We humans enjoy a rich surfeit of ways to die. Our continuing survival is the product of a delicate balance of interconnected factors, any of which can easily fall out of whack and destroy us: too bright or too dark, too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold. Right now those of us with the privilege of living in the northern hemisphere are ensconced in the balmy warmth of Spring & Summer. The days are warm and bright, Mother Nature’s menagerie has roared back to life, and the cruel, interminable winter that haunted us for so long is just a grim memory. However, Summer’s lease hath all too short a date, and every passing cloud is a harbinger of the winter we just crawled out of, a winter that will inevitably come again. Summer can be cruel in its own fashion, but for sheer hobo-killing viciousness, nothing can come close to a harsh winter. There’s a reason Jack Frost has no warm weather counterpart. Heat is impersonal, it passes over you in a indifferent wave. Cold, by contrast, seems to deliberately seek to destroy you, attacking exposed skin, crawling inside your lungs, freezing your snot to your face and exploiting any failure to prepare your mind and body for its icy embrace. The cold isn’t alive so much as undead, and like its brethren in the zombie and vampire communities it hungers for what it is not, endeavoring to feed on your heat until there’s nothing left of you but a frozen husk. This is the fear that Team Flash Frozen seeks to capitalize on. Their game is still in its early stages, but if it can manage to successfully tap into the primal human fear of the cold, it could yet be something great.
Flash Frozen is a first-person survival horror game about a cruise ship that becomes marooned on an island of ice, and the crew who fall victim to a force of cold with a mind of its own. The game begins with you regaining consciousness deep in the ship’s mechanical guts. As locations go it’s indistinct from all the other regions of sparsely decorated industrial claustrophobia you’ve wandered through in your capacity as a gamer, but it serves to establish a feeling of solitude Flash Frozen will capitalize on as you progress. The environment becomes more interesting once you reach the passenger areas, and the chaos wrought by the mysterious force attacking the ship becomes more apparent.
The game embraces cold as its central mechanic: get too cold and you die, stay warm and you live. Getting splashed with water from the ship’s flamboyantly malfunctioning plumbing results in immediate and fatal frostbite. These pipes shape the game’s simple puzzle elements, which have you twisting valves and carefully timing your moves to avoid the plumes of freezing water they regularly disgorge. Your only tool to ward off the encroaching cold is a lighter, which you can use to set fires in conveniently placed wastebaskets that warm you up and have the added benefit of saving your progress. The lighter highlights objects you can interact with when it’s lit, imbuing them with an eerie green glow, as if they’re radioactive. The lighter’s fuel is finite, but there was enough extra fuel lying around that I never felt like I was in danger of running out.
None of this would be very threatening if it weren’t for the fact that in Flash Frozen the cold is actively, deliberately trying to kill you. The game doesn’t specify exactly what kind of entity the thing chasing you is, which serves to make it all the more menacing. The cold entity has no body, rather its presence is measured in encroaching walls of ice and menacing whispers. Is it some kind of new, undiscovered creature? A demon? A ghost? Frosty the Snowman, back from the dead and hell-bent on vengeance? The game refuses to tell us.
Though you don’t get to participate directly with it, Flash Frozen does have a story of a sort, related to you via the copious notes left by your long-departed shipmates. Papers dispersed throughout the game tell the tale of an alcoholic, incompetent captain whose negligence damned the crew and passengers to their icy fate, and the mutiny brewing against him. As far as video game stories go it’s nothing special, but it does serve to lend some gravity to events, even imbuing them with a sliver of personal relevance. I found myself wondering about the identity of the cold entity, if it wasn’t a dead shipmate seeking revenge. I suppose that means the notes did their job.
Excepting a brief sequence that sounds like it was lifted directly from the chase scene in an early 90’s direct-to-video action movie, the music in Flash Frozen is exceptional, using piano, strings and synthesizers to elicit trepidation, melancholy and loneliness. The graphics are simple but passable for a small indie game built using Unity. Flash Frozen‘s visuals scrupulously maintain a color palette of blue and white, lending the proceedings a suitably icy feel. It’s short, if you don’t make as many mistakes as I did you can probably bang it out in a little over half an hour.
Flash Frozen is more promising than fulfilling, but that’s still high praise for a game at this stage of development. It’s got some good ideas, and a sound foundation to build on. There’s something naturally unsettling about cruise ships, which are massive hulks of menacing industrial power dedicated to placating passengers with massive injections of food and entertainment. Like stadiums and theme parks, cruise ships are basically interment camps waiting to happen, their facilities easily pivoting from accommodation to incarceration. Movies have done a great job of bringing out the horror inherent in other preternaturally unsettling locations like hotels and cabins, but their record on exploiting the weirdness of cruise ships is more mixed. The only film to really nail it is Triangle, which is more of a puzzle box than a straight horror flick. Flash Frozen is little more than a proof-of-concept at the moment, but an abandoned cruise ship, a mysterious island, and a monster that’s the very cold itself makes for an promisingly unsettling combination.
Flash Frozen can be downloaded for free [Here]