Indie horror is a fantastic part of the subgenre that allows for very unique avenues of narrative and gameplay. Through it, we often see cool concepts that go beyond what a AAA title may be able to employ. More experimental, or referential, games offer their own forms of thrills and chills that make indie horror games perhaps one of my favorite guilty pleasures when it comes to video games.
Hell, some of the best games I have ever played have been oddball horror titles, the Devils Tuning Fork, Lone Survivor, The Path, even recently enjoying something as trashy as Bloodwash. So the prospect of playing another horror game, Subway Midnight, was enticing for me. Unfortunately, Subway Midnight doesn’t live up to what I hoped for, instead, it is a game that is more of a trick over a treat.
The Path Forward
Subway Midnight is from the twisted mind of Bubby Darkstar and sets up a very simple premise for the game. You are a young girl who boards a subway train, only to find the ride haunted with the spirits of multiple missing children and other, more malevolent spirits. Throughout, a large, grinning blob seems to stalk you every move on the train, slowly following you from car to car as other threats lurk along the train.
Pretty much the goal of Subway Midnight is to go forward, from car to car, to escape the horrors within. Each train car encompasses some new horror to contend with, some creepy image to view, or a simple puzzle to overcome. Outside of this, there is really nothing to Subway Midnight as a game; it is ultimately one where you must go forward and enjoy the ride.
That is the point of the game's design. It is less of a game, more of an interactive haunted house, complete with grinning ghosts and unnerving imagery. This, in theory, can work for a horror game, especially if you are in the right frame of mind to accept the game’s incredibly loose logic and unique atmosphere. That is easier said than done, however, as Subway Midnight struggles hard to really make an impression.
Subway Midnight is a voiceless game, but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t tell a story. Where it attempts to shine brightest is through its atmosphere and ambiance. The game is a visual and sound design treat that offers a very diverse experience that, to its credit, does hold your attention. All of the levels do follow the ‘move forward’ mechanics, but you are often going to be stymied by a small puzzle or alternate pathway first, sometimes just to see what the next room or puzzle will be.
Sometimes the setups are clever, as you interact with spirits, likely victims of the train itself, each with its own quirks and gimmicks. One seemed to be a lonely artist, doomed to make paintings with multiple colored train rooms to contend with their own artistic visions. Another was obsessed with its own lost teddy bear, who comes to life to slowly stalk you as you go from car to car.
The variety of settings offer something to enjoy in this way as well. Despite taking place in an ever-moving train, you also get to play a game within the game, take in a show in a grad 1940s movie theater, and even possibly travel to the moon, though I’m not as sure about that last one since it was super grainy and from a distance. Ultimately, the best case for Subway Midnight is the variety of sounds, effects, filters, and just in general the mini-scenarios that encompass your ever-moving push forward.
Spookycute Isn't Spooky Enough
While the game’s sound design and general atmosphere are pretty varied and sometimes creepy, it is the rest of Subway Midnight that falls flat for me. The description of the game by Bubby Darkstar states it’s “spookycute”, which I suspect refers to the in-game models following that sort of big-head styled character design seen in more contemporary cartoons, like Steven Universe or the She-Ra Reboot.
Speaking for me personally, that style and design just don’t work for me on any level, but it can work in a horror setting. In a few instances in Subway Midnight we see that shine, with unsettling grins plastered across the blank eyes of subway passengers, motionless with only the milky-white eyes following your every move. Those few moments where the ‘spookycute’ style works help in selling the atmosphere for sure.
This, however, is the exception to the rule. Most of the game, by its nature, is just a vignette style of rooms with 2-D and 3-D creepy stuff thrown at you. What is considered creepy? We get some oddball things like giant 3-D grinning men, a horror-themed teddy bear, screaming eyeballs, and the titular blob which is just a black creature with a red grin. It just doesn’t feel scary when it tries too hard, and instead comes across as the kind of thing you would see from a mid-tier creepypasta description.
A Dull Haunted Train Ride
Gameplay could smooth out some of the scares, but part of the reason I haven’t talked about it much is simply that it’s non-existent. Sure, you can interact with some levers and switches, even pick up some random items on some levels, but outside of this there really is not much to Subway Midnight. There are attempts to try and mix up the gameplay with puzzles, but a lot of them feel less like brain-teasers, and more like trial and error games to just pad the runtime and create artificial tension in some situations.
There is a lot of padding in Subway Midnight. One section in particular I hated was a mandatory, five-minute play you had to sit down and simply watch. It offered the semblance of oddball character growth for a devil-horned spirit, but outside of this, there is nothing else to it other than a way to give backstory through pantomime.
It ultimately feels a bit contrived to me, and I doubt that was the intention of the scene. There are a few moments of prolonged interludes that sort of just get in the way of the game and any momentum it would have. With the game already not being too scary on the whole, this just kills the mood even further as you play to its conclusion.
In the end, Subway Midnight didn’t click for me. There was a severe lack of scares and the gameplay was too simple for it to really hold much attention in the end. Combine this with an art style that felt more like a missed opportunity than anything else, and it’s hard to recommend Subway Midnight to anyone because of that.
Still, if there is one thing I can say in its favor, is that it does serve up some form of creativity in its sound design and visual atmosphere. If nothing else, perhaps the unique twists in the haunted house-style approach will be a more succulent treat if the style of the game is to your tastes. Subway Midnight’s style didn’t work for me, but it may for you. That is the hidden charm of indie horror, it can appeal to the tastes of anyone if they know where to look.
TechRaptor Reviewed Subway Midnight on the PC with a code by the publisher.
- Great Ambiance and Sound Design
- Varied Visual Atmosphere
- Overly Simple Gameplay
- Not Super Scary
- Graphical Style Didn't Mesh With the Horror
- More Boring Than Fun