[18 October 2013]
Fibrillation is an experiment created by Egor Rezenov. It tells a simple and straightforward story but uses that simple framework as justification for the various nightmare scenarios it puts you through.
It’s played from the first-person perspective with the pounding of our heartbeat and the gasping of our heavy breathing a constant soundtrack in our ears. This sound effectively sets an uneasy mood even before the environment gets creepy. Our avatar is clearly exhausted and terrified, but of what? Clearly the sound of fear can evoke fear even if there’s nothing obvious to be afraid of.
But the game quickly gives us something to be afraid of, thankfully. Most of Fibrillation is walking through surreal worlds and it could have easily relied on that eerie surrealism as a crutch, as do many indie horror games. Creepy environments don’t stay creepy for long if we never encounter something dangerous. However, less than a minute after you take control, you enter what looks like an abandoned storage facility just in time to see a smoky skull slither across the ground like a snake. The imagery itself is scary with its combination of human, animal, and ethereal characteristics, but just to drive the point home, our vision is clouded by black static and a buzzing nearly drowns out our own heartbeat. This thing is dangerous, and it will spend the rest of the short game stalking us through these surreal environments.
This is when the game starts to evoke classic nightmare scenarios: being chased by something unseen, being lost in a maze, being trapped in a claustrophobic corridor, or being left adrift in a desert. The environments are alternately beautiful and haunting, and the transitions are well paced to take us from a gritty, realistic location to someplace more fantastical.
Even those transition are dreamlike thanks to a “non-Euclidean” level design reminiscent of Antichamber: Straight hallways lead in circles, doors open to other worlds, going backwards is not the same as going forwards. In one such moment, you’ll walk down a set of stairs that seem to go on forever (because they do go on forever), but when you turn around, you’re immediately facing a door.
Throughout the game, we overhear sounds of a defibrillator and the beeping of a hospital monitor, implying that the game itself is the hallucination of a dying mind. If you get the good ending you’re told that Ewan (a.k.a. you) was in a car accident and that his heart stopped for one minute before the paramedics revived him. This brings us back to the title and the central experiment of Fibrillation.
The title refers to irregular muscle contractions of the heart. One particular form of fibrillation is a common cause of heart attacks. Considering the constant heartbeat in our ears and the nightmare scenarios designed specifically to scare us as much as possible, it seems that Fibrillation is trying to simulate the experience of having a heart attack.
Big scares are commonly associated with heart attacks, mostly for comical purposes, but Fibrillation wants us to seriously consider that association. Heart attacks are frightening experiences, a stopped heart leads to fear, but Fibrillation reverses that process for its simulation. It uses the imagery of horror to stress out our heart, and then asks us to consider what that experience would be like for real. It’s not just an experiment in evoking horror, but a deliberate physical experiment upon the player.