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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Crow Country - Park Of Darkness (Review)

Crow Country

Released:  May 9th 2024

Developer: SFB Games

Publisher: SFB Games

Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox X/S

If nothing else, Crow Country deserves its flowers simply for being one of the very few retro-style survival horrors to not be a case of, “what if we made a shit game on purpose?”

As a huge horror fan, I’ve played a lot of indie games that liberally took their mechanical, artistic, and atmospheric cues from PSX classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Most of them are dreadful, learning absolutely the wrong lessons from their forebears - like thinking awkward, outdated control schemes make for a “scarier” experience. 

Crow Country not only absorbs the good qualities of old school horror, it’s judicious enough to cast aside most of the bad ones, making for a game that feels authentic without playing like wet garbage. 

Boasting the aesthetic of a very early PlayStation game, Crow Country is about a girl named Mara exploring the eponymous theme park in search of its founder, Edward Crow. As one might expect given the genre, horrific doings are afoot, as it soon becomes apparent the park is crawling with mangled, bloodsoaked creatures that may, at one point, have been human. Mara must avoid the so-called “Guests” while solving an obligatory procession of convoluted puzzles, collecting key items to obtain more key items to progress through the park. 

It’s standard fare, but high quality stuff nonetheless. 

The isometric perspective allows one to see quite a bit of space but keeps just enough offscreen to make reckless sprinting a dangerous prospect. Some of the monsters are truly distressing to look at even with low poly graphics, communicating a clear sense of physical pain as their twisted bodies lurch your way.

Tank controls are, thankfully, replaced by real controls, so getting around the map isn’t like driving the world’s shittest forklift. You also have free camera movement, the use of which can be crucial when hunting for pickups or secrets. 

Mara can take Guests down with a growing collection of traditional firearms, from the starting handgun to the heavier shotgun, flamethrower, and magnum. Shooting is a case of standing still and aiming a target reticule over enemies. It’s not the most elegant system, and it can be hard to keep the twitchy reticule over targets, but relative to its contemporaries, combat feels much more modern and a lot less messy. 

As well as ammo, other resources such as medkits and grenades litter the environment, and can be found by searching trash cans or vending machines. Some items are kept in glass containers which need destroying at the cost of a bullet. Wooden crates are opened the same way, but their contents are a mystery and they could contain nothing, so “spending” a bullet is a considered gamble.

A good job’s been done of balancing resources - you never feel like you’ve got the ammo and healing to be careless, but there’s not such a drought that you should ever feel truly helpless. The back of Mara’s car also dishes out a little handgun ammo if you completely run out. How thoughtful. 

While there’s a lot of expected backtracking, Crow Country does a great job of maximizing its space to keep repeated jaunts through the park’s themed environments interesting. As with any classic survival horror, you can avoid combat most of the time, but subsequent trips through an area will see new creatures and traps added so it becomes a compelling question of population control.  

Speaking of traps, Crow Country is an asshole about them, and that’s putting it politely. 

Partway into the game, various horrible traps start sneaking their way into the environment - little glass orbs that spray poison when touched, crow heads on stick that spray poison when approached, and pickups rigged to explode. All of them are a pisstake, and it never feels scary or challenging when ambushed by a gas attack in an area you thought was safe. Some traps, especially bear traps and explosive barrels, can be used to hurt monsters, so at least there's that.

I’ve left one trap off the list because it deserves special mention - chandeliers. 

Fuck chandeliers. Hidden up on the ceiling where you’re distinctly not looking because every other threat is grounded and imminent, tons of previously visited areas suddenly have them once traps show up, and they cause such massive damage when they land on you that it’s often more economical to just reload a save. Hell, sometimes I did that even when it wasn’t economical, because the traps felt so downright snide I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction. 

In comparison, the Guests pose little to no threat. Even boss-grade enemies dealt less cumulative damage by the end of the game than traps did, and it’s not even close. If the traps added to the horror somehow, it would be one thing, but they’re just annoying, frequently clumped together, and their damage potential feels like a cheap way to add some challenge. 

Traps aside, Crow Country is a great time, and a terrific example of retro horror done right. Compared to its contemporaries, in fact, it does retro horror remarkably right.

Witty dialog and an intriguing plot showcase some solid writing and genuinely inventive ideas. Backstory is, naturally, presented to the player across a series of documents, diary entries, and park employee notes, and some of them are incredibly evocative (especially when describing the Guests). 

A small selection of NPCs add flavor to Mara’s current circumstances, providing memorable but elusive interactions. They’re always a welcome sight after lonely stints of puzzling and fighting, as are the handful of save rooms that ensure you’ll always be glad to see a fire. 

I’d have liked more backstory to the theme park itself rather than purely horror-focused lore, as Crow Country is a fascinating place with enough charm to be given more “character” of its own. Broken up into zones with their own distinct flavor, the park offers haunted houses, ocean-themed arcades, and whimsical fantasy attractions that compellingly contrast against the bloodsoaked terror. There are many secrets to be found, often providing useful gear, and their discovery is often the result of doing something silly. 

Crow Country’s sense of humor provides excellent relief from the darker content. Little mushroom boys hide away and provide “wishes” in the form of gun upgrades. Mara’s dialog is snarky but in a gently likable way, and supporting characters are fun to talk to. There’s a really nice script backing up the overall narrative. 

The theme park concept lends itself very well to environmental puzzles, with Mara having some entertaining interactions with various games, rides, and animatronics to find progression items or clues. If you ever get stuck, there’s a mechanical crow you can use up to ten times that will provide hints on where to go next. It’s a cute way of ensuring nobody gets too lost.

I had to warm up to the art style, not because I dislike PSX visuals, but because the human characters looked a bit too cheap with their obviously segmented limbs and barren faces. While I’m still not particularly keen on how rudimentary they are, the rest of the game is perfect in terms of look and feel. Environments are detailed despite their blocky nature, with pickups clearly visible (mostly) against the static backgrounds, and they brim with personality. 

Once again, praise must be offered to the Guests. They do one of my favorite things in horror, in that they look incredibly goofy but somehow it makes them all the scarier. For the creatures to be as gruesome as they are, with their big cartoon faces and exaggerated limbs, is impressive in a way that reminds me of Jacob’s Ladder. It’s even worse when you see how clearly these living caricatures really, really don’t want to be the way they are. 

Crow Country is a truly great time, a throwback horror that actually understands what made classics like Silent Hill so engaging while avoiding many of the outdated tropes of the past. Solid combat, a disturbing atmosphere, and moments of terrific writing keep the campaign going for its breezy runtime. 

If you’ve been frustrated by the state of some retro horrors, or even if you haven’t, this is a fine addition to the genre that deserves to be ranked highly among the modern examples. Aside from those bastard traps, it’s a damn good bit of body horror.



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