Crow Country Review

Crow Country Review

The indie game scene has long since breached the threshold where the chunky and gritty low-rez aesthetics of horror games on the original PlayStation have become a legitimate art style. Puppet Combo has made a career developing and publishing horror games with this haggard style for some time and Alisa took it further by having a 4:3 aspect ratio with pre-rendered cutscenes. Some games do it better than most and even the best examples don’t always stick to landing.

One thing is for certain; an overwhelming majority of these titles end up feeling more like game dev fan art than anything original. It always feels like you’re playing an uninspired iteration of the same few PS1 horror games that inspired every indie dev –  usually the first three Resident Evil games and Silent Hill. You could always expect fixed camera angles, tank controls, and inventory management, and while they’re usually competent, they’ll usually be forgettable.

Is it possible to escape the game dev fan art trap? As it turns out, the trick was to be more diverse with your influences and to embrace technical advancements that some retro purists may dismiss. Like most indies, SFB Games took elements of Resident Evil and Silent Hill to form the basis of their horror game. They also were inspired by the Gold Saucer theme park sequence from Final Fantasy VII. Was this the X-factor that made their game special? Find out in our Crow Country review!

Crow Country
Developer: SFB Games
Publisher: SFB Games

Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: May 9, 2024
Price: $19.99 USD

Crow Country begins ominously with our protagonist, Mara Forest, a special agent investigating a missing persons report. Her trail leads her to an abandoned themed park where not all is as it seems. The guests have been infected and have transformed into zombie-like abominations, there are traps set, and most of the doors are locked.

Mara’s investigation runs far deeper than players would think. The story is told through lost notes, articles, and a few roaming NPCs who know more than they claim. The narrative allows players to immerse themselves in the mystery and uncover the clues behind the disappearance of the park’s owner, a gold conspiracy, the truth behind the mutated guests, and Mara’s true motivations for taking this nightmarish case.

Crow Country has a very distinct visual style that can be best described as Final Fantasy VII prerendered backgrounds realized in real-time 3D. The environments are dense and the proportions of everything are designed to be chunky and toy-like; as if you’re looking at miniature dioramas.

The character models are not the same kind of chubby-chibi, low-poly figures with big dopey Popeye arms as seen in Final Fantasy VII (1997). Crow Country‘s character designs are very unique and attempt something that looks vaguely like a render for a ’90s game that would have probably used pre-rendered sprites. Joints are defined, shading is very smooth, and lighting is high-contrast.

The graphics are truly stylish and capture the feel of what gamers love about pre-rendered backgrounds, but achieve the effect in full 3D. Being set in a theme park was a stroke of brilliance since Mara gets to explore the main park areas and the staff-only areas as well, which adds variety to the exploration.

Every area is stuffed with some interesting set piece, gimmick, or puzzle. There is a profound sense of connectedness to all the areas and locked areas cheekily loop back around to previously explored locations. The level of thought and care poured into Crow Country‘s world ranks as some of the most detailed ever realized in any horror game. No matter where you are, it always feels like there is something of interest to investigate.

As players progress solving puzzles and discovering keys to go deeper into the park’s heart, Crow Country does something that no horror game has ever considered. Usually, in horror games, the environment gets cleared out as players fight the monsters, and the areas get cleared and become safe to explore. In Crow Country, the further players get, the more hostile and threatening the world becomes.

Areas once thought to be safe are festooned with traps, and newer and more dangerous monsters begin to appear. Mara can’t realistically fight every creature since ammo is limited and the game encourages players to evade threats. The only problem is that evasion is too effective. Even toward the end of the game, Mara is more than capable of running past the bigger threats

Regretfully, Crow Country is too easy. Its difficulty may have been appropriate as a kid’s game, but this is an M-rated title with savage scenes of intense violence, blood, gore, and nightmarish depictions of body horror. The puzzles are varied and have creative ideas, but they’re no more taxing than medium riddle difficulty in a Silent Hill game. What makes the puzzles enjoyable in Crow Country is the amount of them, the variety, and that most of them are optional.

When avoiding the roaming creatures becomes too much, you can engage in combat. Players will be surprised to find that Crow Country‘s combat system is more sophisticated than anything found on the old PlayStation. Like in the Resident Evils or Silent Hill, Mara readies her weapon with a shoulder button and firmly plants her feet. Aiming is full 360 degrees and with a laser sight mounted on her weapon, players can sharp shoot like they’re Leon Scott Kennedy in Resident Evil 4.

There is an element of risk and reward since close-range shots are more damaging and some enemies can only be hurt when they’re up close to Mara. Headshots are always preferred but the creatures in the park are so badly mutated, that sometimes it is hard to tell where the head is. There are no melee attacks, so every shot counts if players choose to engage directly.

There is also an impressive amount of creatures. In some cases, there are unusually large unique monsters that spawn once and never reappear after dying. These special foes may be the closest thing there is to boss fights since there are none apart from the final battle which unfolds in a puzzle-centric way.

Crow Country manages to escape the trap of becoming game dev fan art. It’s tasteful with its homage and manages to strike it out on its own by doing something new. The POV resembling an RPG and being set in a twisted theme park helped this game stand out from most indie horror games. The mixture of cute chibi designs with a gritty and nightmarish atmosphere where the graphics don’t lean on pixelated and warped textures suggests confidence in their style.

Average gamers will be able to negotiate Crow Country in about five hours. It is a short game and can be even shorter if you don’t try to get everything. Thankfully, this is the kind of game that is enjoyable to replay due to how it beckons players to be more efficient when starting over. There is unlockable content to earn depending on the earned rank and continuing a cleared file unlocks new hidden collectibles.

It is a good sign when a tightly paced, dense horror game leaves players begging for more. It’s preferred than a game overstaying its welcome and feeling like you never want to play it again. Crow Country is compact, but I found myself feeling very cozy in its world, never wanting to leave.

Crow Country was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by SFB Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Crow Country is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.


The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Tastefully done inspiration of classic horror PlayStation games, yet original enough that there is nothing else like it
  • Superb sound design and visual aesthetics that make a world you never want to leave
  • Lots of optional objectives and secrets jam packed into densly designed areas
  • Growing sense of an ever-increasing hostile environment
  • Optional tank controls and free-aiming gunplay

The Bad

  • The hardest starting difficulty is too easy that it undermines most of the tension
  • Could have been longer and needs more than one boss


A youth destined for damnation.

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