“How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.” – Alexandre Dumas
The Backrooms 1998 is a first-person found footage psychological survival horror game that follows a terrified teenager who accidentally fell into the backrooms in the late 90s! Created by a solo developer, the game sees players roam the unsettling labyrinth and unravel a disturbing story whilst avoiding a horrifying enemy and trying to escape!
Developer: Steelkrill Studio
Released: 25th May 2022
Available on: Steam
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
NOTE: This game may contain content not appropriate for all ages and also content that may be disturbing to some audiences such as disturbing footage, violence, abuse, harm, blood, mild nudity, decapitation, loud sounds, fear and extreme gore.
The main objective of The Backrooms 1998 is to escape! Equipped with a torch (batteries required) and spray paint, navigation is tricky, especially since the labyrinthine corridors and rooms eerily change around the player as they explore! There are a number of objectives that the player must complete whilst exploring in order to eventually escape, these include following trails or blood and finding specific objects which can be quite nerve-wracking feats with an enemy nearby and jumpscares aplenty!
Things are not made easier by the presence of a horrifying and gruesome enemy that prowls the backrooms. Highly sensitive to noise, players are advised not to run unless needed, they will also need to hide in lockers and crawl spaces, close doors behind them and listen for enemy footsteps in order to evade detection. There is a note on a wall early in the game that suggests the enemy has no eyes, however, they do seem to be able to see as I was found whilst stationary and silent from across a room. Marking paths with the spray paint can help prevent the player from getting lost and does not seem to be detectable by the enemy. However, audio input adds an extra layer of things to watch out for, breathing too heavily into the mic, or yelping at a jumpscare will be sure to alert the enemy.
The game can be saved at televisions that are dotted throughout the game, but these are limited in number and can only be used once each. Once all save points are used up losing will result in the player being forever stuck in the backrooms. This adds to both the challenge of the game but also the level of fear felt by the player.
The Backrooms 1998 is made up of found footage of a teen lost in the backrooms, a creepypasta that originated with an image of a yellow wallpapered hallway and a story about how one enters the backrooms by no-clipping out of reality. As the teen ventures further into the maze of corridors and rooms, a secondary story unfolds, the gruesome and disturbing tale of a young boy named Tommy who was kidnapped. The story is delivered somewhat gradually through radios that are playing, newspaper clippings, photos and other points of interest that are found during exploration.
As ‘found footage’, The Backrooms 1998 is visually reminiscent of a slightly corrupted VHS tape, complete with film grain and 90’s camcorder-style overlay. This, along with the limited lighting, provides a kind of visual impairment that makes the overall experience feel even creepier. Players will also see the bland yellow wallpaper characteristic of the backrooms discoloured by eerie red lighting and covered in panicked scrawls. There is also lots of other disturbing and familiar horror imagery such as mannequins, a tricycle, bugs, blood and plenty of gore.
The game’s audio is filled with footsteps, heavy breathing, rushed heartbeats, creaking and other typical horror noises culminating into a creepy soundscape. The noises echo and reverberate making them seem loud and adding to the sense of danger. The inclusion of audio input also adds an extra level of eeriness as well as making the game more challenging.
The Backrooms 1998 is not a lengthy game, taking about 1- 1.5 hours to complete. It pulls aspects from a variety of genres including survival, horror and walking simulators to create a distinctly creepy experience. The mix of disturbing aesthetic elements and invasive sound design work together to great effect and the retro VHS visuals give the game an original look but do strain the eyes slightly after a while. The jumpscares, though sometimes cliché, are effective and work well with the audio input mechanic which is a unique touch in itself. Overall, it is a good example of a short horror game, with distinct styling, a familiar setting and a good level of challenge. It perhaps lacks a little finesse but is an impressive feat for a solo dev and I happily recommend this to fans of horror games and urban legends!
If you like horror games, you might also enjoy:
Sunshine Manor: A Bloody New 8-Bit Horror RPG – Martha is Dead – Disturbing New Psychological Horror – Oxide Room 104 – Survival horror in a spooky ‘abandoned’ motel!