Get your driving gloves on, we’re in for a wild ride.
Building a horror game taking place only through the dashboard of a car is a risky move. While pursuit is a mechanic we regularly see with a driving game, stealth and fear are rarely part of the genre’s make up. I find myself out in the countryside, surrounded by old crumbling road, bare trees and neat rows of while mobile homes. Nobody’s around. It’s well past midnight. The only sounds are those made by my car.
It’s quiet for the first few minutes. I could explore but there’s little to see, and anything I do make out in the gloom just raises more questions. Who am I? What am I doing here? There’s no in-game map or even a compass. It’s just me, the roar of my engine, and the road.
I eventually stumble across an isolated building, the only well-lit place I’ve spotted so far. Inside, I see someone’s shadow just as he sprints out of sight. The next thing I know, an intense musical track that sounds like a John Carpenter production kicks in, four men in black coats pile into a car I haven’t seen, and I’m suddenly thrown into a car chase. I can’t see any specific damage my vehicle is taking, but I know it’s easy for my pursuers, whoever they are, to sideswipe me into a highway guardrail, or knock me off the road. In the back of my head I know that if I stay still for more than a couple of seconds, they will pile out of their car to drag me out my window.
Shortly after this realisation, that’s exactly what happens. My pursuers have rammed me into two trees and, as I desperately try and escape their clutches, I end up staring at a black screen with the word “Death” in 12-point text. I have no idea what just happened.
Beware, formerly known as Driving Survival, is a one-man production, funded through Patreon and built in Unity by the independent filmmaker Ondrej Svadlena. It’s been in production for a few years now, with a new open demo landing at the very beginning of 2019.
The in-game world is wide open, with controls for your car that feel a bit more like running than driving; you can turn in place without moving forward, for example. It features no tutorials right now, no hand-holding, and no real idea of why you’re driving around this rural location.
It’s just a question of exploring the environment until you hit something weird, whether it’s an isolated farm, an abandoned gas station, a couple of barricaded roads, or a strange old woman who lives in the middle of the woods. It’s got that dreamlike lack of focus of the abandoned P.T. project or a Nicolas Winding Refn movie. It feels like you’re playing through someone else’s grimy dream. The demo’s page calls the game a tribute to the great car chase movies of the 1970s but what’s left unsaid is the prevalence of the survival horror genre in this experience, a blend of ideas that create a uniquely frantic experience.
Overall, Beware reminds me of early PC adventure games where players are dropped in the middle of nowhere and left to figure out their own way to progress. Beware is strange in its lack of specified direction, particularly for this day and age, and if that persists into anything close to a final version, I could see it becoming a real water-cooler game. The only way to figure it out is to keep exploring and trying new things. Now that I’ve talked to the old woman, can I go back and activate this switch? I just turned on the lights somewhere else, but did that actually do any good? All of these questions will no doubt become far richer with a community behind the game.
Beware’s in with a good shot at becoming a hit, because if nothing else, it looks shockingly good, particularly for a one-man show. The lighting effects are first-rate, especially in the way that a pursuer’s headlights flood in through your back window, or the way rainwater on the outside of your car plays with vision. The whole thing is strangely cinematic and realistic, feeling like it’s shot on high-grain film. If I didn’t already know that Svadlena had a cinematic background, I’d suspect it.
I was initially reserved about checking out a driving game, but as it turns out, it’s closer to my usual wheelhouse than I thought. Beware is an open-world mystery with unique stealth and pursuit mechanics. Inching forwards with your headlights off, trying not to gun the engine leaves palms just as sweaty as a survival horror stalk through darkened corridors. Things can switch in a split second, though. Tearing hell-for-leather across backwood roads in the middle of the night, trying to lose the car full of murderers at your back, Beware returns to a typical driving experience. Bringing the two together creates the potential for a disjointed experience, but the interweaving of these different tropes is so buttery smooth we are instead faced with a brilliantly unique collection of ideas. I’m excited to see where Beware will take its influences from here.