Indie Horror Month 2013: 'The Crooked Man'

The Crooked Man is a dark and sad tale that avoids easy sentimentality. Its horror stems from relatable, real life fears.

It’s Indie Horror Month once again here at Moving Pixels! Last year I dedicated October to highlighting “clever, unique, and most importantly scary independent horror game[s] that might otherwise slip under your radar.” That crop of games included The 4th Wall, Paranormal, Home, and Lone Survivor (it’s worth mentioning that Paranormal recently became available on Steam Early Access, so now it’s much easier to get a hold of). This year I’m back with even more esoteric horror games, starting with a translation of a Japanese RPG Maker-made game.

The Crooked Man is a freeware horror game made with the WOLF RPG Editor, a piece of Japanese software similar to the RPG Maker games. It’s developed by Uri and translated by vgperson. It’s hard -- if not impossible -- to find any more information about these people other than their Internet aliases, but they made and translated one damn fine game.

The story is why you’re going to play The Crooked Man. That’s not to say that the gameplay is bad, but as with any 16-bit game made with some RPG Maker software, the story is the driving force. In this case, it’s a dark and sad tale that avoids easy sentimentality. It’s an excellent horror story because the horror stems from relatable, real life fears: The fear of living a life that’s not up to your expectations, coping with life when everything seems to go wrong, suffering the slow unavoidable loss of dreams, lovers, friends, and family. The Crooked Man asks us, “How do you keep living when you have nothing left to live for?”

For that reason, this is the rare horror story that earns its happy ending. It makes sense. The game revolves around confronting personal demons and disappointment, so it stands to reason that if we can overcome them we should come out the other side a better, stronger person. It basks in darkness so much that anything other than a sentimental ending would feel nihilistic. Yet, as I said before, the game avoids easy sentimentality since it practically quizzes the player on its themes at the end of each level.

At these moments, you’ll get a dialogue choice. Choose wrong and the Crooked Man kills you. It's game over and a bad ending. Choose right and you get to keep playing. It’s a blunt but effective way of forcing the player to acknowledge the game’s thematic content and not just approach it on a mechanical level.

Any horror game that focuses on an individual’s personal demons is inevitably compared to Silent Hill 2, and there’s no denying that David is a lot like James Sunderland. They’re both depressed men facing mysterious horrors while in search of someone. With this in mind, it’s easy to assume The Crooked Man might fall into the trap of trying to remake Silent Hill 2, that it might follow the same thematic arc as that horror classic, but thankfully this doesn’t happen. It comes close, but then The Crooked Man takes a turn and becomes very much its own game with its own message about life. A more universal message, actually.

As for its mechanics, it plays like classic survival-horror game, with lots of creepy locations and obtuse puzzles. There’s no combat (outside a few boss fights) and the levels are pretty small, so it’s easy to explore and backtrack. There are times when you just won’t know what you’re supposed to do, but the size of the world makes it fairly easy to just wander until you stumble into a cut scene. For those inevitable moments when you’re just stumped, there’s a really good walkthrough on the download site.

The sound has to get a special mention. The Crooked Man has some of the best use of sound in any horror game. There’s a constant droning hum of wind in each level, as if every building is full of holes. It’s faint enough so that it’s never obvious, sometimes it’s even drowned out by the sound of your fingers on the keyboard, but it’s just loud enough to provide an eerie backbeat to the action. Other sounds are so faint, so delicate, that I had to pause the game to see if they were actually coming from outside (I swear that piano was coming from my neighbor’s house, not my computer). All these sounds create a quiet atmosphere of dread with an emphasis on the quiet, but then that quiet will be shattered by a scream or crash that sounds all the more disturbing because of how it breaks the normal stillness of the game. The screams especially. They’re uncommon, but they capture the sound of utter terror. I’ve never heard a scream as bone chilling as those in The Crooked Man.

The Crooked Man is a classic survival-horror experience stripped of excessive gameplay fluff and condensed into a tight, powerful three hour package. It’s a free game that doesn’t require any extra software to run, and it can be downloaded from the translator’s website:

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.