Survival horror’s having a long overdue moment right now. Whether it’s any of the remakes of legendary titles that are forthcoming, homages like The Callisto Protocol, or something boldly novel and different altogether, there’s a lot to be excited about and dig into whether you’re a relative newcomer like myself or a habitual survival-horror enjoyer. One such game, You Will Die Here Tonight, might look really familiar if you’ve played or seen Resident Evil in action, but beneath that surface is something far more promising than a small-scale retread of that well-worn path.
You Will Die Here Tonight does start on an awfully similar note, though. It is a top-down survival horror game where you play as Aries Division, a highly trained cop unit that infiltrates a mansion in upstate New York where evil zombie shit is clearly going down! Soon enough they’re separated from one another and things begin to go awry. In the demo I played (which is available on Steam), I was first placed in the shoes of Ashley Kowalski, one of the members of Aries Division who’s poisoned soon after waking up. As she slowly bleeds out, you’re tasked with searching the nearby rooms of the mansion in search of hints for a puzzle that’ll unlock a safe, which will presumably hold a cure for her, or at least some answers. All the while you have to evade a zombie that’s threatening to knock the doors between you down. Finally, when she collects all the clues—and bandages herself to stave off death—she opens up the door that she woke up next to and finds a syringe in a bear trap. You don’t get to see what happens before the sound of a trap shutting and the title card hits.
This is what I ended up loving about my time with You Will Die Here Tonight. Over the course of six short demos delivered over the last week, it drops you into the perspective of every member of Aries Division, who all go missing that night in Spencer Mans—I mean Breckenridge Hall. Throughout it all, the game has gruesome fun with everything. Some of the characters spew lines corny enough to give Ethan Winters a run for his money, and each demo delivers a slightly different flavor of survival horror, from Ashley’s puzzle-oriented demo to Javier’s supernatural story to Vincent’s shotgun blasting. They even manage to fit in an escape sequence, so if you’re looking for something that hits all the tropes of survival horror from a storytelling and mechanical perspective, You Will Die Here Tonight seems like it might have a lot to offer.
All of Aries Division also meet grisly ends by the end of their respective segments, but that’s supposed to be the case, and it feeds into the overall story and builds to the game’s biggest twist. Countless of my dead characters, for example, appeared as zombies I had to take out in one of the last demos I played because player death is actually a huge component of You Will Die Here Tonight. The other members of Aries Division can find the remains of their squad and this knowledge affects them in ways that aren’t entirely clear. It seems that sometimes characters can come back as zombies, and other times, their death might clue a character into something they didn’t know. The possibilities are unclear due to how limited I was in my demos, but I’m intrigued by how that system might mutate a story over the course of a more complete campaign. The ability for mechanical failure to transform a story is rarely explored in games, with 2017’s Pyre being perhaps the greatest example of it, and I’m actually itching to see how other games adapt it. I got the sense that though my characters were forced to die in these demos, that doesn’t have to be the case in the full game, and that my brief time was just an example of how a run at the game could go should they bite the bullet right there.
As if that twist wasn’t good enough, You Will Die Here Tonight surprised me further and drew me in with an inspired and hefty combat system. Though it’s largely presented from a top-down perspective against pre-rendered backdrops, it couldn’t feel more distinct when I’m actually blasting holes in the undead. Rather than play with twin stick controls, players are actually brought into a moody first-person perspective that almost feels reminiscent of House of the Dead. Though you are fixed to the spot in combat, you can freely aim around in 360 degrees, swap through weapons, reload, and button-mash zombies off of you. If you need to escape the encounter, you can create some breathing room by staggering them with shots and then holding a button that’ll bring you back to the top-down perspective. All the while, zombies creepily shuffle out of a seemingly infinite void while you take ‘em out one by one. One demo armed me with an overpowered weapon in a standoff where I had to spin in circles just unloading endlessly into hordes of zombies coming at me. A similar sequence played out for another character who had less resources and the differences in these scenarios was palpable. Inversions like this seem like a gimme for a game playing with as many perspectives as You Will Die Here Tonight incorporates, and if the demos are any indication, there’s a remarkable amount of fun to be had with them.
I guess you can say I was pleasantly surprised by what You Will Die Here Tonight had to offer. Though I suspected a straightforward sendup of Resident Evil at first blush, I instead landed on an amalgamation of influences that promise something greater. While I’m unclear on how its narrative experimentation will actually play out in the long term, these teases have at least got me interested enough to tag along for the ride and see what fruit it might bear. And who knows, maybe I’ll manage to defy all odds and survive the night after all.
Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.