It's been a years-long quest of mine to find good alien abduction horror games. There are strangely few, and I've never really understood why. There are, after all, roughly a few dozen Lovecraftian horror games and as many or more Resident Evil-inspired experiences newly lurking each and every year in the deep recesses of Steam. And yet, whenever extraterrestrials are involved in games, it's usually the case where we're killing them with futuristic weaponry in action-oriented games like Halo, Mass Effect, or Resistance.
Even when they are the main antagonists in a horror game, like Dead Space, we're usually equipped well enough to fight back, turning them into gameplay obstacles. These games can be fun, but they leave me wanting. For a long time, I've sought a good horror game where we behave as ants do to humans: completely incapable of understanding their intentions and powerless to stop them.
On itch.io, one such game is going viral, and for very good reason. Incident at Grove Lake is an equally terrorizing and mesmerizing microgame built around the unshakeable worry that, in the far reaches of the cosmos, there may be horrors we can't possibly comprehend.
The pay-what-you-want project comes from Dan McGrath, a rather prolific solo developer of lo-fi horror games. Some of his other games, such as Harmful and Our Lady of Sorrow, have earned accolades in the past. Now, Incident at Grove Lake has been sitting atop itch's Trending tab since June 17 as of this writing.
The setup is like something out of The X-Files. Throwing caution to the wind, a whistleblower brings you a supposedly remarkable piece of video evidence pointing to the existence of extraterrestrials. As the player, you'll see the short story through the eyes of both the recipient of the haunting tape and the original recorder. It's these latter moments which are so incredibly exciting as a horror fan, even as they are equally dread-inducing as the player.
In just 25 minutes, the found-footage-style first-person horror is a remarkable dose of nightmare fuel. The PS1-like visuals that are currently sweeping the indie horror gaming scene are used to great effect here, as the lack of fidelity only helps elevate the air of imperceptibility the short story is built on. Audio design is similarly unnerving, and McGrath is clearly a horror creator who understands how less can be so much more when it comes to what we see and hear as the player.
With gameplay merely coming down to "walking sim" elements such as moving through a scene and interacting with a few items, it's also incredibly approachable even if, like me, you're not all that into mouse and keyboard controls.
While I find McGrath's portrayal of aliens so excitingly novel in video games, there's an added element that the game pulls in from other media that really helps it stand out. A few moments in the game's short runtime use real audio from Coast to Coast AM, a long-running overnight radio program and a favorite for the tinfoil hat-wearers of the world. Grove Lake smartly decorates choice scenes with the iconic program's audio. One moment, in particular, uses this audio to such chilling effect that it essentially set Grove Lake in stone as one of my favorite games of the year.
There are games that are better for having taken a long time to finish them. There are also games, such as this one, that are elevated by their brevity. Horror games, especially those on itch, are using short runtimes and hazy visuals to engross players in ways only video games can, and among the many offering this sort of thing as of late, Grove Lake is one of the best I've found, not least of all because it's doing it with subject matter that so few have tried.
Indie horror right now is held up by a few tentpoles: the slasher genre, co-op ghost-hunters, or perhaps most often, gateway horror made for genre newcomers or kids with morbid curiosity. To take away nothing from those genres, alien abduction horror is so rare that Incident at Grove Lake would've felt fresh by default. The fact that it gets it so hauntingly right makes it all the more unforgettable.
If you've been waiting for a horror game that paints aliens not as the enemy faction you're meant to overpower but rather the omnipotent beings whose motivations and capabilities no earthling could ever possibly decode, Incident at Grove Lake is the remarkable reward for your patience.