Steelkrill Studio takes us to a mysterious and terrifying place. Alone we’ll have to escape this nightmare and survive the hideous creature that inhabits The Backrooms.

The Backrooms 1998 - Short Gameplay

We are in 1998 and we find an old VHS. Intrigued by that we play the tape, but believe me: we were not prepared for its content.   

An Incipit Full of Memories

Anyone old enough in the 90s will surely remember the boom of horror mockumentaries like The Blair Witch Project or the Ringu series deadly videotape. Well, when I started the game I was hit by these memories.

First of all we see a tape of a little child playing, old images are scrambled and we perceive something disturbing. Right after some guys are skateboarding in an abandoned and ruined building complex, one of them has a camera with which shoots the stunts. This is our point of view. 

Suddenly, during a stunt, the camera guy falls and the screen fades to black: now the nightmare starts. 

A Terrifying Place

When the camera turns on again the game starts and we are in The Backrooms.

This is an intricate system of rooms, corridors and narrow spaces: a purgatory of the mind where we had to unravel shameful secrets and make amends for our sins.

There’s only silence around us. Sometimes the mind will play tricks on us, and the line between reality and imagination will be very thin.

Is what we see and hear real? Is it just a bad joke from our friends or a nightmare we haven’t woken up from?

We will find out soon that reality is scarier than the worst nightmare!

The Urban Legend

The Backrooms is an online urban legend and creepypasta which originated in a 2019 4chan thread about unsettling images. One of the first examples of liminal spaces: an internet aesthetic which includes usually busy locations depicted as unnaturally empty. 

There are an endless maze of office rooms which are entered by “noclipping” out of reality in the wrong areas.

In January 2022, a short horror film titled The Backrooms (Found Footage) was uploaded to YouTube. Created by then 16-year-old Kane Parsons known online as Kane Pixels, it is presented as a VHS tape recorded by a filmmaker who accidentally enters this world in the 1990s and is pursued by a monster.

The one-person developer Steelkrill Studio uses the elements of this urban legend to create this game. 

Let’s see the features, the aesthetics and the mechanics used by the author.

Graphics and Sound Design

As said before the game takes a lot of inspiration from the The Backrooms (Found Footage).

But this time the place appears to be haunted by the ghost of a child and other presences.

We see from the camera point of view, with the classic symbols superimposed on the screen. The VHS filter helps a lot to immerse in that atmosphere and even helps cover imperfection and bad textures. The only weak point is the modeling of objects and creatures that sometimes are low-detailed. 

Despite some imperfections I can only praise the good aesthetic work done on the game environment.

Sound design is perfect and wins with the motto less is more.

The constant background noise and the sounds of our footsteps will be our only ally. Even if occasionally some weird voices or moans will give us goosebumps, sometimes the character will talk, asking if there’s anybody out there.

Watch your steps: if you walk on broken glasses or rubbish you can make noise, and the monster can hear you. 

Another cool idea is a microphone icon on screen with which we can interact, but I’ll talk about that later.

He can Hear You

As said before, there’s a microphone icon on the screen. The game can hear you through the PC microphone

If you talk too loud, scream or breathe heavily, there are more chances that the wandering horrid creature hear you and kill you.

A very interesting gameplay mechanic. It helps to give more tension and some kind of “real” interaction with the game.

The Backrooms 1998

The Jumpscare

1. an instance of jumping out in front of a person from a concealed position in order to frighten him or her

2.  cinema

the sudden appearance of a shocking image, often accompanied by a burst of loud music

Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers

Starting from this assumption I must say that the developer did a good job. 

There are two types of jumpscare: the scripted one and the random.

The first ones exactly match the definition written above, while the others are randomly generated and some of them are more psychological and smart.

We can see from a far distance a peeping head, strange figures crawling, shadows walkin  behind us but nobody’s there. 

In short, smart mind games even if they become too frequent towards the end of the adventure.

There is an in-game mode that puts off the random jumpscare.

Gameplay and Game Design

Compared to the good design and a smart introduction, the gameplay turns out to be a classical survival horror.

Escape from a horrid and ravaging monster, collect objects and try to escape and save your life.

However the developer has included some interesting features to increase tension.

You can’t run endlessly or you’ll run out of stamina soon, better hide from the monster.

The camera point of you is very immersive and you can zoom to see better through the darkness.

Obviously you have the classic tools like a torch, which must be recharged with batteries, a crowbar to remove planks and a spray gun.

This last is a very interesting feature: you can draw freely on every surface. This helps not to get lost when the rooms start to glitch.

The game has save points: a safe-room with a video recorder but be careful, there are few of them.

So Far So Good

The Backrooms 1998 really impressed me, despite not being a fan of the survival horror games. The developer has been able to create a truly remarkable climate of terror and anxiety, which however is lost when it becomes a classic survival horror with all the problems of the genre. 

If you love this type of games you should definitely try it. 

Even the ending, which can be reached in about an hour of play, is well written and unexpectedly shocking in a way.

The game is still in early access and has some technical issues to resolve yet. But Steelkrill Studio is constantly working on it to make the experience better.

So, don’t get lost!  

Usefull Links:

Steelkrill Studio home page

Official Trailer

I'm a musician (pianist), a nerd and a longtime manga lover. My gamer life started with a copy of Pitfall (1982) for Atari 2600, and so I grew up hand to hand with this medium until now. Later I started to look for what's behind the final product, its design and what happens behind the scenes of the video game world.