Crow Country: An Examination and Review

A new indie survival horror masterpiece

Crow Country: An Examination and Review
Source: Steam.

It feels premature, but I'll go ahead and say it: Crow Country is the best new game I've played in 2024.

There is something about the artistry of indie games that fundamentally impresses. Not only the small scale or their appeal to retro sensibilities, but how indies love to streamline foregone design principles, to resurrect the impeccable fashion by which beloved styles and genres can thoughtfully shine. Crow Country exists at this fusion of the new and the old, proving again that there is something indelibly fascinating about how this game exists inside and outside of time.

Crow Country is a survival horror endeavor created by SFB Games, an indie studio helmed by brothers Tom and Adam Vian, with music by Ockeroid. This UK-based studio boasts over two decades of industry design and innovation, and they have crafted everything from Flash games to mobile entries. I have a deep love for survival horror, especially indie survival horror, and not since 2022's impeccable Signalis have I been so immediately floored. From its rich world design to its ever-changing environments and gorgeous art direction, Crow Country is a treasure—and an absolute blast to play.

Source: Steam.

A Tour Of Crow Country

"If anyone asks, my name is Mara. Special Agent Forest. That's my name...don't mess it up."

Crow Country takes place entirely in an amusement park of the same name, where the player must explore the above and below of a doomed theme world. Created by park director (and overly ambitious entrepreneur) Edward Crow, this theme park in rural Atlanta peaked in popularity in 1989 before becoming a closed and abandoned fixture of local lore in 1990. The amusement park is fashioned entirely around the carrion bird, boasting haunted houses, game rooms, rides, and merchandise bearing the avian's absurd caricatures.

The game begins after the owner vanishes and an ambitious young woman named Mara Forest enters the park's ruin to find him. In the years leading up to its closure, Crow Country became a festoon of rumors, and the true reason for its closing and the vanishment of Edward Crow is mired in a history of dubious business acquisitions, nefarious plots, and violence against its park guests. Mara Forest's exploration of Crow Country leads her into a web of corruption, greed, and horror, all centered around generational sin and greedy aspirations. The park, as Mara finds it, is a labyrinthine trap filled with grotesque monsters and hidden dangers.

At the center of it all is a darker truth, and Mara Forest isn't the only one seeking definitive answers. Spiraling outward from Crow's tangled nest is an eclectic array of characters with dubious agendas.

Source: Steam.

Lurking Terrors

Crow Country plays like an old-school PlayStation-era survival horror game, but is meticulously and lovingly updated with quality-of-life considerations. The majority of the gameplay loop will be familiar to fans of the genre: you shoot (or avoid) monsters, solve puzzles, collect health items and ammunition, and slowly make your way past the game's many locked rooms and dangerous obstacles.

"...the game's atmosphere took shape organically as I layered up the different components - the modeling, the lighting, the camera filter, and the sounds.
The ambient sound does a lot of heavy lifting in this department. I noticed how much of an impact it had just to add a couple of subtle sounds into the scene, particularly things that you can normally only hear when it's quiet - cars driving in the distance, or the sound of a ventilation fan whirring."

Adam Vian, Creative Director at SFB Games

What makes Crow Country's survival loop especially addictive is how its rich environmental factors come into play. The game is properly replete with secrets, the majority of which are entirely optional (I only successfully found 5/15 on my first play-through and garnished a B rank). This will make the game highly attractive for fans who want to replay it and seek out every hidden secret and optional weapon to dispatch Crow Country's endless parade of monstrous horrors.

The game adapts to the player's progress by unveiling new traps and monsters associated with various hidden progress points. As with many survival horror games, revisiting rooms to solve puzzles is a requirement, and Crow Country does its best to challenge this norm by hiding surprises around every corner. A room you've traversed half a dozen times might suddenly be filled with poison traps or hulking creatures, and well-lit destinations can become obscured by rain or darkness. Crow Country has a "funhouse" vibe that fits with the game's overall aesthetic, and there is no end to the sort of traps that can spell sudden doom for an unobservant Mara.

Source: Steam.

Maybe Everything Will Be Okay

Crow Country's undeniable richness and quality stand out against similar indie titles of the genre. The puzzles are clever (in some cases, too clever), and I was delighted more than once by ingenious solutions hidden amongst the game's impeccable details. Crow Country is a drop-dead gorgeous game that feels like an alternative version of what we've experienced from survival horror's retro golden age: it looks like a cross between a half-dozen different PlayStation entries, supported by its unique art style and clean, responsive controls.

"The art style definitely does inform the gameplay - particularly the camera angle and the level of detail in the enviroments, as this directly affects how players will look at them and want to interact with them."

Adam Vian, Creative Director at SFB Games

While exploring the theme park's increasingly dangerous environs, Mara comes across a discovery that turns Crow Country's purpose on its head. This is where the game shines, in how its mechanical and narrative layers slowly peel back to reveal something grandiose and remarkably satisfying. What lies far below the surface of Crow Country is as terrifying as what's above, and the truths unveiled across the game's short run time keep the plot beats punchy against an unceasing parade of discoveries and solutions. I played Crow Country across the span of a weekend, and it is a game perfectly suited to revisiting again and again, should the mood strike.

Source: Steam.

Crow Country also features an 'Exploration Mode' directly inspired by the gripping aesthetics of traditional survival horror games. Through this mode, players can enjoy the game's story, atmosphere, and puzzles without the anxiety of attracting monsters or fending off traps.

"Some comment I read on social media years ago - someone was asking (jokingly?) if there was a mod to remove the monsters from Silent Hill, as they 'loved being there' but didn't want the stress of having to shoot enemies. I thought about this a lot, and it eventually inspired me to come up with Exploration Mode."

Adam Vian, Creative Director at SFB Games

"I'm Here To Help."

Accessibility was an important factor for David and Adam at the forefront of development, and that shows through Crow Country's addictive playability and responsive controls. There is a lot to love for both survival horror enthusiasts and those new to the genre, and the game feels like a natural jumping-on-point for those who have been apprehensive about playing games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil. Crow Country is bite-sized in the best way, but its indie design and diminutive nature do nothing to detract from the game's ambition. It also feels like a masterclass for those who want to study the intersection of classic appeal and modern design.

Crow Country is a well-crafted survival horror entry dripping with atmosphere, and it will certainly attract a welcome audience when the park opens its gates.

Crow Country releases May 9th and is available on Steam, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S. This reviewer played the game via the Steam Deck (it is fully compatible).


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