by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
A Brief Introduction
Donít Be Afraid - The First Toy isnít a traditional game for a lot of reasons. For one, itís short. Like, really short. My Steam account says I spent about 50 minutes playing from start to finish, but, considering a good amount of that time was spent pausing and jotting down notes for this review, Iíd put my actual playtime closer to 20-25 minutes. The brief run time isnít terribly condemning for a few reasons, though. See, Donít Be Afraid isnít meant to be a full game. Instead, it exists somewhere between demo and proof of concept, telling a short, self-contained story in the world of a bigger game currently in development by the same studio. That, in addition to it being a free release, makes it a bit challenging to review but still a fun little experience that does what it aims to do fairly well.
Donít Be Afraid - The First Toy is also a bit non-traditional because of the boundaries itís willing to push with its horror. As the game starts, you open your eyes as a child inside of a clear-fronted box, face to face with a creepy masked man complimenting you on how smooth your skin is, and how he canít wait to play with you. Contrary to the gameís title, you really arenít the first toy, instead the latest victim of a man that has children kidnapped and delivered to him as play-things. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that Broken Arrow Games isnít afraid to push the limits of playersí comfort level when it comes to horror. Itís rare to see a game so clearly and centrally focused on extreme violence against children, intermixed with more traditional scenes of gore and adult bodily harm.
The gameís biggest strength is that itís able to build such a great sense of nightmarish atmosphere in such a short period of time. The narrative and gameplay objectives are simple- as the child, you must navigate the labyrinth-like basement youíve been left in to find the exit and escape to freedom. Fittingly, combat isnít part of the experience, and challenges come in the form of some basic puzzle solving a bit of monster-in-the-house pattern recognition and avoidance. At its core, itís a bit of a spooky walking simulator, but the basement horrors are well-done enough that I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Itís difficult to praise a horror game like this without getting into any specific examples of how it creates scares, but, running less than a half-hour, any spoilers represent a fairly large percent of the total experience. I will say that there are jump-scares a-plenty, which normally grind my gears as a cheap horror tactic in lieu of real atmosphere, but theyíre handled well here. Most of the jump-scares feel earned, and theyíre generally visual- you donít have to worry about speaker-busting random shrieks or anything of that nature. Theyíre also used to complement the sense of terror created by the environment, not as the sole pillar of scares.
Graphics and Design
While traversing the basement of terror, the spooks will be delivered via graphics that are good-but-not-great. From a design perspective, everything is well done. Though there is some backtracking involved in navigation, hallways and rooms are laid out well enough to seem both claustrophobic but easy enough to navigate. Textures and models are middle-of-the-road, looking a bit dated but never detracting from the experience. The only visual and map design choice that I didnít care for was the use of ďblood walls,Ē which popped up two or three times. For most of the game, progress is halted by locked doors or other setting-appropriate obstacles. In these instances, though, walls of blood block rooms, falling once a certain criterion is met. These walls seem jarringly ďgame-yĒ in an otherwise more logical seeming environment, and the animation of them ďfallingĒ is easily to worst in the game.
Donít Be Afraid - The First Toy is difficult to review in the same way I review other titles because it isnít meant to be a full release. While itís a self-contained story, itís very clearly an advertisement for something yet to come, though I was still able to enjoy it for what it is. With an asking price of zero and such a short run time, there really isnít any excuse for horror fans to give this spooky exploration puzzler a shot.
Follow us on Instagram for updates on reviews and news.
Very creepy, jump scares that are earned, appropriate price point
A few poor visual elements, more of a proof-of-concept than a full experience