I was originally going to include Perennial in my previous article about short, free, low-poly horror games, but I quickly found I had a lot more to say about this one.
Perennial is a free game on itch.io you could go download right now. It was made as part of the Haunted PS1 2018 game jam by a single developer within a month. The player character has returned to their childhood park to spend a nostalgic night under the stars. However, when night falls they find a mysterious creature stalking them through the familiar woods. The gameplay consists of navigating the park via map and compass while learning and countering the unique behavioral mechanics of your malevolent traveling companion.
An Empty Park at Night
The first thing separating this game from the entries on my previous list is how honking huge the playable space is. This park feels like a full-sized national forest, and you will be traversing most of it throughout your journey to escape. If you collect 5 of the many logs scattered throughout the terrain, you can save at any fireplace along your route. These are great for giving you stress-free moments to collect yourself and plan the next leg of your hike. In general, the monster’s behavior and the campfire system serve to funnel the player’s stress levels into peaks and troughs. There really is nothing like surviving a harrowing encounter with the beast and reaching the relative safety of a campsite.
The monster has a wonderful Cernunnian design within the pixellated artstyle. I don’t want to go into detail about its mechanics because you should go experience that for yourself. I’ll just say it’s got a very unique gimmick that kept me on my toes. The creature also gets faster and more crafty as the game goes along. The final few encounters really felt like a test of the skills I’d learned throughout the game. As the developer notes on the page, make sure you play with headphones. Ideally you should also turn off any noise pollution in your computer room. You will be relying on your sense of hearing to survive.
While the playable space is only composed of a few assets, the author did a great job keeping the sights varied. The points-of-interest are memorable and the puzzles intuitive, and the cartography elements of the gameplay are fully fleshed-out. The waterways and mountains are both integral to the player’s ability to control the monster’s movements. I wrote an old article on Miasmata and Rake, two of my favorite games, and I’m pleased to say Perennial feels like a spiritual successor to their style of survival horror.
One final tip: when my boyfriend (and most streamers I’ve found) played this game, they all developed this cheeky pseudo-exploit playstyle. If you ever find yourself walking slowly backwards, you’re doing it, and you should stop. The monster gets bolder as time progresses, you can’t spend hours slowly trundling through the earlygame. By the midgame all of them had save files that were borderline unwinnable. Just play the game properly and trust your own abilities. You’ll hear the beast coming. You can do this.
This game is listed as ‘In Development’, with a possible future update promising more monster mechanics, map landmarks and story objectives. Were that update to occur, my main request would be binding “E” to interact as well as M1. Many times I found myself mashing E in a panic due to muscle memory. But overall, even if the game stays the way it is, I was extremely satisfied with my experience. I highly recommend this title to anyone interested in what they’ve seen here. It’s totally worth a playthrough!