Dead Horizon by 14 Hours Productions
Dead Horizon is a tribute to the light gun arcade games of the ‘80s. Except it’s actually not. It’s really a piece of short fiction – flash fiction, almost – about violence and murder and how they affect people. “Retro light gun game” just happens to be the genre it’s written in.
Be Quick or Be Dead?
In terms of game play, Dead Horizon is dead simple. Like its video game inspirations – games like Wild Gunman and Namco Quick & Crash – the point is to accurately shoot your target. Given that it’s not an actual light gun game, this is done via the mouse; aim and click to shoot.
To add a modicum of interactivity, Dead Horizon requires the player to draw their weapon – by dragging the mouse pointer off screen – before firing. And in some cases, it’s imperative to wait for one’s opponent to draw first, as any honorable gunslinger would.
No Country for Old Women
That said, Dead Horizon really isn’t a game you can “lose.” Screw up or move too slow, and the narrative just gives you another chance in order to move the story along. And somehow in its 10 minutes of game time and handful of gun-wielding stand-offs, it manages to tell quite a story.
Game designer Matthew Ritter has worked as a writer on a number of games, including The Walking Dead: Season Two from Telltale Games, as well as releasing his own interactive “cemetery simulator,” Welcome to Boon Hill. With Dead Horizon, he tells a brief but memorable story of a gunslinger, world-weary and grizzled before her years, that also touches on the way violence and killing change a person (and often beget more violence).
The literary and artistic inspirations for Dead Horizon are numerous and obvious, with Ritter himself citing everything from Clint Eastwood movies to games like the Fallout series. (I also saw some parallels to the Saint of Killers character in Preacher and wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Ritter has read the comics series). The combination of grizzled, Wild West machismo and Cormac McCarthy reflections on killing with a seemingly lighthearted – and arguably obsolete – video game genre, on the other hand, seems wholly original and surprisingly effective.
Where the Wargs and the Antelopes Play
Thematically potent, Dead Horizon also offers an intriguing setting that gradually reveals itself to be post-apocalyptic and science fiction-tinged rather than a classic Western, a little resonant of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (another influence Ritter himself claims for the game). Cowboy hats and six-guns, whiskey and gambling – those are all there, but so are cyborg sheriffs and cyberpunk samurai bounty hunters.
A bonus Lore Book, “Testament of a Gunslinger,” adds to the mystique with its allusions to warg hunters and water farmers. With a few words and potent images – the latter being all the more impressive given the game’s adherence to the 8-bit graphics of its inspirations – Ritter evokes a world I found myself wanting to spend a lot more time exploring.
All too brief and unexpectedly poetic, Dead Horizon left me wanting more. It’s a free game on Steam and more than worth its 10-minute play-through. And if enough people respond to it as I did, maybe that will encourage Ritter to expand on the concepts and settings presented here. I’m thinking a 60-hour NES-style JRPG might be the perfect follow-up.
Dead Horizon is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Dead Horizon below: