Under The Radar is a weekly look at games that have ended up hidden through lack of coverage, but shouldn’t have. If you have a game that you think should be featured here, leave it in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out.
When I was considering becoming a teacher, I had a handful of jobs that dealt with Junior High aged kids (around 12-14 year olds). One of these jobs was an after school program that consisted of tutoring, sports and general free time. During one of these free times, I happened upon one of the boys doodling in his notebook some pretty macabre things. Not “I should call social services” macabre, but just creatures that looked both goofy and creepy. Littered across the page were bits of bad poetry that read like an Edgar Allen Poe who grew up in the age of SMS. When I asked the young man what he liked about drawing and writing these things, he replied “Because it’s fucking awesome.”
It was this memory that came to my mind whilst playing Au Sable. Created by a developer who goes by the pseudonym Amon26, Au Sable is a 2D platformer and shooter where you play a young, redheaded girl making her way through a terrifying world. The mechanics of the game are quite simple with walking, jumping, and shooting a gun aimed with the mouse as the only means of player expression. What makes the game interesting is the aesthetic direction and environments you move through.
The world itself is a disjointed, nightmare of a place. Men dressed in long, black robes litter the background; green-legged monsters shoot fireballs across the screen; rotting, crumbling buildings create the frame for this disquieting location; bloody tears in the world lead to jump cuts and then back again. The dread pixel art of bloody corpses and such also add to the atmosphere. In multiple places you’ll see prose that may not be H.P. Lovecraft in quality, but carries enough of the same tone to be unsettling without too much thought. The soundtrack also manages to create the right sense of foreboding as well. It consists of pitched yells, white noise, and echoey vocalizations.
While I can’t explain exactly what Au Sable is about, I can tell you what I felt: uneasiness. Each individual aesthetic element works so well with the others that I can’t play the simple pixel game at night. I think one of the reasons I enjoy horror is because I never conceive of it as a mode of expression. Like Au Sable, horror is the articulation of a foreign mind- an otherness that my own thoughts can’t quite grasp. If for no other reason than that, Au Sable is worth taking a look at.
Au Sable is available for PC as a free download from here.