If there's one genre that's perfectly apt for video games, it's horror. Nothing creates a terrifyingly immersive experience like being in the shoes of someone who is helpless or lost. By this metric, Hydra Games outdid themselves with Don't Be Afraid, a psychological horror game that puts you into the mind of a young boy named David. If many modern AAA titles go out of their way to make you feel as powerful as possible, Don’t Be Afraid does the opposite. There’s no way to fight back, and in many cases there are few places you can hide. The anxiety is ramped up to 11 when you’re actively trying to solve a puzzle while being chased through a house of horrors. If you’re up for surviving a relatively short but intense experience and wish to learn more about your kidnapper through each more grotesque level, I can’t recommend Don’t Be Afraid enough.
This indie title brings us through different levels of fear as you work to escape the clutches of a twisted serial killer named Mr. Franklin. It does a wonderful job of building a dark and lived-in, albeit small, world for you to explore and discover secrets in. You also have the opportunity to shift your path later in the game by picking up different items. Keeping this in mind as you play through Don’t Be Afraid can open up more options to you as you progress. Fans of survival horror looking for a condensed experience to scratch that particular itch will enjoy the immersive yet quick playtime this game has to offer.
Brilliance in Level Design & Suspense
Many horror games will showcase a colorful array of enemies for you to defeat or sneak past. Don’t Be Afraid differentiates itself by putting you at the level (figuratively and literally) of a young boy who’s incapable of fighting back. Your one goal is to escape, and much of the game is spent navigating dark hallways and damp locales, with many surprises along the way. When you do face an enemy head-on you’ll need to run, and fast. This adds to the anxiety of coming to a new area that you haven’t fully mapped yet. With dead ends and twisting turns, it’s easy to get caught by whatever is chasing you. The game, however, is forgiving in that you always respawn with previous progress saved. If you unlocked a door or picked up an item, you’ll still have that progress after getting caught.
From beginning in a small room with an eerie woman chained to the wall to a bizarre carnival-themed floor, there’s plenty to appreciate in this world. Long shadows cast by candlelight make this one of the more atmospheric games I’ve played in recent memory, and the way darkness is used effectively stagnates the plot until you find a way through with your candle. Many obstacles lay in your way, such as water spewing from an overhead pipe that'll extinguish your flame, or a strategically placed mannequin that’ll blow out your candle when you walk by. Much of this game is figuring out how to navigate from A-to-B without directly facing any enemies, though you’re bound to notice that the creepy mannequins will change position over time.
Characters Help Set Your Fate
Our main protagonist, David, was kidnapped by Mr. Franklin and placed into a horror house of torture. Clearly, David is not the first child who has been taken by Mr. Franklin, and throughout the game you’ll be introduced to others via cassette tapes who fell to a similar fate. You’ll also meet a terrifying giant named Carl, an abused little girl named Lydia and a particularly terrifying clown named Theodor. They’re all parts of the puzzle that lead to the end of the game, and each one presents the same challenge: run away, sneak by and get out. This is where I found much of the difficulty of this game. Instead of methodically picking up items and checking doors, I’d need to run down hallways blindly, quickly getting myself turned around and lost as I tried to escape my pursuer. Reminiscent of escaping Mr. X in Resident Evil 2, you somehow still needed to work out a solution of escaping while on the run from these assailants.
Blurring the Line of the Supernatural
The most bizarre thing about Don’t Be Afraid is how it’s often grounded in practical reality but occasionally dips into the supernatural. The majority of the enemies you face are human, flesh and blood, and theoretically can be defeated. At times I found myself waiting for the police to arrive, surely responding to reports of a missing child last seen in the area. But then there are those moments where you face actual monsters that so far have not been identified by science. Blood-drinking ghouls and mannequins that appear to move on their own. Some are explained later by terrestrial reasoning, but there are still some mysteries that this game remains unsolved. In some ways this is actually a hindrance to the overall believability of this world. I’m fine with the supernatural and love mysticism, but for a story dealing with such a real, visceral issue with interesting characters like Mr. Franklin, there should be more of a focus on him and the other human characters. The difference between serial killers and monsters in the night is serial killers are quite real and terrifying on their own. The game doesn’t need to dilute its fear factor by including supernatural beings.
Don’t Be Afraid Review | Final Thoughts
Don’t Be Afraid is a great character study into the twisted mind of Mr. Franklin and how David reacts to his games. Being a child your resources are limited and you can’t even investigate high-up places such as the tops of bookshelves or tables. This games strongest attribute is its levels with immersive dynamic lighting that is as pretty to look at as it is eerie. Though the game is a relatively short, bite-sized experience it does have a lot to offer with memorable characters. Plus, it’s likely you’ll need to play through more than once to unlock all of the secrets that Don’t Be Afraid has to offer.
TechRaptor reviewed Don’t Be Afraid on PC with a code provided by Hydra Games.
- Interesting Level Design
- Challenging Enemies
- Great Voice Acting
- Engaging Puzzles
- Too Short