Crow Country Review – Comfort Food Horror

The Resident Evil series has redefined and refined survival horror in recent years, arguably single-handedly. However, as the venerable series continues to push the genre forward, a growing number of indie games are looking back to the late ’90s heyday of survival horror for inspiration. Crow Country joins those ranks, paying respectful nostalgic homage to the past. Experiencers never encounter anything they haven’t seen, but experience is comforting in its spooky familiarity.

Developer SFB Games clearly understands its self-imposed assignment. Crow Country’s grainy, low-polygon presentation faithfully evokes the PS1/N64 era, but thanks to its doll-esque character designs. Thankfully, the studio stops short of repeating the more archaic elements of the era, such as fixed camera angles, opting for a more preferred 360-degree camera and free movement instead of tank controls. The presentation adds a nostalgic sinisterness to the game’s setting, a desolate amusement park called Crow Country.

As a Mara Forest agent, you come in search of the missing owner of the park, Edward Crow, and it has been overrun by grotesque monsters of unknown origin. Despite the game’s eerie vibes, scaredy-cats shouldn’t worry; Crow Country is nowhere near as scary as its Silent Hill/Resident Evil influences. This might be disappointing for horror fans – I count myself among them – but I didn’t mind. Outside of some decent jump scares, the game is more about establishing an intriguing, oppressive mood, and that’s enough for me. The creatures look appropriately gross and unsettling, though they have a strangely whimsical charm due to the art direction. The writing has a great sense of humor that contrasts well with a dark and generally enjoyable mystery highlighted by a cool story twist.

Blasting monsters with a variety of firearms such as pistols, shotguns, and if you search hard enough, magnums are adequate, and attachable laser sights provide contemporary assistance. Avoiding enemies to conserve ammo is relatively easy, and the game is generous enough to keep your clips full. This speaks to the vast accessibility of Crow Country. It’s not challenging in terms of combat and inventory management, making it a good introduction to the genre for newcomers or those looking to take it easy on the generally tough playstyle.

Another aspect that SFB Games adheres to Crow Country’s old-school approach is exploration and puzzle-solving. The game’s elaborate puzzles are often clever and well-designed, but the real challenge is keeping track of the two dozen notes that contain clues or solutions. Because you can only view these messages in save rooms, it creates enough backtracking to double-check the employee memo. The game’s condensed level design means the save room isn’t usually too far away, but it’s less convenient to run around as my notebook expands. To mitigate this, expect to write notes or take photos of clues with your phone.

In addition, intentionally cluttered environments easily hide useful objects and clues, meaning things are easy to miss. Expect to hug the walls of each room (though the game keeps track of how many secrets you’ve found). As a longtime fan of the genre, I didn’t mind this nostalgic approach, and it never became a real obstacle. Consider this less a review and more a PSA for those hoping for a streamlined experience.

Speaking of save rooms, the game’s deliberate lack of autosaves means dying results in losing progress between your last visits. I was initially burned by this as I died before reaching the first save room and replaying the first 20 minutes. Again, your tolerance will vary; Losing parts of progress is rarely a problem if you’re diligent about saving. But if you don’t want to deal with that, Crow Country might be too faithfully retro for you.

When it comes to delivering a classic survival horror experience, Crow Country is “one of them” best. Familiar elements and tropes are executed well, and the brief runtime of five to six hours is perfect for its short scope. I enjoyed reliving the golden years of the genre through the eyes of Crow Country; Playing it feels like relaxing under a warm, bloodstained blanket.

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