Crow Country – No country for old hens

Birds of a feather shock together

Managing to hit the notes of the classics, Crow Country reminds gamers of the halcyon days of survival horror.

The idea of survival horror has changed so much since the early entries into the genre were taking over the world. Back when I were a lad, those games had stacks of survival and heaps of horror, whereas so many modern ones either give you no way to defend yourself or tool you up far too much. If this sounds a bit “old man shouts at cloud” then that’s fair, but I think it’s equally fair to say that the likes of Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill, and Resident Evil managed to tread that fine line between you being completely vulnerable and being a walking weapons platform such that you felt you could hold your own, but not for long, with those limited resources. Crow Country does this very well, keeping you just strong enough to cope, but making it clear that those bullets and med packs you have won’t last long. It’s scary, challenging enough, and keeps you on the edge of survival throughout.

You play as Mara, a special agent sent to investigate the titular theme park that was shut down not so long ago due to a patron being mysteriously injured. Along the way, you’ll meet other survivors who have a stake in what’s going on, as well as people who are involved in the happenings within the park. Of course, things aren’t as they first seem, and Mara quickly finds there are creatures marauding through the attractions who want nothing more than to make sure she doesn’t leave alive. Survive, and you may find out what’s going on, and which characters may be hiding more than you thought.

Crow Country
Codes tend to appear all over the park, some more mysterious than others.

The narrative is pretty standard for a survival horror. People in the park leave written notes to each other, employees borrow objects and leave them in places secured with esoteric locks, and there’s even an underground research area. If you have a survival horror bingo card, you’d be walking home with the jackpot. 

This is all absolutely fine of course, as Crow Country wants nothing more than to be a survival horror from the 90s. Combat is slow and clunky, with you unable to move whilst aiming and nothing more than a hard to manoeuvre crosshair for aiming. You can improve this by solving puzzles to find secret laser sights to help, but with very limited ammo available and only a couple of guns unless you solve even more secret puzzles, your best bet is often to try and run from trouble where possible. 

The problem then arises that enemies spawn more and more over the course of the game, so if you leave lots of them standing, things will be tougher for you later. You end up with this great little decision in every area over whether you should fight to save you trouble later, but at the cost of limited resources, or kick the can down the road and hope you can handle things further down the line. Crow Country hides weapons and healing items throughout, either in the open or in vending machines, bins, and crates. I feel as though it’s paying attention to your current resource situation, doling out items more frequently when you’re in dire straits, but giving you nothing when you’re equipped enough. It took me a couple of hours to come to this conclusion, meaning I’d looted areas and found nothing so when I came back later there was nothing to loot. Thankfully, I’d been spending more time running than fighting, so I had enough ammo to cope.

Crow Country
Enemies are pretty creepy on the whole. I absolutely refused to fight these ones.

The enemies you face look varied and have their own traits. Standard zombies shamble towards you, but slime monsters try to swipe with their long arms, poisoning you. You won’t know what most of them do until you confront them, but considering how creepy some of them look you probably won’t want to do that. Enemy visual design is great, and Crow Country makes great use of the low-poly art style to make it hard to tell precisely what you’re looking at, making them all the creepier. 

The puzzles are well done, and fit the 90s-era survival horror nonsense of hiding things behind weird locks opened by solving odd problems. Plenty of them reference older games too, often with knowing winks to the player. Solving a puzzle related to a shotgun seems like it would provide you with the weapon, only for you to find it’s a fake, felt like a little nod to the classic Resident Evil puzzle. Most are fun to solve, but you’ll absolutely have to be willing to walk away from one and come back later. The earliest puzzle I found couldn’t be solved until I found another item an hour later, so I was glad I didn’t spend significant time faffing about on something I was meant to leave. 

Finding the maps of each area helps here too, highlighting rooms with unsolved puzzles so you know they’ll be somewhere to revisit down the line. Locked doors are highlighted as such, but change once you have the right key. There’s even a map showing you where the secrets are if you can solve the puzzle to find it. Everything in Crow Country feels as though it’s designed to provide the player with excellent quality of life inclusions, whilst maintaining that classic feeling. With that said, I would have liked the inclusion of a couple of other things like a quick step backward rather than the 180 degree spin that I felt was a little too tricky to do in the heat of the moment. Having access to all the notes you’d found so far from the status screen would be useful too, rather than only being able to reread them in a save room.

Crow Country
Pretty damning indictment of Manchester there.

The visuals and sound combine really well to create quite an atmosphere for the park. There’s limited music, but what is there is used effectively. The slightly upbeat rhythms of each section of the theme park are well juxtaposed with the schlocky violence on display. Crows pick at bloody mounds left on the ground, whilst spindly monsters judder unsettlingly just beyond. The use of sound effects are especially well done, as the deliberately limited camera angle means you’ll hear a monster far before you see them. If you pay attention you’ll learn which enemies make which sounds, meaning you can be prepared for them even when you don’t know where they are. Of course, this is the double-edged sword of knowing a creature you deeply dislike is somewhere nearby and you’d best hope it isn’t right behind you, just out of sight.

It’s hard to fault Crow Country. It sets out to be a 90s-inspired survival horror and it hits all the notes I would expect, even down to the short play time and end game ranking based on your performance. I was very impressed with my time with the game, but I could imagine a more modern audience perhaps not enjoying the esoteric puzzles as much as an older player that enjoyed the genre the first time around. Then again, that’s what online guides are for, so there’s not much excuse. This is probably my favourite horror game of the year so far, and we’re still months away from Halloween!

There are at least a few friendly faces to find around the park.

Crown Country is available now for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation.

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