With quarantine and social distancing orders still in place, 2020 hasn't exactly been the year for parties. Could Strobophagia, a game which takes place at an ultra-cool, ultra-exclusive rave hidden deep within a mysterious forest, scratch that itch for stuck-at-home fans this fall?
Welcome to the Headless Festival, a rave so exclusive that nobody's quite sure exactly how you manage to snag an invite. You find yourself in the role of a nameless, faceless participant who can't remember how they wound up here - but hey, there's tons of glowing body paint everywhere, ravers in cool masks, and, best of all, unlimited free beer! Armed with only a cell phone (flashlight non-functional, of course) you must gain entrance to the Headless Festival and discover the dark secret hidden at the heart of the "ultimate party". Strange observers in bird masks watch your every move, while confused party-goers keep texting you asking about something called "the Rite" and something sinister is stalking you from deep within the shadows - and getting closer and closer the more secrets and truths you learn.
Strobophagia | Rave Horror is the first title from indie developer Green Tile Digital. It was announced in 2019 before releasing via Steam and itch.io just in time for Halloween 2020. Gameplay features a mix of exploration, puzzles and survival horror elements all set within a dark forest lit only by the faint glow of neon paint. It is a fairly short game, able to be completed in about two hours, and has two endings to discover.
"Ultimate Rave" - A High Bar to Clear
Strobophagia is extremely up front about what it is: a game about a spooky rave. This puts a lot of weight on the setting, the Headless Festival, to carry the game. Does it? Well...yes and no.
Fans of rave culture may gain some enjoyment from this game, but it ultimately won't fill the hole left vacant by the absence of in-person parties and dances.
Visually, Strobophagia is a treat for fans of the party scene and atmospheric horror alike. The distinctive black-and-neon color scheme is an excellent choice, helping the game to stand out from others within a fairly crowded genre. The juxtaposition of dark, forbidding forest and masked, body paint-adorned rave attendees is well done, and the sinister graffiti scattered throughout the different areas of the rave hints that "something is not right" long before you actually start to figure out what's really going on. My favorite visual elements of the game are the summoning circle (which you must use to perform a vaguely defined ritual involving posing your body-painted fellow party-goers) and the handful of short maze segments, which feature the player plunged into near-total darkness with only the aforementioned graffiti to guide them.
Unfortunately, while Strobophagia's attempt to establish a unique, memorable rave setting succeeds visually, it fails when it comes to audio. One of the reasons I was so excited to play and review Strobophagia was my anticipation of a catchy EDM and dance beat-filled soundtrack which would absolutely make the game experience. What I got instead was a disappointingly small number of barely memorable songs alternating with long periods of silence which seemed highly out of place in a game such as this one. The soundtrack's weakness was only highlighted by the presence of one genuinely good track, a powerful, catchy number which played during a segment in which the player had to solve a music-based maze. Strobophagia could have done so much more with music, but it truly fell short.
Rad References, Poor Payout
From the start of the game, I loved the references to mythology (primarily Greek) scattered throughout the Headless Festival. Major NPCs had names like "Oedipa" (a reference to Oedipus) and "Phix" (a name held by the legendary Sphinx). I especially liked Phix's segment of the game - she was located near a WiFi signal named for the city of Naxos, and she posed a tricky riddle to the player - just like a true Sphinx would! The Greek mythology references even helped the game's tension ratchet up as you progressed - late in the story, the player enters a labyrinth, and you are terrified with the knowledge that a Minotaur awaits you long before you hear the creature's breathing, let alone actually catch a glimpse of it.
However, these cool thematic elements only underscored how much of a mess Strobophagia's plot ultimately turned out to be. The first segments of the game were extremely tense and mysterious, as you gradually began to realize that something was wrong at the rave and noticed you were being followed by some seriously creepy individuals wearing bird masks. I loved the buildup, and couldn't wait for the delivery - and then found myself extremely disappointed when I finally got there.
Strobophagia suffers from a rushed third act in which truths and backstory are delivered in a rush with barely any pauses to catch your breath in between. While I ended up liking the explanation behind how the Headless Festival came to be and especially the revelations regarding the Minotaur, I hated the rushed pacing of everything in the latter section of the game. Of the two endings, one - in which you try to escape the forest - reveals absolutely nothing about what is going on, while the other - in which you successfully complete the Rite - spoon-feeds you information in one big, exhausting rush. It made the ending far less satisfying that it came after one of the worst-paced information dumps I've ever seen in gaming.
Strobophagia Is A Work in Progress
It is also important to note that Strobophagia is still very much a work in progress. While the developers are still working on the game and releasing patches, there are a number of bugs still present. While I personally did not encounter any game-breaking bugs during my two play-throughs of Strobophagia, I did get stuck on the scenery several times and had to reload from a checkpoint. Reviews on Steam mention a number of other, larger bugs, including not receiving messages via your in-game phone or being unable to complete some of the late game puzzles. Those interested in playing Strobophagia should keep this in mind before purchasing.
Strobophagia: Rave Horror is an interesting game with a lot of potential, especially due to its unique setting and memorable visuals. However, it fails to live up to that potential due to a messy plot, disappointing soundtrack, and extremely rushed and unsatisfying ending. Fans of rave culture may gain some enjoyment from this game, but it ultimately won't fill the hole left vacant by the absence of in-person parties and dances.
TechRaptor reviewed Strobophagia on PC with a code provided by the publisher.
- Visually Interesting Design and Color Choices
- Tense, Spooky Early Chapters
- Genuinely Frightening Jump Scares
- Poor Soundtrack Despite Rave Setting
- Confusing Plot in Later Chapters
- Bugs Still Present in Certain Parts of Game