I want my Slaw
Video rentals are one of those things that I fully accept is antiquated by modern technology, something that I absolutely would not be interested in a return of, but I still can’t help but miss. It’s hard to explain, and I’m not entirely sure I have a full handle on it.
The video store aesthetic was enough to get me interested in Rewind or Die. The “Night Shift” prologue was one of the highlights of 2022’s Stay Out of the House, so I was hoping for something similar. What we got was something different, but different can be good too.
Rewind or Die (PC)
Developer: Comp-3 Interactive
Publisher: Torture Star Video
Release: April 14, 2023
Rewind or Die begins with you getting called in for a late shift at your crummy job. It then goes into detail about how much your life sucks. Not only do you have to assist intolerable customers, but your boss is a dink. Amusingly, the game’s approach to showing this is disturbingly realistic, as it shows an employer who gradually whittles away at worker dignity while demanding more from them. One that is quick to remind that everyone is replaceable while also griping that good help is hard to find.
As the workday goes on, things start getting weirder. It begins by letting you know that recent murders have been centered around the video shop and that the victims were all customers. Weird calls start coming in, and things escalate from there.
One thing leads to another, and you find yourself in the clutches of a sadistic serial killer who wears a pig’s head to conceal their face. At least it’s better than being cornered by a guy who spouts movie trivia.
‘Cause this is thriller
Rewind or Die is a little on the less-experimental end of the lo-fi horror spectrum. While many indie horror developers try some inventive ways to leave you stewing in that atmosphere or make the killer seem like an unstoppable threat, Rewind or Die is more direct. You actually spend very little time in the same environment with the killer, a lot of gameplay is simply completing tasks to proceed. While some of these puzzles are at least cleverly designed, they can be a bit underwhelming.
It feels rather mechanical, which sometimes works in the context of video games, but I think undermines the horror. You move between isolated places to solve puzzles, and at times, it feels like you’re forced to follow the dance steps.
The worst example of this is during a portion of the game where it feels like you’re supposed to be sneaking around. I quickly noticed that the slasher (who’s named Slaw, and I love it) doesn’t actually exist in the environment. So I just happily puttered around and solved the puzzles to continue. It wasn’t scary, it was more… peaceful?
You should probably just be kind
The upside to this is that Rewind or Die is a bit tighter and less janky than your typical indie horror. The downside is that also means it’s a bit less compelling. I’d go as far as saying it’s even a bit predictable with many of its beats. It’s so easy to read, that I almost knew what it expected of me before it asked me to do it. There’s definitely something to be said about the game’s focus. If you’ve detested the sub-genre’s usual rough edges, then Rewind or Die might be a bit more reliable for you.
I’m not saying Rewind or Die is strictly linear, either. It’s just that in comparison to the more immersive sim approach of Stay Out of the House or the dedication to the grounded atmosphere of Bloodwash, it’s a different vector.
I definitely appreciate different approaches to the sub-genre. One of my favorite things about exploring lo-fi indie horror is that, even if it doesn’t always work out, developers try new things all the time. However, Rewind or Die doesn’t feel daring enough. It seems to subscribe too closely to your typical horror game language and doesn’t pull that off too well. It’s not bad. It just isn’t exciting.
It’s not a vector I’m particularly enthusiastic about. That might be down to my own expectations from the lo-fi horror sub-genre, but I also feel that there isn’t a whole lot of personality that shines through Rewind or Die. The narrative doesn’t really pitch any curveballs, the gameplay doesn’t twist things into interesting pretzels, and there isn’t really anything truly unique that I felt my teeth sink into.
That’s not to say I didn’t like Rewind or Die. It’s just not going to land on any of my must-play lists. I will reiterate that there isn’t anything offensively bad about it. It’s not extremely rough-edged like Christmas Massacre or as raunchy as Night at the Gates of Hell. However, both those games presented uniquely memorable moments, whereas Rewind or Die has a video rental shop. Video rental shops are terrific, but they’re just not horrific enough to carry an entire game.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]