- Developer - Somethin' Else
- Platforms - iOS
- Device tested - iPhone 4
- Price - £2.99
Subtlety is a dirty word around today's horror games. 15 years ago, Resident Evil's idea of scary was a fleeting glance of a creature outside a window. Now, it's this kind of thing. Films like The Shining and The Blair Witch Project know that a viewer's own imagination is the most powerful when it comes to making them uneasy; today's games are more like House of 1000 Corpses or Saw V.
Except The Nightjar, a terrifying "videogame without video" for the iPhone. You play an astronaut, trapped aboard a destroyed, eponymous spaceship as it hurtles towards a black hole formed by a dying star. But that's not even the worst part. The rest of the crew have evacuated and all the lights are out. Without even being able to see your hand in front of your face, you need to navigate to loading dock in the bowels of the ship so that a neighbouring craft, The Nightowl, can pick you up for rescue.
Oh, and there are aliens on board who want to kill you. A chilling announcement over The Nightjar's PA system informs you "there are 30 complex lifeforms aboard this ship, of which one is human."
Luckily, though, you have a friend, a scientist from The Nightowl played by Benedict Cumberbatch who guides your footsteps over a radio headset. There are almost no images in The Nightjar - the game instead encourages you to "see with your ears." That means that instead of finding where to go, Cumberbatch will tell you to turn left, or walk forward, or turn that handle. There are some basic actions for you to perform - tapping the left and right of the screen alternately controls walking - but generally, this is a little like an audiobook, with the added twist that stereo sound is everything.
You absolutely need headphones to play The Nightjar. Hearing is everything. There's a fantastic scene early on where you find yourself in a library of holograms of animals from Earth. Your scientist friend activates three, a cuckoo, a cat and a cricket, and tells you to head toward the cuckoo and away from the cricket. You move your character's head by swiping left and right on the iPhone's screen and once the cuckoo's call is the loudest, you start walking. Later, these get more high-stakes. Instead of walking away from a cricket, you're tiptoeing to avoid an alien in the dark, trying to head away from the sound of it eating a dead crew member.
The sound design in The Nightjar is superb, far surpassing the quality of any other game on the iPhone. The beeps and whirs of the ship, your own footsteps and breathing, and Cumberbatch's not-quite-trustworthy performance combine to keep you on the edge of your nerve. The game doesn't need to show you anything scary. It lets your ears and your imagination do the work. In the way creaks from the corner of your bedroom are scarier at night because you can't see them, The Nightjar is constantly unnerving because you're never sure what's out there, or where it is.
The bottom line with The Nightjar is "get it". Get it, put your headphones in, turn the volume right up and sit in the dark playing it by yourself. It's excellent.
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