There are startlingly few crows in Crow Country.

That’s not a knock on developer and publisher Super Flash Bros (SFB) Games, however. Comprised of Tom and Adam Vian, the duo originally got their start in the world of video games via their modest collection of Adobe Flash titles, some of which are still beloved to this day.

Classic games like Haunt the House (which would later see a commercial release in the form of Haunt the House: Terrortown) and Help the Hero would later give way to friendly indie titles like Snipperclips and the Detective Grimoire series. Though their games occasionally featured the macabre, an approachable, colorful veneer always washed over their presentation.

It’s what legitimately took me aback when I discovered who exactly was behind Crow Country. Gone are the cutesy 2D graphics and simple shapes, as well as the cartoony aesthetic that SFB Games have heavily utilized throughout their entire library of released titles. Instead, what we have is one of the most intriguing throwback horror titles to release in 2024 thus far, one that absolutely wears its influences on its sleeves while trimming them of any obnoxious tidbits. For the most part.

But is Crow Country yet another retro-themed horror game that merely borrows from the past without adding anything new to it? Does it rest on its laurels with its gorgeous low-poly presentation? Well, no. It was actually quite surprising in multiple areas.

Going Down to a Crow-Themed Amusement Park

Mara Forest approaching a chainlink fence in Crow Country
SFB Games

We jump from the current year all the way back to 1990, complete with plenty of film grain and early 3D goodness. As a lone vehicle drives off into a dark void, we’re treated to some expository narration: we play as Mara Forest, a special agent with striking purple hair who, seemingly without approval from the powers above, has set out to the titular Crow Country theme park in search of some answers. All we know off the bat is that she needs to speak to the park’s founder, Edward Crow, and figure out what ultimately led to the closure of the park. Along the way, an elaborate mystery involving the park’s staff, Crow’s family, and other disconnected parties intersect into a terrifying revelation — and also a pretty obvious twist, once you connect enough dots.

Similar to other games of the genre, the story is doled out through broad strokes as you interact with Crow Country‘s handful of residents. The plentiful number of journal entries really convey the true nature of what’s going on, as well as the sheer horror of the situation as it starts to unfold quickly. It’s all fine and good, though having the ability to flip through journal entries without finding a bound notebook in the park would’ve been a welcomed convenience. At least the park is fairly quick to get around, making navigation a breeze when paired with its plentiful landmarks.

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Speaking of which, the park itself acts as Crow Country‘s equivalent to, say, the mansion from Resident Evil. You start off in a single area and slowly open up four smaller hubs that occasionally crossover into each other, with progression between being locked behind a series of color-coded doors, puzzles of all kinds, monsters, traps, and so on. For those who have some experience in the genre, it’s all fairly standard stuff. Then again, given how rare traditional survival horror games are in the grand scheme of things, it’s more than acceptable to utilize what already works.

What certainly works in Crow Country is its incredible presentation. By no means is it an exaggeration to suggest that, if you were to look at a still frame of Crow Country, you’d think it was ripped straight from a prerendered still found in the era of early 3D. The surprise I felt when I realized that the game kept this aesthetic, all while utilizing a fully 3D environment, was immense. It’s gorgeous. Instead of borrowing the typical tricks of the trade when emulating graphics from the games that inspired it — like low-resolution textures, polygonal warbling, and dithering — it instead embraces the look of early 3D cinematics, similar to those utilized in games like Parasite Eve. It’s not necessarily uncanny, but it creates this kind of unique atmosphere that I’ve yet to feel from games outside of those it takes inspiration from, all while carving out its own unique character and monster designs. That’s certainly an accomplishment.

Survival Horror for All

Mara Forest standing in a haunted mansion in Crow Country
SFB Games

We mentioned SFB Games’ previous titles for one reason — Crow Country offers two unique ways to play. For those aching for a traditional survival horror experience, battling monstrous hordes and surviving by the skin of your teeth, you’re covered. If you’re more curious about just unraveling the mystery that surrounds the titular theme park, however, you’re also able to play in “Exploration Mode,” which disables all enemy encounters in favor of just letting you play at your own leisure. It’s an option that really didn’t need to be there, but the fact that it is speaks volumes. Anyone could get some enjoyment out of Crow Country, even if they don’t want to be bothered with fighting things.

Then again, Exploration Mode might not even be that necessary. Crow Country controls much like a traditional survival horror game. Fixed camera angles are nowhere to be seen, instead opting for a camera that can freely rotate around Mara as you please. Mara can walk, run, and backpedal with either analog movement or tank controls, though the latter feels more like a deliberate handicap here than it does in its inspirations. You’ll certainly have an easier time navigating the many traps and enemies that wander the park with analog controls. Maya can also interact with items, view a map, gather items in the world, and lastly, blow things up with her plethora of weapons.

Admittedly, Crow Country does falter just a little bit in this department. You’ll find a grand total of four weapons (plus grenades), with the pistol in particular being your primary weapon of choice. It’ll be your best friend in a lot of ways. You’ll fight enemies with it with an aiming system not dissimilar from how Resident Evil handled aiming, forcing Maya to stay still as she plugs away at whatever you’re aiming at. You’ll even have the camera snap forward to what you’re aiming at, which is appreciated. You’re also able to destroy traps with your weapons, be they bear traps, poison gas traps, dangling chandeliers, or some ungodly combination of all three in the same room. We won’t spoil the rest of the weaponry for you here, but you’ll find some recognizable staples here and there.

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Weirdly enough, your weaponry will play a not-insignificant role in puzzle-solving. It’s not as if Crow Country doesn’t introduce this possibility: the very first puzzle you solve involves shooting the lock off of a fence. But in a rare deviation from the kind of ammo conservation you’d typically expect from a survival horror game, you’re expected to use your gun to solve a plethora of puzzles throughout. Chances are, if there’s no obvious solution anywhere else, plugging something full of holes really is the right thing to do, even if other puzzles are solved via traditional means. This may vary from person to person, but it’s not often that you’d find a survival horror game embracing such an idea. Ammo is more than plentiful in Crow Country, but it might take some getting used to if you’re used to hoarding as many bullets as you can. It was certainly an adjustment.

This brings us to a big issue some may have with Crow Country: it is incredibly forgiving, almost to a point where it may detract from the experience. Ammunition and health items are absolutely everywhere, the ability to save is limited only by the finite locations you’re able to do so in, and the game’s secret areas — which grant you an exclusive weapon and incredibly useful upgrades — are a modest challenge at best to uncover. Dedicated hint machines (with limited uses) can even be found throughout the park, giving you an idea of what needs to be done next to progress. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s worth bringing up if you’re looking for something a little more difficult.

The same can be said for its ranking system. Crow Country also has rankings: by the time the credits roll, you’re graded on your overall performance throughout the brief adventure based on a surprisingly few number of factors. The one you would most expect — the time taken to complete the game — isn’t even present here. Though there are only three possible grades (B, A, and S), you’re given a unique reward for each tier that is worth acquiring. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s actually fairly quick to breeze through the entire map in just a few hours.

Is Crow Country Worth Playing?

Mara Forest standing in an arcade in Crow Country
SFB Games

Is Crow Country worth playing, then? In its current state, we’d say so.

Its system requirements are barely worth mentioning, demanding an Intel i5 CPU at best and only about 1GB of VRAM. Anything built within the last decade, or even farther back, should be more than capable of running it. Performance was stable throughout on said i5, with no major technical hurdles to overcome or any stability issues.

It’s worth mentioning that SFB Games has officially released a content roadmap for the near future as well. The roadmap prioritizes bug fixes, the inclusion of another difficulty option, a separate soundtrack release, and additional language options.

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For those mostly interested in Crow Country‘s intriguing story: well, we’re not going to spoil everything for you here. However, it did an amicable job of providing intrigue throughout. There’s a decent sense of escalation, coupled with the growing presence of grotesque creatures and dangerous traps, and the ending is certainly explosive.

Overall, Crow Country is a fantastic encapsulation of what made retro survival horror games so engaging: a condensed horror experience made more readily accessible via its brief length, player-friendly options, and an incredible visual style that pairs well with its engaging story. In short, it’s a fun time for a modest price, and you’ll find yourself tempted to immediately play it all over again once you clear your first run.

Crow Country is currently available for sale on Steam, the PlayStation Network, and the Microsoft Store.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Crow Country
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Sean is a devout data hoarder, CD collector, and purveyor of weird things. When he's not scouring the depths for the odd and macabre, he's usually playing video games, trying to learn Blender, and subsisting on coffee and protein bars. He also knows how to "get things."
crow-country-game-reviewOverall, Crow Country is a fantastic encapsulation of what made retro survival horror games so engaging: a condensed horror experience made more readily accessible via its brief length, player-friendly options, and an incredible visual style that pairs well with its engaging story. In short, it's a fun time for a modest price, and you'll find yourself tempted to immediately play it all over again once you clear your first run.

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