Life Eater Review – Not A Lot, But Very Unique

One of the biggest surprises (and best games period) of last year for me was El Paso, Elsewhere, and along with that, the discovery of the studio Strange Scaffold. Naturally, I was keeping my eyes on whatever they would release next, and barely half a year later, developer Strange Scaffold’s new game co-published with Frosty Pop is out. Reading the description of it as “a horror fantasy kidnapping simulator” only got me more excited, and I guess maybe because of my high expectations I was left a little disappointed with this clearly much smaller new project from them, Life Eater.

In Life Eater, you play as a purposefully unnamed husk of a man who is contacted by the god Zimforth and is ordered to kidnap and sacrifice a person every year to prevent the end of the world. But for whatever reason, Zimforth enjoys being a little cryptic, so you only get vague descriptions of the person you need to sacrifice and have to choose the right one from a small number of options in your neighborhood. Furthermore, you have to make sure to process the remains of the dead body properly before giving them to Zimforth. How do you know to do all that correctly? Because you’ll spend three days before the sacrifice stalking your potential victims, but this doesn’t take the form you might expect from a video game.

Go find the lonely loser

There are three primary elements as you jump from year to year to abduct your victims. The main one is the weekly schedule of everyone. It starts out nearly empty every time, with only designated time blocks that you’ll need to uncover to learn about the person. How long do they sleep every night? When do they go to work? What do they do in their free time? By piecing together their weekly schedule, you piece together the kind of person they are and if it’s their time to die for the greater good. To uncover any individual time slot, you simply click on it and have to choose between three options that are given to you with a variable amount of risk attached to them. Because you have two resources you need to manage: the time you have left to sacrifice someone and the target’s suspicion. The three options given to you each take up a certain amount of time and make them more suspicious. Usually, the longer it takes, the easier it is to get away with it without becoming too suspicious.

Once you’ve figured out who needs to be sacrificed, you can abduct them, but before you sacrifice them, you need to prepare the body for Zimforth. Which means breaking ribs, removing a pancreas, or cutting up the large intestines. Some real unsavory stuff, but it needs to be done. And what you need to do to their vital organs depends on the kind of person they were. Do they have kids? Then break specific ribs. What color was the hair? Depending on the answer, they might be missing a lung in a second. So it’s not just about figuring out who the right person is, but also other details about their general life that need to be uncovered and kept in mind.

Don’t mess them up too much ok?

All of this is kept very simple, though; it’s pretty easy to keep an overview of the general information of any person for the later preparation of their body, and while the prompts of who needs to be killed are admittedly fairly clever at times, most of them are rather straightforward. And the actual act of discovering a person’s schedule is not exactly exciting as you click through menus to uncover the same kind of general information over and over again with slight variants from year to year. I respect that a game can thrive in its simplicity, but this is too simple. There’s supposed to be an endless mode coming after launch, and if there’s supposed to be any incentive to dive in to that, I’ll definitely need more variety in what can happen.

But what made me fall in love with El Paso, Elsewhere was primarily the writing and storytelling anyway, and that is… similarly stripped back here. The voice performances from Xalavier Nelson Jr. and Jarrett Griffis are once again top-tier, as the unnamed protagonist and the poor man he decides to capture in his basement to keep him company. Its the dialogue between the two at the beginning and end of every year that makes up the story. The protagonist’s rambling about his isolation, his attempts to come to terms with what he has to do year after year, and his commitment to sacrifice anything, or anyone to please his god, whom he despises so much. And on the other hand, the poor man, kept in a cage, who has to watch as it all happens, first desperately trying to survive, before becoming friends with the protagonist in a weird Stockholm syndrome way. In the most twisted sense possible, they only have each other.

He most definitely is not

While the story in Life Eater is missing the unbelievably emotional depth El Paso, Elsewhere had and is generally painting in much broader strokes, it is effective. But like the rest of the game, there just isn’t that much to it. It’s all presented in a simple but truly striking art style with bold uses of color that stick in your mind and were made for an eldritch horror story as this one.

I would be lying if I said Life Eater is the follow-up I was hoping for after El Paso, Elsewhere, but despite all of my complaints, this is not a bad game, just a simple, short one that was clearly made on a much smaller scope. And I have to admit I’ve never played anything quite like it, which by itself might make it worth playing.

Nairon reviewed Life Eater on PC with a review code.

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