I’ve found it. The most interesting game to come out this year has come from the small Swedish team The Working Parts and takes the form of They Breathe, a horrifying adventure that while short, is full of strong game design, and a haunting narrative that surpasses most horror games in recent memory, whether intentional or not.
You are a frog, and unlike last years indie phenomenon Frog Fractions, the tale you will be weaving this time around is much, much darker. You dive down from your floating log hovering seemingly in an endless ocean, notably an odd place for a frog to be. Diving deeper and deeper, you learn more about the horrifying world that is around you.
They Breathe has a major focus on oxygen. Bubbles occasionally surface, and other than other frogs and enemies, they are the only thing that can be interacted with. Catching the air bubbles allows you to replenish some of your constantly depleting health from being submerged (which is curious considering frogs can breathe underwater, but also makes the game seem even more sinister). Bubbles can also be used to heal fellow frogs, or defeat enemies who are lead into them. This creates a seriously engaging split second moral spectrum in which you must decide where these uncontrollable air bubbles will be put to use.
Players are tasked with the choice to use the bubbles to save themselves, save their friends, or to ease the situation. Picking one always feels jarring as the consequences are often vivid and apparent. You feel in control and responsible. Its kill or be killed and you are the one pulling the strings.
While the game is insanely short, my run taking a little more than 20 minutes, it is paced extremely well. The manner with which you descend and are introduced to fellow drowning frogs, followed by the terrifying fact of what is happening is tasteful in a way that the game creates its own narrative seamlessly.
The gameplay takes form in something sort of reminiscent of a bullet hell. The only command is swim and swim faster, as you decide to avoid or collide with objects. Its a situation that makes you truly feel helpless, as the enemies in the game are much more capable than the ordinary frog you control.
They Breathe‘s tone is well aided by the game’s decidedly creepy children’s book appearance. The frogs appear to have sunken eyes, either due to the horrors of their reality or a lack of will to live. The enemies move intimidatingly. There is no sound outside of those of impending death and the creatures that plan to facilitate it. Getting close to defeat sends the screen into psychedelic twists and turns as you gasp for air. It’s ambient in the most disturbing way.
They Breathe is a two dollar Steam title that packs more psychological trauma than just about anything in recent memory. Its terrifying for reasons that most games don’t even attempt to touch on. Whether it was intended or not, They Breathe is a successful piece of interactive storytelling. Saying more about it does nothing but take away from the game’s first playthrough appeal. For its price, it is literally a no brainer to check out.
I’ve seen the truth.