Something’s Lurking Beneath the Ice
The survival horror genre is all about atmosphere and environment. Immersing a player in a terrifying world and making them feel like there is real risk is part of what makes the genre great. Euphoria Horror Games’ Antarctic 88 does this extremely well. The sound mixing and the environment left me feeling like something could go horribly wrong at any moment. The gameplay and constant attempts at monetization, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired.
Top-Notch Story and World Building
Antarctic 88 follows a son on a mission into Antarctica to rescue his father, Vladimir Efimov, who is a part of a research expedition mining and exploring for prehistoric materials under the ice. Communications go silent after six weeks, prompting a rescue team to figure out what happened. They arrive at the research station, Antarctic 1, where they find trails of blood everywhere and prehistoric creatures roaming the compound. Players must then try and find their father and discover what exactly happened at Antarctic 1. From its setting and story, the game seems to take some inspiration from John Carpenter’s horror classic The Thing and does a good job embodying the elements that made that film so scary.
When you first launch the game, it’ll suggest that you try playing with headphones on, and I highly recommend it. The amount of detail that went into the sound mixing, audio editing, and music is impressive and the strength of Antarctic 88. The background music is the kind that leaves a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach and helps make the environment feel ominous. Enemy creatures can be heard well before they’re ever seen, which is unsettling and left me constantly watching my back and double checking corners. The graphics are well done, environments look lived in and crisp, and character animation feel reminiscent of a Half-Life game. There’s also an active day/night cycle, which goes to show the lengths the developers took to create the environment.
Some Rough Gameplay
As immersive as the game world can feel, Antarctic 88 is seriously held back by its gameplay. Camera controls can be a nightmare. It’s difficult to aim with precision and almost impossible when an enemy is charging at you. Melee weapons also have a habit of clipping through enemies, which leaves you frantically flailing your weapon at enemies just hoping that something hits. These difficulties made enemies all the more terrifying because any time I heard the echoes of a nearby enemy, I knew I was in for a rough time.
Antarctic 88 plays like a traditional survival horror game. You explore areas looking for weapons and ammo, fight off monsters that surround the area, and solve puzzles to advance the story, like fixing a snowmobile that takes you to the next area. Papers scattered through the entire game piece together the mystery of what happened at Antarctic 1, but it’s all a little cliché. Antarctic 88 tries to mix in some platforming, but it was by far my least favorite part of the game. Trying to jump across icy platforms with these poor controls was just horrible. There’s also a snowmobile level, but it’s really nothing worth writing home about. It’s a change of pace and a nice reward for putting the snowmobile together in the first level. But you just drive around a cliffside and try not to fall. The feeling is tense, but gameplay is minimal.
Show Me the Money
Antarctic 88 is a free game, but it really doesn’t want to be. There is no in-game currency. There’s a shop where you can buy weapons, ammo, and other types of upgrades, but they all cost actual money. This isn’t an easy game. Through the early stages of the game, you’re constantly collecting different types of ammo for guns you don’t unlock until much later in the game. But those guns are available from the start of the game if you pay $0.99 to buy them in the store.
The constant ads are also brutal. An ad plays every time the player dies, and you can die a lot. The ads became especially frustrating during the platforming sections. The slightest wrong move with the game’s wonky controls and I’d die. Dying frustratingly and then immediately being forced to watch a commercial was blood boiling. What’s worse is once you beat a level, you have to watch two commercials to unlock the next level. There’s also a feature where you can directly donate to the developers, which puts the constant attempts at monetization in perspective. Indie game developers have mouths to feed and need to make money somehow, but there are better ways to do it than this.
Antarctic 88 showcases the most immersive survival horror environment I’ve ever seen on a mobile game. Its top-notch sound mixing and visuals will leave players feeling uneasy from the game’s start. Unfortunately, the gameplay and ads may leave you feeling even worse.
Is It Hardcore?
Antarctic 88 highlights all the best qualities of the survival horror genre with its environment and sound mixing, but also features some poor gameplay and too many attempts at monetization.