Crow Country: A Darkly Meditative Callback to Survival Horror’s Past

Crow Country: A Darkly Meditative Callback to Survival Horror’s Past

Inspired by some genre-defining PS1 classics, Crow Country is a force all its own.

Is it blasphemous to call a survival horror game “cozy”? Maybe so, but while thinking back on my playthrough of Crow Country, the word popped into my mind more than a few times.

From the start, there's no question about Crow Country’s PlayStation 1 influences, which its creators at SFB Games have been upfront about: it is very intentionally the creepy-cute child of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Final Fantasy VII. The game, which was released on Steam, PlayStation 5, and Xbox X/S on May 9, checks all the boxes for survival horror, but it takes a gentler approach to the genre, making it feel more like a test of mental endurance against some all-consuming bleakness than a constant fight for your life. (A Hard Mode, however, is apparently on the way).

A Familiar Yet Unique Experience

You play as Mara Forest, who must painstakingly make her way through an abandoned amusement park in the year 1990 to find its elusive and evidently corrupt owner, Edward Crow. Resources, like ammo and health kits, must be scavenged. Skinless monstrosities may emerge from the shadows at any turn to grab at you, and puzzles of varying complexity promise to stall your progress. There is an ensemble of characters who — including the protagonist — each seem to have questionable motives.

"It’s a familiar formula paired with a familiar style of character design paired with a familiar unsettling atmosphere, yet Crow Country manages not to feel like it’s being propped up by nods to its predecessors."

With more of an emphasis on mood and mystery than violence (and some humor sprinkled throughout), it’s just unique enough to stand on its own as a distinct work. The entire experience has this air of reflectiveness to it, and the developers describe it perfectly in their synopsis: “a beautiful, uncanny blend of tension and tranquility.”

Atmosphere and Exploration

The nostalgia hit me as I took my cautious first steps around the eponymous Crow Country theme park as Mara. Naturally, she walks at a snail’s pace and comes to a full stop whenever firing a weapon. Her running speed is fine, though, and you have 360-degree control of the camera angle, so it doesn’t weigh you down entirely with PS1-era limitations (a blessing).

I was prepared to be frustrated by the stop-to-shoot mechanic, but I got over it once I realized the monsters are also slow. You can run right by them in almost every situation if you want to. That made killing a choice rather than a necessity, immediately dialing down the sense of urgency I’d gone into my first enemy encounter with. This is not a bad thing. With the stakes lowered, I treated those fleshy monstrosities like target practice and picked them off mostly for the fun of it. That, along with the gradual realization that there weren’t going to be jumpscares every five seconds, sucked me into a much cozier experience than I was expecting.

Without anxiety fueling my every decision, I was able to take my time to pick through all the nooks and crannies of the amusement park, making sure to stop and read every notebook or piece of paper and examine every object on the ground or hanging on the walls. I could focus completely on the puzzles before me, some of which were really challenging. I even had to bust out a pen and paper at one point. It also wasn’t very difficult to stay stocked up on necessities like ammunition, health kits, and poison antidotes, which could be found randomly all over the park and at vending machines.

A Beautiful, Uncanny Blend of Tension and Tranquility

The soundtrack by Ockeroid (which just got its own separate digital release) is eerily soothing, helping to create an atmosphere that fully engrossed me. Crow Country’s save mechanism leans fully into the game’s contemplative ambiance: you can find respite at different sources of fire, which Mara will stare into before reciting a wistful thought about hope and dread in the face of uncertainty. I played Crow Country on a Steam Deck, snuggled up with my cats on a gray, stormy day, and I can’t think of a better way to take it all in.

"Crow Country’s save mechanism leans fully into the game’s contemplative ambiance, too: you can find respite at different sources of fire, which Mara will stare into before reciting a wistful thought about hope and dread in the face of uncertainty."

Increasing Hostility Balanced by Playfulness

In typical survival horror form, the environment gets increasingly hostile as you advance in the game; creatures start showing up in heavier numbers, a faster one joins the mix, it starts raining, it gets darker, and someone shoots at you from the shadows. But any real heaviness in Crow County is balanced by just the right amount of playfulness. The characters often engage in irreverent dialogue, and the park is filled with goofy crow-themed objects that provide resources and insight.

Initially, Crow Country hints that there’s more to Mara than we’re being told but makes no explanation as to who she is or why she’s really in this abandoned theme park. Nor does it explain early on why the park is filled with writhing abominations and conspicuously prevalent references to the number 2106. Those mysteries served to hook me, and keep me progressing deeper as things unfolded. The ending tied everything together in a way that felt really satisfying.

Replay Value and Future Modes

It’s short but not too short, taking around 5 to 10 hours to complete depending on how thorough (or slow to figure out puzzles) you are, and has a lot of replay value. This game is full of secrets that aren’t vital to the plot but can make your life a little easier — there is even a map showing you where they are, if you can find it — and these add another layer of challenge to the overall scavenger hunt. The upcoming Hard Mode could also make revisiting it even more interesting. The game currently gives you the option to play in Survival Horror mode (the version I played) or Exploration Mode, in which “you will not be attacked.”

"Crow Country is an excellent homage to the games found in the early survival horror market. But it still manages to do its own thing, and I like the way it opens up the experience for all gamers, from hardened players to newcomers."

I missed a couple of secrets on my first playthrough, so my main goals for the next run are to find the rest of those and hit 100 percent of the achievements. I’m also curious to find out how different choices in my interactions with other characters could affect how the story plays out. In the end, I found myself moved by Crow Country for reasons that had almost nothing to do with nostalgia.

Final Thoughts

Crow Country is a masterful blend of classic survival horror elements and unique, modern twists. Its nostalgic charm, combined with its reflective and tranquil ambiance, creates an experience that is both eerie and cozy. The developers at SFB Games have crafted a world that feels familiar yet fresh, inviting players to explore every corner of the abandoned amusement park and uncover its secrets. Whether you're a seasoned survival horror veteran or new to the genre, Crow Country offers a journey worth taking.

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