SEPTEMBER 1999 is the shortest game I’ve played so far, yet possibly the most interesting.
18. SEP. 1999
The setting is restricted to two rooms, one of which is a messy bedroom with only empty cans, a lamp, and a dirty mattress on the floor. A partially open door separates the bedroom from a small, empty hallway with a covered window and three other, now locked doors. In both rooms, there are pictures of green parrots on the wall. The home seems quite normal at first, although it radiates a weird vibe. As the time in the video moves forward, unexpected events start to happen, and you, as a player, though only witnessing the incident, happen to be the main character in this brief yet suffocating horror story.
After closing the game, I still feel surrounded by the atmosphere. In just 5 minutes, I felt timid, desperate, yet oddly familiar. September 1999 features a brilliant, unique style that blurs the line between game and reality. Speaking for myself, that’s one of the most crucial aspects a game can possess. Everything is captured through an old camera, giving the feeling of watching someone’s home through real footage from the 1900s, similar to those in true crime series. And it’s no secret why people watch true crime; the authentic setting fascinates and makes strange things even harder to explain. Now, imagine that as a game.
While many modern horror games overload players with constant action, often sacrificing true horror or believability, SEPTEMBER 1999 takes a different approach. This game’s eerie atmosphere seems to be constructed by a few, somewhat simple, elements: anticipation and uncertainty. It might sound frustrating, but it works like magic. As the timeline hops to another day, there is always something new adding to the story, leaving the player confused but craving more. The setting, consisting only of two rooms, makes you wonder what’s behind the other doors. A lot seems to be happening outside, but you can only sense it from your own narrow perspective, one glimpse at a time. Therefore, it leaves much to your imagination.
There is of course one downside to this particularly simple gameplay – the interactive aspect is restricted only to moving around and opening the one unlocked door. Having additional ways of interaction in the game would add to the enjoyment, as it’s still the one feature that separates most video games from movies. In this context, the limited possibilities create an atmosphere with a sense of hopelessness, also forcing the player to really absorb the details and be in the moment.
Surely, this game would be fun to have as a longer version. However, I’m certain it would lose some of its spark along the way. There is a unique charm in the compactness of the experience; knowing the story will end soon, players immerse themselves in the game, trying to solve as many clues as possible and constantly wondering how it will end. That enables the game to maintain its suspense throughout the story. It also encourages repeated playthroughs as the players are eager to combine more clues each time. Not to mention how easy it makes the game to play, even for the busiest gamers or those with short attention spans…
SEPTEMBER 1999 has an atmosphere and style of storytelling that in itself is oddly effective but also could be enhanced and added to other, possibly more interactive, horror games. The gameplay reminds me a bit of an interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which allows viewers to make choices that determine the end. Although the game falls short on the interactivity part, in both the movie and the game, the emphasis is on the story making the whole experience immersive. These pieces show the potential for narrative-driven interactive experiences. For me, not a huge fan of jump scares, this game worked out perfectly leaving me eager to see more similar projects in the future. If you generally enjoy short horror stories, you might find this one intriguing as well. Even if you don’t, trying it won’t likely cost you much as the game only lasts for 5 minutes and 30 seconds...
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS
Release Date: October 10, 2018
Genre: Indie game
PEGI: Not rated. “The developers describe the content like this: Includes intense violence and themes of substance abuse. (Steam)”
Photos are gameplay screenshots, taken by the author.
Annika is a casual gamer drawn to experiences with cinematic narratives and immersive atmospheres. Seems to find a new interest every week but one thing's for sure – if it involves animals, cyberpunk, or horror, she's all in.
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