I’m a total sucker for indie horror games, especially those with strong environmental storytelling. They don’t need beautiful graphics or a perfect narrative, but there’s a limit to how much jank I can take. Greyhill Incident pushed me to that limit. The opening cinematic got me ready for a tense close encounter of the third kind, but what I got was painfully dull gameplay and a haphazard story.
The game starts with a phone conversation between members of the Greyhill neighborhood watch, a group that was created because of the increasing sightings of mysterious figures, and a lack of trust in the government. Four characters are introduced, however, they’re less developable characters and more of a collection of cliches. You play as Ryan Baker, a single father trying to protect his son in hard times. Your comrades in the neighborhood watch are Bob, the conspiracy theorist who lives in a van, Brandon, the disgruntled Vietnam vet, and Amy, the cautious and considerate friend.
The neighborhood watch has two items which are the linchpin of their operations, a crank flashlight, and a walkie-talkie. The former is used because normal flashlights are disrupted by what I call, “alien magic”, basically any paranormal event in the game that’s never explained. Alien magic happens a lot, usually in the form of a gate closing behind you or a door locking. The walkie-talkie is used to stay in communication with your neighborhood and receive new directions.
Your first task is to check up on Ryan’s son, Henry, because Ryan said something is wrong with him in a phone call. It’s here where the game immediately shows its cracks. The kid is fine, as he’s lounging on the ground in the living room like Gwenevere waiting for the TV to get fixed.
There’s a clear dissonance between what the game says is happening and what is actually happening. This only deepens as the game progresses, as Greyhill Incident struggles to strike a balance between having a frightening and serious tone, and giving in to cliches and humor. Even if the game wanted to be taken seriously, It would struggle, as the nonsensical unraveling of plot points feels haphazard at best.
At one point you’re going to help Brandon fend off aliens, but then you’re sidetracked by a police officer to… gather tin foil. This small aside then emphasized another flaw with the game, it doesn’t make sense, and there is no real plot, things just happen. The police officer’s name is Apone, and he kicks off most of the game’s intrigue. There’s a top-secret document in his squad car regarding the exact date of the invasion in Greyhill, and he also knows about using tin foil to combat the aliens. Who is he? How does he know what’s going on? What is the government hiding? None of these questions are ever answered. Apone dies after getting probed in a graveyard with the blood-tipped probe lying next to him. This scene is even played straight, as Ryan breaks down trying to get information from a freshly probed Apone, and it’s a complete and total dissonance of tone.
Before I got to Apone, I heard gunshots, which makes no sense, because I grabbed his revolver along with the secret document in his car. Checking around his body confirmed that he had no gun, but there was a dead alien right in front of him. On top of that, illuminating Apone and the alien is a working flashlight. Given what I’ve learned, only crank flashlights work, and that’s why Ryan has one, although, I don’t think I ever actually used it in the playthrough. These inconsistencies just stack on top of each other, minute after minute, making the game feel like a fever dream, without continuity.
The whole Apone encounter encapsulates the problems with the game. The mission he sent me on in the first place, finding the tin foil, is confusing. At first, I went to Bob, because he’s the conspiracy theorist who’s made a point of having a lot of tin foil, but I couldn’t interact with him. Next, I tried to go to Bob’s van just down the street, but it was out of bounds, and I kept hitting an invisible wall and getting “turn back” voice lines from Ryan. Finally, after a lot of searching, I found that the fence on the other end of the neighborhood had opened itself with some alien magic. Progressing through that vague entry finally allowed me to progress.
There are tips when you pause the game, but they can be incredibly vague. For example, I found Bob’s lost cat at one point and the tip was, “Bring the kitty to Bob, his caravan is over there.” Mind you there is no compass, so it was just saying, “Go over there” in text with no descriptors. Gee, thanks game.
Despite the constant search for poorly described objectives, there are some great aspects to Greyhill Incident. The wide open streets make the player feel exposed, betrayed by the beams of moonlight and bright street lamps. Regardless of the flaws, this game is beautiful. There were a few moments when I just stopped and watched the moonlight wax and wane as it passed through an old mill or some trees.
The ambiance is also top-tier. The buzzing of lights, ticking of a clock, howling of the wind, and creaking of a mill all come together to create a truly eerie atmosphere. The little green men themselves offer a lot in this department. The aliens themselves are just the stereotypical “grey,” short with emotionless, sunken eyes. However, it’s the vocalizations they make, the clicks, that make them truly alien. It’s always suspenseful moving through a house, hearing clicking and, admittedly cartoony scanner buzzing just outside.
The gameplay takes a nosedive when the player actually has to interact with the world beyond its aesthetics. Ryan is a baseball player, it’s implied he’s a champion, so a bat is one of his primary weapons, along with the revolver. The baseball bat has an exceedingly short range, and it takes three whole hits just to knock an alien out. However, the alien will just get right back up a few seconds later.
Aliens menacingly speed walk toward the player at a consistent pace. Sure, running is an option, but despite being an athlete, Ryan can only run for a short moment before being very audibly overtaken by exhaustion. Ryan’s poor stamina is painfully obvious when attempting to explore around, searching for how to complete an objective. Being forced to walk makes the game painfully tedious. On top of that, running and swinging the bat share the same stamina bar that regenerates painfully slowly.
Oftentimes when I was caught, the best strategy was to smack the alien in the face Looney Tunes style, and use the rest of my stamina to run away while it was briefly stunned. While this strategy seemed to only have a 50/50 success rate, I knew my other options weren’t much better. If I knocked an alien down with the bat, then I wouldn’t have enough stamina to run away.
On the other hand, killing an alien with the revolver is effective, but bullets are rare, and the noise can attract other greys. Killing aliens isn’t satisfying outside of the catharsis of being rid of another tiny grey stalker. There’s no blood, no impact, they just fall over. The first time I encountered an alien, I killed it, it fell over unceremoniously, and clipped into a cupboard.
Naturally, the best path seems to be stealth, but sneaking around is inconsistent. Sometimes I would have aliens just snap to me and start tracking me down. Often time’s aliens will stand around somewhere or something you need to progress, adding unneeded tedium as you wait for them to waddle off. Sometimes aliens would come out of the dense fog that cakes the neighborhood before I even saw them. All in all, if an alien sees you, prepare for an unengaging chase sequence, ineffectual combat, or both.
There are plenty of other deficiencies in the gameplay, like how inspecting items feels like Ryan is drunk because the object flips in unpredictable ways, or the constant sarcastic achievements further undermining the tone.
In the end, Greyhill Incident was lacking as much direction as I was trying to navigate the alien-infested suburbs. The game poses countless questions and refuses to answer any of them. The very act of playing this game was tedious and painful, but credit where credits due, it looks beautiful and has an ambiance that intrigues.
With a cliche yet surprisingly untapped theme, Greyhill Incident had the potential to be a great indie horror game. Sadly, any potential the game may have had was squandered by extremely janky gameplay. While the game is beautiful and atmospheric, its looks don’t save it from being at best a painful walking sim, and at worst a total chore.