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Review: Anthology of the Killer

My First Strangle Victim.

Horror requires a certain degree of unpredictability to really succeed. That can be difficult when you’re trying to keep things believable, so why not throw believability in the trash can? 

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Anthology of the Killer is a compilation of nine previously available, completely absurd, short-form horror titles that have decided, as many of us have, that reality really sucks. But while there’s a heaping dose of comedy mixed inseparably with the rest of the horror stew, the pure discomfort of not finding a reliable grip is enough to make you sweat. Or whatever people do when they’re afraid.

Anthology of the Killer Convention
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Anthology of the Killer (PC)
Developer: thecatamites
Publisher: thecatamites
Released: May 29, 2024
MSRP: $6.00

The Anthology of the Killer staples together nine related short horror games going back to 2020. They were first available (and still are) on Gamejolt for free, but the anthology will run you six American greenbacks, which sounds like a reasonable fee to not have to juggle executables. Plus, there are some pretty great extras thrown in. Also, the weird art showing party that links the games together is pretty great.

Each of the stories follows BB, a woman who lives in a city where murder is routine. Some cities have rat problems, XX City has serial killers. While she and her sister ZZ pay the rent by plumbing the decaying depths of the city’s dead shopping malls for kitsch from decades gone by, BB also publishes a zine about spooky happenings. I feel like that’s something anyone going through YouTube dependency withdrawal would do.

The stories of the anthology are generally framed around her seeking out content for her zine, which is a great way to get a protagonist to willingly delve into dangerous situations, but that’s rarely how things begin.

Anthology of the Killer residence
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It’s not uncommon to have the word “dreamlike” applied to a work of fiction. It’s usually shorthand for the weird and surreal. But I don’t think I’ve seen one come closer to actually resembling a dream than Anthology of the Killer. Some of the stories are extremely evocative to what my subconscious will present to me on any given night; usually when I have a high fever.

The first story has BB walking you through a day at the call center. It’s disjointed, the police show up, and the conclusion is rather nebulous.

One of the stories has her doing her civic duty and acting in a play. However, the chapter is not framed like the acts of the story. She just wanders through various scenes connected by twisting corridors until she gets the sudden urgent goal of finding the script to learn her character’s motivation.

It’s these disconnected, warped depictions of otherwise familiar places and things that give it the quality of something you’d wake up from, drenched in sweat and gripping the bedsheets. I’d completely believe it if I was told that these stories were based on dreams. In my dreams, I’ve been late for class, but my high school was combined with a grocery store for some reason. The class in question was in the bread aisle. I obviously don’t know what everyone else’s dreams are like, but for me, the structural similarities are enough to put me in the same discomfort I feel on bad nights.

Anthology of the Killer caught
Screenshot by Destructoid

On the other hand, much of its dialogue and narration is sharp and lucid. Even with the bizarre environments, the writing is very straightforward, laced with dry, referential sarcasm. That’s important for the dream aesthetic too, I think. After all, how common is it to wake up from a horrific nightmare only to realize that none of it made sense and was only scary in the context of itself?

The chapters that make up Anthology of the Killer are simply walking sims. The only real action and challenge here is when you need to escape from pursuing killers. Most of the time, you’re largely just walking around and looking at stuff. Observing the environment often comes down to walking into little hovering bubbles to hear BB’s thoughts. She’s a great guide through the game’s weirdness, often talking as though the things she sees are obvious or expected. Rarely are you given the whole picture, but she makes sure you aren’t lost.

It’s a bit weird for a walking sim to have its character on screen at all times, and I should warn you: you aren’t in control of the camera. It follows you around, sometimes in a fixed direction, but it has a habit of getting confused. This is especially true in the early episodes. Often, you’ll walk past a camera cut and not know which direction you’re supposed to be moving. A lot of the chases require you to run toward the camera, and it’s not well-signposted where you’re supposed to turn.

In a lot of these chases, you’re supposed to be caught eventually, so it doesn’t matter in terms of the bigger picture.

Since Anthology of the Killer is the culmination of at least three years of work, you get to watch as they improve mechanically. The problem there is that the first couple of chapters that it throws at you are rather rough. They get better over time. The first experience isn’t bad, and the second is my favorite, narratively, but you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Also, watch your fingers around the ESC key, since that will boot you out of the current chapter without warning and with no way to resume,

Anthology of the Killer media job
Screenshot by Destructoid

While Anthology of the Killer is disturbing in its surreal, nightmarish way, I’d be hesitant to say it’s scary. At least not in the conventional sense. It doesn’t try to get your heart rate up, but, in a way, it’s more effective in that sense. Its sketchbook serial killers aren’t likely to be the part that sticks with you. Instead, it’s the aloof confidence that it presents its otherworldly horror.

Shortform horror is well-established within the indie sphere, and you can generally find whatever niche or subgenre you’re looking for. From RPG Maker narratives to raunchy slasher horror, hobby developers have stuck their fingers in a lot of scary places. But through slick and enjoyable writing and a surreality of its own, Anthology of the Killer manages to be more than just another corpse on the pile.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.