In my longstanding quest for the perfect horror film, I’ve found movies ranging from the excellent and the underrated to the awful and the baffling. I’ve always favored the supernatural, particularly those with appropriate ambiance. Sure, it’s easy to get audiences on the edges of their seats with jump scares. It’s also a cheap tactic appealing to the lowest common denominator of fear. By crafting the proper mood and setting, viewers can feel their nightmares merge with the film without relying on monsters popping up from behind doors.

As much as Five Nights at Freddy’s has shaped the recent horror market in gaming – for better or for worse – it still falls back on the old trope that things must pop up at you to achieve spooky status. There’s an excellent feel to the first twoFreddy’s games, but none of it mattered in the face of animatronic monsters leaping out from the shadows. A loud noise and sudden movements are not required to create true fear – our indie Game of the Year proved that. But what happens when you take away almost all stimulating visuals? Can a text-based game still bring the screams?

I didn’t audibly yell when I played Buried: An Interactive Story from Bromoco Games out of San Francisco, but I came close. You take on the role of Roger, the 41-year-old head of a logging company, and you have just woken up from being unconscious for several hours. Your camp has been torn apart by some unknown force, and you need to find the rest of your crew and discover what caused the catastrophe. Along the way, you’ll make decisions (always only two options at a time) that might impact the rest of the story. Many options have little impact on your overall story, so you just need to pay attention as you go along. But don’t plan on going back to an earlier chapter if a choice doesn’t pan out the way you’d hoped; the only back button is to reset all of your progress, making it much more stressful and engrossing than most horror games.

It helps that the sentence structure and grammar are succinct and near flawless, though some editing could have helped for content. One sentence, which read “I basically only learned the basics,” sticks out in my memory as clunky, but overall this sort of mistake is few and far between. Becoming immersed in horror is necessary, and a lack of technical errors helpsBuried keep you beneath the surface.

. They’re small visual details, but set as starting points for each stream of text, they hit all the right notes. Other than the location of each scene, the rest of the horror requires the player’s imagination. You’re given plenty of details on the world, but how those details project in your mind will be determined by how creative you are. The descriptions of your friends, allies, and enemies are well-defined but not complete. As with any text-based game – or book, for that matter – the minutiae of the world is in the player’s hands, as is the plot. Some choices have next to no impact, while others are literally life and death.

(See Also: Paranormal Prototype: Sylvio 2 & horror in daylight.)

For the first three chapters of this five-chapter game, those choices are going to be tough. Which of the unhinged strangers do you trust with your gun when they take off on a mission? Do you tell your only surviving employee, Dennis, about his best friend’s corpse, or do you protect him from the truth? You begin to forge legitimate connections with these characters and understand their motivations. Soon, you’ll second-guess every decision you make in an effort to keep everyone alive. Spoiler alert: you will fail. This is a horror game, after all; not everyone can make it out alive.

In the last two chapters, most of the track has already been laid for your final choices; all that remains is for you to see how it plays out. Like most scary stories, my ending was fairly predictable, full of carnage, and bittersweet at best. Still, I consider the journey to be the most important part of horror, not the destination. My finger hovered over each option before I clicked for much longer than I’m used to. I reset the game once, not because I knew I made a bad choice, but just because I second-guessed myself enough that I lost focus. Even after the reset, I took my time getting back to that decision; I wanted to let every eerie word hit me full force once more, no matter how uncomfortable some of them were. Buried is a thriller in every sense of the word; a “choose your own adventure” game with relatable and likable characters, a haunting atmosphere, and memorable monstrosities, both human and supernatural.

It’s refreshing that I can still feel afraid playing a game without having things pop out of darkened rooms. Picturing my journey through desolate, corpse-ridden corridors in my mind felt as visceral as any horror film I’ve seen in recent days. In fact, Buried feels like a movie waiting to be made, though it’s unlikely Hollywood would do justice to the simple elegance of a frightening text-based game. I’d rather just play through this one again, and I highly recommend you give it a shot as well.

Buried: An Interactive Story is available on Steam.

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