Letter to a Friend: Curiousity Killed the Cat

…or at least made it explore its immediate surroundings.

I thought I’d make it a bit of a mini-series and play the other games by chrstphfr and deliver a few impressions: first up is Letter to a Friend, a game about waiting for a late night train (I jokingly, and quite unfairly, called it a “waiting simulator” once, but it’s so much more than that).

Funny thing is, I first played this game a couple of months ago, but took the premise a little to literal then and ended up actually waiting for the train at the far end of the platform where nothing ever happened. Eventually, the dread of what could have happened — had I been just a tad bit less stoic (in my waiting) — made me quit (and think to myself “No, that wasn’t scary at all… I’m totally fine…” *nervous laughter*). I was going to play it again — properly — but got busy with other things and forgot about it. Then, recently, I tried to find the game again, but had a bit of a twilight zone moment as the title totally escaped me, until, thankfully, a Let’s Play by MrKravin reminded me.

Today I’m playing the game again and, as I enter the platform, I realize there isn’t any real reason for me to explore: it’s been a long day, I’m tired, and I’m waiting for the last train, so I can go home and get some sleep, but I decide to play it nice this time: human curiousity gets the better of me and, equally driven by my impatience, I walk the entire length of the platform, back and forth, looking for what I so glaringly missed earlier.

One could say that Letter to a Friend is a game about the things we see in the darkness around or within us, but I feel it’s also a game about how our inquisitive mind can make us do things we know we probably shouldn’t be doing. This, together with how well the art style, the background static, and the drone-based music work to instill a real sense of dread and later fear, made this game stand its ground very well. The only thing I could complain about is how specific the various event triggers are, making it easy to miss them — although that might tell you more about me than the game, and I quite like how very much not in-your-face this game and its scares are: once I got the events rolling the dread turned into chilling fear. Our imagination is quite capable of scaring itself and when a game can tap into that, the horror becomes so much more effective.

The developer is apparently working on a longer game based on this, so that’s something I’ll be looking forward to. This worked very well as a teaser — even without considering it was made in only 48 hours. If I could wish for something in the full game, it would be for a better sense of immediacy (I didn’t feel like I had any in-game reason to start exploring the platform (because my main objective was to wait for the train and be sure not to miss it), but for the further enjoyment of the game it was very important to do so). On the other hand, I like it when a game isn’t overly explicit about what to do and lets me figure things out on my own — so long as it can motivate me to do so.

By the way, to set the mood while writing this I wanted to continue listening to the game’s musical score, but couldn’t make it persist as I alt-tabbed out of the game, so I ended up listening to Drone Not Drones by 65daysofstatic instead, which came close, but didn’t quite capture the same feeling.

Next up is the third, and currently last game (in this serial) called Exposure.