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Monday, May 15, 2023

‘Greyhill Incident’ Preview – How Upcoming Video Game Will Creep You Out Like a Playable ‘Fire in the Sky’

Alongside viral outbreaks and murderous revenants, horror games love pitting us against threats from beyond the stars.

If you have even a passing interest in the genre, then you’re bound to have dealt with a few alien hordes in your time, as we just can’t seem to get enough of these terrifying close encounters. In the past twelve months alone, we’ve fought extra-terrestrial beasties in The Callisto Protocol, SIGNALIS, Scorn, and of course, the exemplary Dead Space remake.

And while those titles certainly had their differences and idiosyncrasies, one thing remained consistent across the board. Taking to heart that old adage: “In space, no one can hear you scream”; they all put a fair bit of distance between you (as the player) and the reassuring comforts of Planet Earth.

Whether they were sentencing you to life in a maximum-security prison orbiting Jupiter, getting you to respond to a distress signal in the farthest reaches of the cosmos, or thrusting you into a Gigeresque hellscape that was replete with phallic creatures & pulsating orifices; the clear aim was to give you a sense of displacement. After all, you really start to feel isolated and vulnerable when you’ve been cast adrift thousands of lightyears away from home.

By contrast, there aren’t too many sci-fi horror releases that are set on our pale blue dot. Which brings us nicely to Greyhill Incident, a first-person title that’s aiming to plug this gap in the market by having you fend off an invasion from diminutive saucer people.

Granted, the interlopers may have a duller pigmentation than your classic “Little Green Men” but, otherwise, they fit the bill perfectly. With oval-shaped, jet-black peepers, nostril slits where the noses ought to be and a general lack of facial features, they closely match the descriptions you’ve heard from every tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy nut and rambling drunkard who claims to have been abducted. The idea being that, in the lore of this particular game, those kooks were right on the money all along.

You see, it turns out that our little corner of the Milky Way is being regarded with envious eyes by a race of superior beings, who possess far greater intellect than us and have access to futuristic technology as well. Ready to set their nefarious plans in motion, they are now launching an attack on the small rural community of Greyhill, which is naturally out in the middle of nowhere U.S.A.

Descending upon the village from their UFOs, they begin rounding up the populace for all manner of grisly experimentation and the obligatory spot of probing. That’s where you come in!

As part of a local neighbourhood watch scheme (that’s been preparing for this very occurrence), your job is to check in on your fellow residents and help them repel this interstellar conquest. However, you’re hardly armed to the teeth— equipped with only a baseball bat and a feeble peashooter — so you’ll have to play it smart and avoid direct contact with “The Greys” wherever possible.

The resulting experience is a hybrid of stealth, chase and combat mechanics. It’s not your typical helpless horror (in the sense that you do have the capacity to somewhat defend yourself) but evasion is still the best course of action, given that both ammo and melee stamina are in short supply. In terms of the gameplay balance, think of it a bit like Alien: Isolation and you’re in the right ballpark.

Indeed, the developer of Greyhill Incident has actually cited Creative Assembly’s gem as one of their biggest influences, while also namechecking Hello Neighbor, Outlast, Bloober Team’s Blair Witch adaptation and a slew of other pop-culture artefacts.

Speaking to Bloody Disgusting about this, Aaron Roller — aka Regugium Games — said: “I looked into everything I could find for inspiration; from fictional stuff right through to ‘real life’ abduction cases. [The game] is inspired by movies like Signs, Fire in the Sky, The X-Files (1998), The McPherson Tape and lots of other stuff.”

With the old-school design of its E.Ts, a subplot about a government cover-up, and the farmland setting (you’ll be running through plenty of cornfields, ala Mel Gibson in Signs), you can definitely see how those various touchstones have gone on to shape the direction of Greyhill Incident.

Yet, while the premise will no doubt be familiar to cinephiles and urban legend enthusiasts alike, there’s something undeniably refreshing about seeing it translated into a video game for once. It somehow makes everything feel brand new again.

Roller was counting on this novelty appeal to get people invested. He explained: “We noticed that there weren’t really any horror games out there about [this] topic. We haven’t seen a stereotypical alien invasion with flying saucers before, but there is an existing audience who would like to experience that. Including myself! So, we just decided to make one.”

Incidentally, the “we” being referred to here is just a team of freelancers because, in truth, the whole thing is Roller’s baby. A visual-effects-artist turned game developer, he is the main driving force behind Greyhill Incident and has been working on the indie title since October 2021. Aspects of the story and animation have been outsourced in order to help him manage the hefty workload, yet shipping the finished product is ultimately his responsibility and his alone.

Naturally, such a low-fi approach comes with its share of speedbumps. Roller continued: “Since this is an indie, things have to be planned extremely well, especially when it comes to budget. For example, we had to set priorities and decide which characters would get motion-capture animation and which would not. The biggest challenge of all though was [programming] the aliens themselves, in terms of their unique behaviours and A.I.”

For context, the enemy encounters in Greyhill Incident are not rigidly scripted like they are in some other horror games. The visitors don’t show up at preordained intervals or have carefully timed jump scares that’ve been planned out in advance. Instead, they are dynamic and wander the map freely of their own volition (again, recalling the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation).

According to Roller, there are only ever a handful of Greys patrolling at any given juncture but their movements aren’t all random, so a lot of work had to go into making them feel convincing. Traversing with purpose, they have a number of tasks to perform around the village in real time — such as probing the locals and searching houses — and they can also strategize together when in pursuit.

On that note, it sounds like the invaders are capable of quite a few complex interactions here. If you’re discovered, they can apparently split up into multiple groups to hound you from different directions and they can even feign ignorance, pretending to lose sight of you so that you’re lulled into a false of security. Should you fall for this ruse, they’ll drop the act the moment that you leave your hiding spot and then go in for the kill.

It’s no wonder that the A.I. was one of the greatest hurdles in development then and, given that stealth is such an integral part of the experience, it needed to be done right. Elaborating upon this, Roller attested: “We had to design the Greys’ behaviour from scratch. It won’t satisfy everyone, of course, but we did everything that was possible within our limited budget and resources.”

Once you’re caught and the prospect of stealth goes out the window, you still have a few remaining options available. As aforementioned, there’s a gun, a melee weapon and you can participate in a QTE to hold the aliens off for a short while (the catch being that this will become increasingly difficult with each successive failure).

We’re also told that UFOs will be part of the experience in some way, shape or form, although Roller was tight-lipped about how exactly they’d factor into gameplay. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait that long to find out, as the good news is that Greyhill Incident is releasing in just a few weeks’ time. At which point we’ll finally be able to uncover all of its dark secrets and intricate conspiracies.

Speaking of which, we wrapped up our conversation by asking Roller if he earnestly thinks that “The Truth Is Out There,” or if he just wanted to make a cool horror game about aliens. In response, he answered: “I’m not sure about that. I definitely believe in extra-terrestrial life [but] I’m not convinced by people’s stories of Greys abducting them and doing weird experiments. There just isn’t enough proof.”

Either way, he seems to have put his scepticism aside when making the game itself, because this one has a lot going for it. True believer or not, it’s obviously been put together with a great deal of love and understanding of the subject-matter. And we can’t wait to dive in.

Greyhill Incident will be released on PlayStation 5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S and PC on June 9.

The post ‘Greyhill Incident’ Preview – How Upcoming Video Game Will Creep You Out Like a Playable ‘Fire in the Sky’ appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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