Babyface

by Mark Sample profile

Horror
2020

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Sublime horror, December 6, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

(This review is of the Comp release)

There is nothing creepier than a creepy dream. Conversely, there is often nothing less creepy than that same dream when you’re trying to explain it to others. Plaudits to the author, then, for taking inspiration from one such creepy dream and transforming it into a very unsettling and compelling piece of IF!

The great use of multimedia is part of what makes Babyface so effective. There are judiciously-chosen polaroids, links are highlighted in an ominous red aura, and there’s an amazingly effective jump-scare that’s not at all cheap and that I don’t want to spoil.

But in addition to those (great!) bells and whistles, Babyface has great prose, and – even more importantly for horror – great pacing. The narrative is very canny about revealing some tantalizing hints, and then deferring exploration as the player’s dad calls it a night, or the player wakes up from a dream, or they’re interrupted by a passing police officer. This helps wind up the tension, but also makes the player lean forward in their seat, eager to see what comes next. It’s also set in the here and now, during the COVID pandemic (it’s not stated openly, but it’s possible the main character’s mother has just died of the disease), which as it turns out is a great setting for horror, since it alienates us from the everyday. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot of horror fiction set in 2020 in years to come.

There isn’t much interactivity in the sense of meaningful choices or puzzles. I did have fun attempting to translate the mysterious Latin on the photos (fair warning that there’s one bit that isn’t really Latin…) but this is mostly a roller coaster where you’re along for the ride. With that said, there’s definitely some elegance in how links are deployed – there’s one particular sequence where the mechanics of choice effectively communicate a sense of being compelled (Spoiler - click to show)(I mean the bit where the player is entering the house, with “I find myself” the link at the beginning of a sentence that repeatedly changes when you click it. Your cursor isn’t moving, but the character is as the sentence shifts, making it feel like you’re moving forward while remaining inert).

Babyface is definitely worth a play – especially if you give it a spin close to Halloween!

Note: this review is based on older version of the game.