the mode: in Classic, you get a torch, in Shutter, a camera with a limited supply of flash charges. Sadly, there are no Power Pellets. And the “ghosts”? They are awful. Abominable. Each mode introduces you to a different variety of monster with different behaviours and rules of engagement, but you can more or less file them all under “filthy little freak”.

These are purely digital horrors – unadulterated products of the viral internet, of festering creepypasta and suspicious-looking secondhand PS1s, of tales told among Roblox players about haunted servers. They pay minimal respect to realism and none at all to photorealism: often, it feels like you’re being attacked by a glitch that has come to life. This doesn’t make them any the less upsetting, partly because realism and naturalism don’t have a monopoly on ye olde suspension of disbelief, and partly because the staging is immaculate. Each mode offers a condensed range of visual and audio cues as to the creature’s state and proximity, plus a few non-diegetic elements that could be tips, and could be designed to mess with your head. When a game openly tells you to look behind you, what do you do?

Even amid the panic, it’s possible to admire It Steals for its wit and playfulness. Yes, horror games can be playful! They’re more often playful than not, I think, inasmuch as horror lends itself to shortform experiments that boil things down to a mechanic such as Hide And Seek that is at once self-explanatory and suspenseful and open-ended. Hide And Seek is one of the other It Steals modes, as it happens: you get to play both hider and seeker. Best not seek too hard.

It Steals is one of several smaller horror projects Zeekerss worked on before hitting the big time with Lethal Company. Much as I enjoy the latter, I think the former is the developer’s most accomplished creation. It leaves me all the more curious to see what Zeekerss gets up to now they’re raking in the megabucks: hopefully, they’ll treat us to a few more lo-fi experiments like this.

By admin

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