A screenshot of the in-game desktop, where a TOR-style browser window shows a site called Cotton Road.

Welcome to the Game: a Russian Encounter

Welcome to the Game or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Deep Web.

New York-based Reflect Studios, formerly a team of web and mobile app developers, made their first public foray into the world of horror gaming early 2016, through the Kickstarter project Rides With Strangers. Following the release this past June of the Kickstarter concept demo and an unrelated project called Welcome to the Game, it would seem they have a passion for justifying whatever misgivings or general paranoia you might have over ambiguous yet otherwise mundane scenarios.

In Welcome to the Game, for example, ou search the Deep Web Dark Web for the hidden address of what is apparently the only Red Room — that is, a website where you can view and interact with a snuff film in real time (Like, Twitch plays murder basically) — in existence. Red Rooms are fairly well accepted as a myth, but that never stopped our imaginations from putting games on Steam. And now, thanks to the help of your friend Adam, you have all the necessary tools to hack and double-forward-slash your way across a pretend version of the anonymous internet.

Actually, “anonymous” is a bit of a misnomer. Like I said, in the Reflect Studioverse, every bad thing you could suspect about a scenario turns out to be true, so browsing a collection of dead links and home pages – or even just using the in-game version of Skype – turns your computer into a helicopter landing pad for hackers of all stripes. (They’re obviously after your tasteful pinstripe desktop wallpaper). Malicious software appears early and often, including some kind of tracking code that summons a kidnapper to your residence faster than you can say HashtagSaveMarinaJoyce. < C:\Taskkill /IM Topical_Human_Joke.exe >

Welcome to the Game (Really Though)

As it turns out, the horror of this game comes not from the many depraved Deep Web sites you might find, or even the whole main-character-is-apparently-fine-with-livestream-torture thing, but the large Russian kidnapper who can appear in and around your house at any time.

Dubbed Boris the Russian balaclava model by fans (actual names have been ommitted to protect the privacy of any kidnappers involved), because Boris and Ivan are the only Russian names anyone can come up with, this unfortunate antagonist is only foreshadowed by a brief mention of an urban legend claiming browsing the Deep Web will attract shady and people-stealy types to come and find you.

But that’s dumb, right? … Right?

A view of the protagonist's dingy house in Welcome to the Game. There is a large window on the left side, next to the wireless router.
Many people have special doors for their pets. I make sure Borris can always get through the window.

Welcome to the Game is like what would happen if you tried playing Five Nights at Freddy’s while also doing English homework. There’s just no time to actually sit down read the content you’re assigned, or to find the eight codes which lead to the Red Room address, but since you’re still kind of on texting-while-driving mode anyway, you’ll inevitably miss those subtle signs that indicate you’re on the fast track in the dying direction. Fortunately, like most modern horror titled tailored for contemporary Let’s Plays, this game both kindly informs you not to screw up in future playthroughs and reminds you of the fact that loud, startling noises make GREAT OPERANT CONDITIONERS!!!

I love games that give me tiny heart attacks at frequent intervals. Just kidding, no I don’t. I screamed like a grown woman today. Boris can either politely interrupt your work and cause the camera to automatically turn, or you can get jumped by leaving the computer screen when he’s about to interrupt you/screwing up the “stealth” segments, in which case his appearance is marked by a SLAM!!! scare chord. On my computer the in-game cursor gets stuck after you enter and exit the pause screen, requiring you right-click out of the in-game computer in order to reset it.

Apparently Boris navigated through my window while the game was goddamn paused or something.

He also casually spawned in the middle of my Type to Learn 3 hacking minigame in the previous playthrough. Despite my sprinting to the light switch after every bump and brush and shivering in the dark like a panicked kitten, sometimes Boris decides that if he’s already broken this many laws of metaphysics, circling your house and alerting you of the fact whenever he nears the window is just a waste of time. There’s a reason he didn’t bring a van or truck or zip ties or any methods of incapacitation. Russians teleport. They have been leagues beyond our science for years.

Such is the only possible reason for the main character’s apathy. The window remains propped open and emergency dispatchers undisturbed, even after several identical kidnap attempts from the same entryway on the same household. His home invasion sensibility is only half a step below a fresh batch of cookies on the window sill reading “WELCOME RUSSIAN EXCHANGE STUDENTS :)”

So here I am, using a walkthrough. Depending on the temperament of your current save file, it may be easy to understand why. There is no reason to be horsing around on slow-to-load pretend web pages, or even reading their content in one sitting, when you are getting hacked on one-minute intervals and receive Boris alerts on thirty second intervals. Either one stalls or eliminates your progress upon failure, and trust me, the less often you have to go through the Chosen Awake puzzle, the better.

Since it’s basically a code snippet Easter Egg hunt rather than a detailed internet “investigation” of any sort, Welcome to the Game opts for replay- and streamability over Dark Web lore and world-building. It’s certainly scary and provides some decent fun once you get the hang of it, but don’t walk in expecting to delve into the human psyche.

You can get Welcome to the Game for just $1.99 on Steam. You’ll likely enjoy it if you’re into the Jump Scare Prevention Squad mechanics made famous by FNAF. I’d also recommend to anyone into randomized home-invasion horror The Very Organized Thief, and for yet another randomized scare-fest, suitable for Let’s Plays and streaming, try Spooky’s House of Jump Scares Jump Scare Mansion, available for free on Steam!



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