You’re driving down a seemingly-endless stretch of snowy, pitch-black highway. A lit up gas station appears, feeling like an impossible sanctuary in a void of snow and darkness.
You’re lost in a hospital, desperately trying to find your wife’s room while nurses and doctors erect ridiculous barriers of paperwork and red tape to slow your search.
You’re trapped in a basement, surrounded by a child’s drawings and a red refrigerator. It starts shaking violently and seems to get closer every time you look away.
Each of these scenarios are the kinds of nightmares inspired by the tragedies and setbacks of everyday life. They’re also some of the best and most evocative moments of a new indie horror anthology.
The Fridge is Red is a collection of six small first-person horror games with a low polygon, PS1-style aesthetic. Each of the episodes are connected by a red refrigerator, hints of a tragic family story, and a knack for a particular sort of heightening mundanity.
I originally played the first two episodes of The Fridge is Red during the last Steam Next Fest, a weeklong event where developers share free demos of their latest games. I ended the demo stuck and frustrated, confused by an elevator ride to hell that seemed to have no end in sight. It was all very evocative, but I was bummed that the demo seemed to be broken.
Revisiting the same encounter with the final game, I assumed this issue would be fixed. Instead I was met with the first of many unfortunate frustrations. It turns out the way out of the elevator was an obscure puzzle, and the only way I got out was by watching a Youtube video where the player was seemingly just as confused. I still don’t understand the solution to the puzzle, but I’m happy to never see it again.
Ironically, the next segment was very cool and spooky. The Fridge is Red bounces between these incredibly evocative moments of truly great horror and puzzling frustration in equal measure.
On the bright side, if you’re the kind of player who is happy to dip into an experience and see how long it stays interesting, The Fridge is Red is very accommodating. Each of the short episodes has a collectible item early on that unlocks the next episode. So, thankfully, if you’re frustrated and not a completionist, you can simply skip to the next episode.
I’m the kind of person that tends to push through the frustration and try to see everything a game has to offer. As a result I came away wishing The Fridge is Red was just a more sharply designed game.
Horror games that don’t have combat tend to lean into the worst habits to punish players. Stealth, trial-and-error, and obscure puzzles seem to be the core toolbox of the indie horror game, and unfortunately this game is no different.
In one episode I was stuck in an underground maze with a pursuer. I could hear footsteps. I could hide in coffins scattered around the area. Outside of figuring out my escape it seemed relatively straightforward. But every time I tried to find the next step in the puzzle, the pursuer would appear without warning, completely ignoring the footstep logic and killing me. It felt like I had no chance outside of blind luck.
And yet, another stealth section where men with flashlights were hunting me in the dark felt scary, stressful, but perfectly fair. It was part of the highway drive episode I mentioned in the intro, easily my favorite of the six episodes.
This unevenness left me disappointed with a game that could be a small masterpiece with some quality of life tweaks. I sincerely hope the developers take the time to do so. I’ve already seen some patches to the game and the developers seem keen to improve it.
All of that said, it’s hard to deny how much of an impression The Fridge is Red makes in those small evocative horror moments. I don’t think the overarching story is much to write home about, but there are scenes that will remain etched in my mind for years, long after the frustrating moments have left my memory.
In that respect, despite its flaws, I think The Fridge is Red is worth checking out for horror fans. It was incredibly annoying at times, but it was also incredibly memorable. It left a mark, and sometimes that’s all you can hope for with any piece of media.