“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” – Alexander Pope
Fears to Fathom: Ironbark Lookout is the fourth instalment in an episodic series of spooky stories. It follows Jack Nelson as he embarks on a new job at an outpost in a state park.
Developer: Rayll Studios
Released: 20th October 2023
Available on: Steam
Fears to Fathom: Ironbark Lookout has fairly casual and minimal gameplay. The game starts with he protagonist driving to their new job posting where they carry out tasks like reporting on the weather, fueling the fire, making dinner and going on short walks. The most demanding part of the experience is an optional zombie-themed FPS mini-game that is available on the in-game computer.
Unfortunately, the experience is marred by immersion-breaking bugs. Examples include uncrouching causing the protagonist to fall through the floor and get stuck under the lookout tower or items getting stuck behind other objects making progression impossible. Both of these incidents required restarting the game and having to replay small sections. The menu is not accessible once the game has started so it is not possible to adjust settings, manually save, pause or even exit the game which can only be done by pressing Alt+F4.
The narrative follows Jack Nelson as he is transferred to a new outpost at Ironbark State Park where he must watch for fires, stray hikers and other such occurrences. The narrative is not so much slow building as stagnant. There is very little tension to be felt and besides a few cheap jump scares there is little in the way of horror until the very latter section of the game. The dialogue is well-written and fairly convincing but the narration that occurs sporadically throughout the game feels more immature and basic than one might expect from the 24-year-old protagonist.
Fears to Fathom: Ironbark Lookout boasts an aesthetic that is highly stylised with a PS1-era retro feel. It also features film grain, deliberate screen tearing and very muted colours. The lighting is stark and often feels somewhat unnatural but it can add to the atmosphere at times. Animations are stilted and stiff, adding to the overall effect. With such undemanding graphics, one might expect the performance to be smooth, yet even on a PC that matched the recommended specs, poor optimisation meant inconsistent FPS, maximum graphics card utilisation and the machine itself reaching unnerving temperatures.
The sound design is a redeeming feature of the game, featuring a varied soundtrack including hip-hop, old-timey piano and more for a fun and eclectic feel. The sound effects are also well-implemented and add to the sense of immersion, especially during the game’s creepier moments.
Fears to Fathom: IronBark Lookout has an interesting premise and could have been a highly memorable, sinister, retro experience. It has a unique stylised aesthetic, varied soundtrack, immersive sound effects and the makings of a good horror story. However, the way the story is told, with no building of tension and sporadic ‘in-your-face’ jump scares, does nothing to inspire fear or create a threatening atmosphere. The experience feels slow and unrewarding as a result and the lack of optimisation and bugs make it frustrating and sometimes repetitive. The game feels laborious and, though it is a shame to say, it was a relief to get to the end – as such I simply cannot recommend it.
Looking for horror games with more favourable reviews? Check these out:
Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness – Disturbing New Survival Horror Game – Midnight Scenes – 4 Short Horror Games by Octavi Navarro – Martha is Dead – Disturbing New Psychological Horror