Horror games have been on the rise in popularity these days, and even titles set in other genres often add horror elements. We are also seeing a lot of titles that push the envelope about what a horror game is, going beyond just traditional jump scares or mowing down thousands of undead zombies, aliens or monsters. Some good examples of recent horror titles that break the mold include Choo-Choo Charles, which brings horror to the rails with a monstrous spider train, and Dredge, which somehow combines a fishing simulation with Lovecraftian horror. Incidentally, the Dredge game, which earned 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5, is published by Team17, which is also the developer of Killer Frequency.
Of all the innovative horror adventures that we have seen lately, Killer Frequency is probably the most unique. In fact, I didn’t really think it was possible to present a horror title where the main character is not in any real danger for almost the entire game. Instead, Killer Frequency’s horror element is delivered through concern for other people, namely those who call into a late-night radio show seeking help from the DJ about how to keep one step ahead of a serial killer who is actively stalking a small town.
Killer Frequency is set in the late 1980’s in a tiny place called Gallows Creek. Players take on the role of Forrest Nash, a once popular Chicago radio host and DJ who broadcasted to millions of people every night. Nash has fallen from grace and now hosts a radio show in Gallows Creek for KFAM 189.16 The Scream, reaching a much smaller audience that apparently rarely ever goes higher than about a hundred people. This is Nash’s first night on the new job, and it’s going to be a wild one as late-night call-in radio shows go.
Nash is joined by his technician Peggy, who stays inside her little control room facing out through a window at the broadcast booth. Nash and Peggy (she does not like to be called Peg) are able to talk freely so long as Nash is in the spacious broadcast booth, but not if he decides to wander around the rest of the station, which needs to be done from time to time in order to find information and materials to assist those who call into the show.
Killer Frequency starts off kind of slowly, with Peggy explaining to Nash (and thus the players) how to operate the various buttons and controls of the radio station. Nash would probably already know this, but it’s nice that the game explains it for those of us who are not professional DJs. Basically, you just need to do things like change and play different records, push buttons to answer calls, play advertising tapes and occasionally say things on the air which are presented as multiple choices that float in to one side of the broadcast desk. You can also do things like push buttons to add sound effects, although this is optional. I had a lot of fun with that however, like playing a sad trumpet sound when someone called in with bad news. You earn a trophy for using the sounds on air too, so play at least a few of them.
Things heat up when Nash gets a call from the 911 operator in town saying that the sheriff has been murdered, the deputy is unconscious and the long-distance phone lines are not working. This being the late 1980s, there are no cellular phones, so Gallows Creek is essentially cut off from the rest of the world. Worse yet, a serial killer from the 1950s called the Whistling Man is apparently back in town and hungry for new victims. The 911 operator needs to drive to the next town, which is several hours away, to get help. While she is gone, she is routing all 911 calls into the radio station and asking Nash to do his best to keep those who call in alive until help arrives.
That is when the main part of the game begins. Killer Frequency does a good job of showing players what they will be doing to save townspeople, because Nash must first help the 911 operator safely get to a police cruiser with the unconscious deputy in tow while the Whistling Man stalks the parking lot outside of the police station. Players do this by providing advice to their caller. In the case of the 911 operator, your choices are pretty simple, like if they should arm themselves with a taser or a baton. However, once you get the 911 person safely away, the situations that callers find themselves in are a lot more trickier to try and solve. And if you mess up, the Whistling Man murders them live on the air.
To help callers, you need to give them good advice, but Nash does not know everything, so you often need to go out and scour the station looking for the information you require. For example, in one of the first situations you deal with, a woman needs help hotwiring her car. To walk her though it, you first need to find an auto magazine which the station thankfully has since it also hosts a show about automotive repairs. The game lets you prop up information that you need on your broadcast desk so that you can refer to it as you talk to your callers. For the most part you can take your time and study the information so that you can make the correct choices for your callers, but there are a few quick-time-events where you have to give a response very quickly. Thankfully, those are pretty rare, so nobody should die while you check a map or read some technical information.
Everything is fully voiced too, which is kind of a rarity these days, so it’s nice to see that a title that is centered around talking on the radio is fully supported by a cast of voice actors. Killer Frequency also supports virtual reality through the Quest 2 platform, but also looks good when playing in the normal first-person mode, and it’s entertaining to wander around the station in first person picking up things you will need to help out callers later, or just fumbling with various coffee mugs and other items scattered about. There is even a mini-game of sorts in the broadcast booth where Nash is able to shoot wadded up paper balls into a trash can equipped with a basketball backboard. The game actually keeps count of how many shots you make, which is great.
Killer Frequency also really leans into the 1980s theme too. It was fun seeing some of the 1980s technology that you get to use like fax machines, 8-track tape players, record players, cassette recorders and things like that. There is also a soundtrack comprised mostly of 80s synth pop music so that every record you spin actually has a unique sound.
For those who are looking for something different in the horror adventure genre, Killer Frequency has a lot to offer. The writing is good, and there are even a couple plot twists that you might not see coming. It does not take too long to play, and you can probably complete it in about five or six hours on your first playthrough. There is some replayability too, especially if you were not able to save everyone the first time out, although Killer Frequency offers three save slots, so you can save scum if you want to back out of a critical mistake and try again. There are four possible endings, and which one you earn largely depends on how many people you save.
I had a really good time playing Killer Frequency. Someone who is really into horror games will probably like it even more, of course, but even those who don’t normally venture into horror titles because of them being too terrifying can probably still enjoy this one. Killer Frequency is kind of a light horror puzzle adventure where people are in danger, but the main character really isn’t for almost the entire game. Check it out if you are looking for something that breaks the mold for both adventure titles and horror.
Killer Frequency earns 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5.