Haunting High School Horror in 'Fear The Spotlight

  • Leo Gallagher
  • 318
Haunting High School Horror in 'Fear The Spotlight

Fear The Spotlight Is A PS1-Style Survival-Horror Game. Without The Survival, Fear The Spotlight starts like many good horror stories. A couple of friends--nerdy goody-goody Vivian and her goth pal Amy--sneak into school after hours to conduct a séance. The school has a creepy history, after all, thanks to a fire a few years earlier that claimed the lives of several students.

Although it may seem morbid and disrespectful to try to contact the spirits in the school library, teenagers are often morbid and disrespectful themselves. I played a short demo of Fear The Spotlight at Summer Game Fest 2024’s Play Days event, and initially, what stood out the most was the natural and realistic feel of the game. As you sneak through the halls of the school and listen to conversations between the protagonist Vivian and Amy, the narrative feels authentic. A goth kid befriending a nerd and the two getting into trouble together is a backstory that will resonate with many.

1990s Aesthetic in a 1990s Horror Story

Fear The Spotlight marries a 1990s teen horror story with a 1990s survival-horror aesthetic. The game echoes the look of early 3D games on the original PlayStation, notably Silent Hill. The blocky, low-resolution visuals complement the dark high school setting, giving the entire game an eerie, dreamlike quality that’s perfect for a ghost story.

Fear The Spotlight game art

The game, a creation of the husband-and-wife team Cozy Game Pals, was initially released in 2023. But it has now been picked up for publishing by Blumhouse Games, the gaming wing of the renowned movie production studio Blumhouse, and is slated for a re-release in Fall 2024 with added story content. Despite being around for over nine months, I had never encountered Fear The Spotlight until Summer Game Fest, and after trying it briefly, I was regretful I hadn’t discovered it sooner.

The Demo Experience

The demo began with Vivian and Amy making their way through the school halls towards the library. Along the way, a brief stealth segment involved the girls ducking under a table to avoid the scanning eye of a surveillance camera. This scenario highlighted a major gameplay element: staying in the shadows to avoid detection, hence the title’s reference to the "spotlight." Upon reaching the library, the other primary gameplay element emerged: first-person puzzle-solving.

Vivian sets off to retrieve a spirit board (or Ouija board) kept in a glass display case in the library. To access it, she needs a key from the library's office, requiring a keycard to enter. Each of these interactions transitions from a third-person perspective to a first-person. You guide a cursor around static objects to discover parts you can move or interact with. Selecting the lock, for instance, brings up Vivian’s inventory to choose an item, such as a key.

Delving into the Details

These interactive moments also allow you to learn more about the surrounding world. Similar to classics like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, examining objects provides text snippets, revealing Vivian’s thoughts or observations. These insights enrich your understanding of the story, offering glimpses into Vivian and Amy’s relationship.

For instance, when Vivian retrieves the keycard from the information desk, we learn that it’s her own keycard, highlighting her as a top student volunteer in the library. Vivian then brings the spirit board to a table where Amy waits, leading to more first-person interactivity. When Amy hands over a book of matches, you select matches from your inventory and light candles to start the séance.

Using the cursor to hover over the planchette and holding a button simulates real interaction with the spirit board. However, as Amy begins to ask questions, the planchette moves erratically, and a dark figure appears behind Amy before the candles are extinguished, plunging the room into darkness.

Fear The Spotlight spirit board

Tension and Atmosphere

From this point, Fear The Spotlight takes a dramatic turn, even within such a short demo. Relighting the candles slowly, dragging each from the matchbox individually, reveals that Amy is missing. Vivian grabs a candle to light the way, wandering through the library in search of her lost friend. Even in the dark, it becomes evident that the library has changed.

Bookshelves block previous paths, and the space appears larger and more convoluted. The setting’s strangeness is enhanced by the retro PlayStation graphics, making the surreal landscape even more unsettling. Occasionally, you may glimpse a figure in the darkness or find yourself chasing Amy through the stacks, only for her to vanish in the twisting space. Despite the eerie atmosphere, according to press materials, Fear The Spotlight focuses on atmospheric scares rather than jump-scares. As Vivian calls out for Amy, a distant red light appears with a silhouette that vanishes upon approach, and suddenly, fire engulfs the library.

An Unraveling Reality

At this point, the game goes off the rails. We rush through the library, fleeing the flames as the room distorts further, with bookshelves and tables giving way to strange walls. Red curtains evoke the extradimensional Red Room from the TV show Twin Peaks. As Vivian escapes, a wall cracks, cutting through the memorial plaque for the students killed in the fire, forming a pathway. Vivian flees into the crack, and the camera lingers on the students' photos, which now depict demonic, screaming faces.

Fear The Spotlight library

The demo concludes here, providing just enough of Fear The Spotlight to be highly intriguing. Although it doesn’t have the intensity of its survival-horror predecessors, the game's uncanny graphical style and art direction perfectly complement its spooky narrative. The demo offered a tantalizing glimpse, leaving me eager for more. Fear The Spotlight is set for re-release in 2024, featuring an additional one to two hours of new content. It will be available on PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox 360. Don't miss the rest of GameSpot's Summer Game Fest coverage.