Short Horror Week #4: Hylophobia

Elude screaming skull monsters in an artifact-riddled forest

Platform: PC

By Ian Coppock, Originally Published on February 20, 2013

Hylophobia means having a fear of forests or any wooden material. That was my first question when I saw this game, so I figured I’d clear that up before we go any further. The title also serves to foreshadow the terror that is to come. If you enjoy walking in forests in the middle of the night, I’d suggest stopping here. No? Then let’s get into Hylophobia, a short, bitterly sweet survival horror game and the fourth entry in Short Horror Week.

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The Story
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As with the other entries in this week’s review series, Hylophobia takes approximately 10-15 minutes to successfully complete. The game opens as a Ph.D. student collects weather data in a plane. A lightning strike downs the plane but you, the student, survive. The only problem is that you seem to have crashed in a forest that doesn’t show up on any map. Awesome.
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AAAAAAAAAH!!! WAZZAT?!?!.

Shortly after crashing, I collected a flaslight, a GPS device and a mysterious note that said “Find three orbs and be free”. I was then given a set of coordinates for the first orb. Not too shabby so far, right? Enter the whispering, screaming skulls pictured up top into the equation, and what you have is a heart-pounding crusade for freedom. The skulls float in the forest, whispering and giving little “psst” sounds to try to catch your attention. If you look at one for too long, it immediately rushes into your face and kills you. Fun fun.

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Finding this orb only set me back ONE coronary!.

Hylophobia skimps on the story in favor of gameplay and atmosphere, and I was left wondering what each of the glowing orbs were for. Were there really monsters, or was my character a hylophobe surrounded by trees and therefore scared for his life? Not sure. All I know is that I sprinted while following those coordinates, and loudly yelled “ssh!” or “shut up!” every time one of the skulls tried to get me to look at it. Ha! Victorious! Though my hands were shaking for a few minutes after I beat the game.

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To sum up, Hylophobia is a demonic skull-ridden forest at midnight, dotted by three glowing, floating orbs that you must find before the skulls kill you. The coordinates, and the instructions to “be free” are the only bits of story I was given once I’d crashed in the forest. It’s a tantalizing bit of narrative, but a little too minimalist. To be fair, though, I have reason to believe that this is a piece of a larger game that’s still in development. I’ll reserve my story criticisms for the full version.
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The Artwork
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Like the other indie horror games we’ve seen this week, Hylophobia has a very basic, cut-and-dry look to it. The graphics aren’t that impressive, but the twisted trees, terrain variation, and clouds of mist amp up the creepy. In a sense, the less developed graphics make the game look scarier. With more pixelated, rough-edge visuals, the environment seems to look more savage and brutal. Maybe that’s just inside my own head. I don’t know.
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Do I really have to go in there? O.O
In either case, the game’s atmosphere is very menacing. It’s almost too thrilling to sprint through a dark forest, knowing that you’re being hunted. But, I guess that’s the feeling that twisted psychos like me seek in these games. Hylophobia is absolutely terrifying, but in being so, it is also exhilarating.
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Should I get it?
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If you’re a horror fan, absolutely. This is the scariest game I’ve played so far this week. It’s simple, short, and well-designed, with plenty of potential for jumpscares. The GPS mechanic adds a light puzzle element to the game, and the constant fear of being ambushed by flying skulls will put your adrenaline system on a nice, strict workout routine. There wasn’t much information on who developed the game, but if I find his or her name, I’ll be sure to post it (credit where credit is due).
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