The man on the sled turned. Behind his five o’clock shadow was a lunatic’s grin. It’s the last thing I wanted to see. Aside from the four dogs, there was just the two of us, embarking and, in his case, re-embarking on the path of a scientific expedition in the Arctic.
I had no idea what I would encounter at the end, but that smile and a few cryptic remarks portended nothing good. The farther you venture into the desolate snow, the more you question if you truly want to see what waits at the end of this journey.
That Which Gave Chase is an indie game that bills itself as a “first-person dog sledding thriller”, which I think undersells it a smidgen. This indie gem boasts a clever, experimental narrative that uses smash cuts to convey time and distance. It also has the effect of disorientating you a fair bit, never allowing you to feel too comfortable.
The indie horror genre’s most intriguing trend, in my opinion, lies in its embrace of the polygonal weirdness of the PS1. The sharp angles and haunting, phantasmagorical atmosphere are well-suited for the chilling dread found in That Which Gave Chase. The game’s world is appropriately sparse, and even the occasional inhabitants, such as the deer, can quickly turn into eerie nightmares depending on the lighting.
The gameplay keeps it simple, just a notch or two beyond a walking simulator. As the musher, your role is to lead your dogs through the vast and merciless white expanse. Balance becomes key; tipping the sled can easily trigger the consternation of your canine companions or result in a dangerous encounter with agitated deer.
Throughout the journey, there is a sense that the wildlife does not welcome your presence on this land, and as your human companion recounts tales of the previous expedition, you begin to understand why that might be the case.
He’s an enigma. An obtuse scientist with mysterious ambitions that veer into the realms of the profane and the mad. You press forward, intermittently stopping to assess the waypoints and explore derelict cabins. Aware this scientist has visited these places before, you cannot help but wonder about the role he played in its current state of disarray. These thoughts rest uneasily upon your mind.
Yet you plow on.
The narrative unfolds through scattered notes and sparse dialogue, allowing you to piece it together on your own. By the end, I wasn’t sure if I fully had a handle on it, but that seemed intentional. I found myself in a place I shouldn’t have been in, working for someone whose money I should have never accepted.
Before long, a single thought consumed me: I needed to escape…if the land would let me go.
You’re equipped with a rifle for a chunk of the journey, and even the act of reloading ends up being a tension-ratcheting process. Yet, your opponents, few as they may be, are familiar with the land, making combat a matter of survival, not empowerment.
The goal is always to survive — to plow on.
However, you won’t be plowing on for too long. That Which Gave Chase offers a concise, yet darkly memorable, fifty to sixty minutes of gameplay. Brief but impactful, it’s enough to enjoy with a cuppa, but its haunting essence will linger well beyond that.
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