Mimic Search

PC, free

So often, when it comes to horror games, people ask, “Does it have jump scares?” To which I always think, “Well, no, not if I tell you it does.” However, yes, I do get it. Real life can be scary enough without introducing bonus heart attacks and aneurysms to our days, and there are plenty of good reasons to want to avoid surprise shocks. But I love ’em. I hate them, but that’s why I love them. Mimic Search, a short, free first-person horror game about hunting down a monster, has one of the best jump scares I’ve ever encountered.

This is a project by developer Gemezl, who creates short horror games that sit somewhere between first-person adventure and PS1 lost-disc creepiness. They’re vignettes, snapshots that feel as if plucked from the middle of larger stories, offering brief, chilling experiences. Mimic Search fits this bill, and it got me. It got me good.

Here you play as a US highway patrol cop – the time period somewhat anachronistic with a very old car design, but a band new laptop – sent to help out at the site of a suspected Mimic attack. And it’s with this nonchalance that the concept of these creatures is introduced to us, as if they’ve always been a part of life, as if we all already know about them. From what you can glean straight away, they appear to be some sort of monster or alien that can take the form of humans, but give themselves away with long arms and unblinking eyes.

You’re in the woods, driving a car (with a first person view at the wheel, a laptop on the seat to your right) toward the scene of the incident, where another cop waits in the road. There’s an abandoned car, a pool of blood, a large footprint, and all signs point toward a Mimic. So you need to drive around the area, and visit the scant few buildings that are scattered around the woods. There’s a motel, a trailer park, a gas station, that sort of thing. You can talk to people in each location, ask if they know about the attack, or have seen any Mimics, with the goal of tracking the beast down and dealing with it.

And there’s nothing else to tell you, because – well – because the rest is surprises, and because it’s a really short game. But I can certainly report that, alongside the absolutely exquisite jump scare, it really succeeds at creating the most dreadful atmosphere, thanks to splendid ambient sound effects and some absolutely stunning lighting. I cannot stress enough how brilliantly the game uses light and dark, not as a gimmick or a feature, but simply because it’s dark in the woods, and your car has headlights, and your hand has a torch. When I’d pull up to places, I’d make sure my headlights were pointing at anything suspicious that I might need to approach, leading me to accidentally craft my own horror movie lighting, with long shadows cast across unnerving landscapes.

Mimic Search definitely feels like something that could become a very engaging longer game. There’s a lot of unrealised potential in the whole idea of the Mimic possibly being one of the few people in these woods, and that’s certainly not helped by the game’s one rather enormous flaw: it uses character models that don’t blink. Oops. I really like the idea of a game like this, with a larger forest to explore, more buildings, and a different NPC as the Mimic each time you play. Someone make me that, pronto.

But in the meantime, this is a great little horror treat, completely free, and properly scary.

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  1. The concept of hunting down a thing that looks human but isn’t reminds me of, oddly enough, the multiplayer versions of Assassin’s Creed we got back in the Ezio era.

    It was kinda brilliant even if I often couldn’t find anyone online to play against, because everyone was trying to kill everyone else, but to hide you had to blend into a crowd. Which meant that the players had to act like NPCs in order to camouflage, crossing over into the unsettling side of the uncanny valley, Kinda the reverse of a mimic hunt style of game, because you had to deliberately act inhuman to blend in.

    There’s an entire youtube video essay in there somewhere, would that I had the time.

  2. … and that in turn reminds me of the ‘Survive the Hunt’ series on Youtube, where a player in GTA5 tries to hide from a group of other players (his hunters) by acting like an NPC. Recommended!

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