Team17’s* well-rated Killer Frequency is a horror and murder-mystery puzzle game, with slasher comedy elements, set entirely at a radio station. Originally a 2019 freeware game for PC, an upgraded version was released for the Nintendo Switch on June 1, 2023. Killer Frequency takes place on September 3, 1987. You play as Forrest Nash, who was once a “big shot” radio presenter in Chicago before relocating to the small backwater town of Gallows Creek, population 1,000 people, to host KFAM’s 189.16 – The Scream. Presenting this late-night call-in show means taking listener song requests, choosing vinyl records to play, running local ads (on cassette tapes), bantering with producer Peggy, and dealing with prank calls.
It also means standing in as the town’s only 911 operator. Because the previous one has just discovered Gallows Creek’s sheriff murdered and its sole police officer unconscious. So, while they seek help in a neighbouring town, they’re rerouting the emergency calls to come through your station. Now it’s up to you to use your best judgement, and solve puzzles, to steer your terrified callers away from becoming victims of The Whistling Man, a serial killer thought to be long dead. It’s just like interviewing, right? Ask the right questions, keep them talking… and select the correct suggestions so they don’t die.
*Yes, they made Worms!
Although probably inspired by slasher films like Friday the 13th and Scream, in Killer Frequency you don’t see the gore, you hear it instead. I mean, if you don’t do your job properly! There have been a few movies and games with protagonists who are 911/emergency operators, but none that I can think of where a radio host needs to take on that role and guide stalked listeners away from untimely deaths at the hands of a serial killer. And where it’s just audio slayings rather than visual ones. The callers narrate what’s happening.
So, the idea is fairly unique, which makes it entertaining to play. Of course, there’s also the murder-mystery aspect of who The Whistling Man truly is, why they’re not dead, and why they’re back to kill off more residents.
Like Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo, Killer Frequency spookily begins past midnight, with events confined to one (1980s) day due to the urgency of saving petrified townsfolk. Another similarity it shares with Paranormasight is that it’s pretty comedic with plenty of humour mixed in. The player decides how tasteless they choose to be. After all, it’s not your life on the line (pun intended), it’s your pitiful listeners’ lives! It all depends on what you select from the game’s floating text panels – some with quick-time prompts. While saving everyone is possible, the story doesn’t end if you don’t. And there are different endings depending on how many people you manage to rescue, too.
Managing the switchboard and music is fun. And the first-person gameplay lets you thoroughly sniff around KFAM’s premises for clues as to help your callers. Because each room has plenty of random objects to inspect and move around (and throw around for no reason, like coffee mugs and scrunched-up paper balls), it makes you wonder which are actually useful and relevant to the narrative. The building literally unlocks as you progress, and settings become increasingly scarier and darker. (Why don’t the cast in horror narratives ever turn the lights on? Why are they often isolated in dimly lit places?)The game’s scenery has a sort of cel-shaded style (often misspelt as “cell-shaded,” including by myself lol), with bold dark lines around pretty thick objects. Lastly, Killer Frequency features a “jukebox of retro ‘80s tunes” to switch between, and great voice acting.
- Horror/comedy focused on callers’ narration
- Save lives with object- and conversation-based puzzles
- Unlockable settings get scarier; sort of cel-shaded style
- Great voice acting; ‘80s-inspired tunes
Personally, I enjoyed the random funny ads and phone-ins and other humour. But one criticism I’ve seen of Paranormasight is that the comedic chats actually detract from the game. Possibly, the same could be said of Killer Frequency. The concept also would’ve worked well as a serious, sombre, and unsettling drama. And ‘cause you’re restricted to the station with only Peggy, there could’ve been files that get updated re: characters, locations, and history/folklore, like in a visual novel, for players to read.
Also, the object- and conversation-based puzzles I felt hit that sweet spot where they were interesting without becoming frustratingly time-consuming or tedious, or boringly easy. But some callers are more straightforward to rescue than others. Certain gamers might have appreciated these cases being more complex and difficult challenges.
Finally, the KFAM radio station is cloaked in shadows, and Killer Frequency’s eerie sound effects add to the creepiness. Mostly, this works well. But later on in the game, there is this one exceptionally dark maze-like location that’s actually rather difficult to navigate, and where you’re required to find concealed objects.
On one of my tangents: I often find The Bad section is harder to write than The Good. I think one reason video game review ratings tend to trend towards the higher end of the scale – the average is more like 7/10 rather than 5/10 – is that we generally choose to play games that we think we’ll enjoy in the first place. I dunno, I just guess that the scaling is actually more often 5–10 (one of “goodness”) and not 0–10. To get a 4, a piece just needs to be pretty f*cking terrible. Another reason is that many reviewers receive codes from companies who pay for site advertising, so it's not in their best interests to absolutely trash a title. Anyway, quantifying subjective opinions is kind of murky.
- Could’ve worked as a more serious game
- Some puzzles could’ve been more complex
- Certain dark spots hard to navigate
Final Score: 8/10
Killer Frequency is a fun, entertaining horror title with comedy and murder-mystery components that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and yet is also eerie and spooky at the same time (especially the scenery, sound effects, and how you’re isolated with Peggy in the building). I think the idea of being a radio talk show host acting as an emergency operator saving peeps from murder is quite one of a kind(?). The puzzles, surrounding how to assist these callers, are engaging without being overly complicated.
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