PC review code provided by tinyBuild.
Kitchen appliances aren’t what immediately spring to mind when you think of scary objects. Regardless, an evil fridge was the subject of a short itch.io game Do Not Take Your Eyes Away From The Red Fridge. The brief horror game was well received, and as a result the developers, 5WORD Team were able to extend to concept into a full anthology title, published by tinyBuild. The Fridge Is Red sets you face-to-door with the evil piece of kitchen equipment, and tells a story far more real than you might expect.
The plot of The Fridge Is Red can only be described as living through a nightmare, in a more literal sense than most games. In its essence, it’s a story about the protagonist’s grief and loss, but it is presented through a filter of dream logic and surreal, unsettling visuals just close enough to real life to feel relatable. It takes seemingly mundane situations and turns them into a twisted mirror of themselves.
Something that might be a little surprising for a horror game, is the presence of frequent NPCs. It’s something most atmospheric horror tends to avoid, making use of isolation to heighten the unease. In many games, NPCs would break the tension, but here they don’t, if anything they make it worse. The individuals in its stories are very much like people you might speak to in a dream. Their actions defy logic, they will sometimes seem oblivious to the strangeness around them, and none seem interested in providing any sense of help or protection. Some will stare off into space, others will change positions into places they should not be, and a few will stare at you and twist their necks at impossible angles to do so. This is not an easy way to do horror, but it’s definitely an effective one.
The Fridge Is Red is described in some cases as a walking simulator, though that feels like it does a bit of disservice to the interactivity of the world. That said, you won’t necessarily be playing it in the manner of survival horror, and you definitely won’t be swinging at things with a weapon.
You wander through the uncanny valley environments and solve puzzles that allow you to progress. The horror creeps up on you more than it is thrust into your face, and while you’re more often than not under direct threat, you certainly do not feel safe. The puzzles are actually a highlight. They’re not hand-holding, and often trust you to figure things out for yourself. Occasionally this can lead to a bit of confusion, but the fact that you’re not constantly dogged by attackers means you do have the chance to think it over.
The Fridge Is Red isn’t necessarily meant to be played quickly or as an adrenaline-seeking exercise. It makes some creative choices for narrative reasons that might put some people off. There is one part where you are expected to stand in a queue that moves slowly through a hospital corridor. For anyone who has a bad experience in medical settings, it is quite anxiety-inducing, but I could see how some players might be climbing the walls during the wait.
Visuals and Audio
The game leans hard into a VHS/PS1 aesthetic. This is something that a number of horror games opt for, and it’s easy to see why. Low-fidelity 3D graphics are inherently uncanny and it makes everything feel wrong and unwelcoming from the start.
The visuals mix these retro graphics with modern computing power to improve your experience a bit. It’s possible to zoom into some things you’re looking at to get a better read of them, and this will sometimes present you with a more detailed texture. For some puzzles, this is an absolute must.
The whole thing is presented with a CRT-TV fuzz all over the picture, which is used to obscure some things and keep you from dwelling on unnecessary areas. This can feel a little too much at times, as there are a few sequences where it’s genuinely difficult to see what you’re doing.
The sound effects and manipulation of the voice work stand out as far as the audio goes. All the human noises are distorted, with voices seeming warped and their pitch badly wrong. The hospital area has its patrons’ coughs twisting and morphing until they sound almost hellish, something that I feel might tug a few people’s anxieties after the recent pandemic. Music is weird and atmospheric, though sparse. A lot of the time you will be alone with your thoughts and the ambient noise, which does not put you at ease.
A player looking for something to dip into and play through regularly is probably not going to get that much from The Fridge Is Red. The game is very much designed as a narrative-heavy experience, and as a result, will undoubtedly lose something when you are no longer uncertain of how things are going to play out.
That said, there are some secrets to find spread through the different stories, and mechanics like vending machines which could be fun to experiment with. A few of the scares appear to be a little randomized, so I did have things turn out a little different when playing a chapter twice, though the slow pacing might put some people off restarting. The fact that you can dip in and out of chapters is nice, so if you want to try things again, there’s at least minimal preamble to getting the chapter going.
What It Could Have Done Better
While there’s an awful lot of craft to appreciate about The Fridge Is Red, it isn’t without flaws. While I think that the nature of the game is naturally a ‘love it or hate it’ affair, there are some more objective issues.
Firstly, the grainy visuals can make things nearly unreadable in places, and I think sometimes this is more of a bug than a feature. At some point, I tweaked the graphics settings to fullscreen and the menu text collapsed into unreadable pixels.
While I like that it doesn’t hold your hand too much, there were a few parts that did seem too obscure. Sometimes it required a very specific solution to a problem but didn’t make it obvious what success and failure conditions were. This could be a little frustrating at times.
The Fridge Is Red is not a horror game for everyone. It is slow-paced and not heavy on adrenaline-fulled scares. It works more on inducing a sense of dread. It evokes situations you may be familiar with in life and frames them through a warped, dream-like lens. It’s more creepy than outright scary, but horror doesn’t have to go extremely hard to be effective.
While it is flawed, and rough in some places, I can appreciate that the developers took some risks and did not take the easy way out in terms of the feel they were trying to convey. If you want to hunker down on an October evening and take a stroll through someone’s nightmare, it’s well worth giving this a try.
The Fridge Is Red is now available for PC via Steam.