Free Game Friday: “Ib” (2012) PC
So it’s your ninth birthday. You wake up, have a big breakfast, and your parents tell you to get dressed, they’re going to take you on a special birthday outing! Light of heart, you put on your best dress and run back downstairs to find out you’re going to spend your birthday… at a formal art museum.
Oh, and your birthday present is a handkerchief.
Well, let’s indulge in some suspension of disbelief and assume you’re the kind of nine-year-old girl who really likes art museums and isn’t going to throw a tantrum because she didn’t get an XBox 360. It happens. I was a weird kid too. You and your parents head off to the museum, which is showing a special exhibit of the works of some guy called Guertena, and while said parents dither at the reception desk you trot off on your own.
And then the lights go out.
And all the other guests disappear.
And there’s something behind that window…
Welcome to “Ib”, a delicious little horror game made using RPG Maker 2000/2003. You play the title character as she explores the sinister gallery and desperately tries to escape. And, in the tradition of Free Game Friday, this game is free. Free. Freeeeeeeeeeeeeee. You have no excuse for not going and downloading it now. Right fucking now, seriously.
Sorry to gush, but honestly, this is one of the best games I’ve playing in a long time, and it’s given me renewed hope for the horror genre as a whole. ”Ib” uses the top-down, third-person exploration style as popularized by “The Legend of Zelda” and “Final Fantasy”. Controls are pretty intuitive, using the arrow keys to navigate and the Z, X, or enter keys to interact with objects. The shift key takes you back to the main menu, and your life is represented by a red rose, which gains increasing significance as the game progresses.
As you can see, the graphics are pretty primitive, but in some ways it’s a strength. The game is deeply reminiscent of classic, old-school NES/SNES horror games like “The Uninvited”, or “Clock Tower”. The dark museum feels genuinely oppressive, and the top-down view contributes to the feel of a child lost in a world of horrors. After a while, you start to feel like the museum itself is toying with you, prodding you forwards with sadistic glee to see what you’ll do next. Objects appear and disappear, things move just out of sight, and the most harmless-seeming objects suddenly turn deadly. The experience leaves the player feeling genuinely uneasy.
The game is primarily puzzle-based, and while it’s challenging enough to make you think, it’s not so difficult as to be frustrating. In addition, there are some neat touches with regards to object interaction. For example, Ib eventually meets other people lost in Silent Hill’s Museum of Modern Art, including Garry, an older teenager. When reading signs or books as Ib, she often won’t be able to understand some of the words, being nine and all. If you read the same signs and books while Garry is with you, suddenly all becomes clear. All of the characters will often have different reactions to different events and items, and there’s a surprising amount of development and character evolution that goes on as the game continues. It culminates in multiple endings, all of them quite stunning and heart-wrenching in their own way.
…by the way, for whatever reason, there’s a lot of Ib/Garry adult fic and art out there. Do your brain a favour and don’t Google it.
Weird fandoms or no, it honestly blows my mind that this game is free. I would cheerfully have laid down money for it. Playing through the whole game will take you about two to three hours (and if you’re anything like me, you will play through it start to finish in one session), but the multiple endings and opportunities to go back and re-examine things you might have missed, maybe seeing a new event or getting a different character’s take on it, really increase the replay value. And it’s scary. The game has a few jump scares, but overall it relies on atmosphere and story to creep its way under your skin, and once it’s there, it’s there to stay.
This game is one hell of a keeper, and I plan on restarting it tonight to get some different endings. If you like old-school, atmospheric horror games in the tradition of “Clock Tower” or “Silent Hill”, do yourself a favour and get this game. You will not regret it.
You can download “Ib” here.