Asymmetrical-multiplayer survival horror (which is a mouthful that I’ll be referring to as AMSH from here on) could very well be entering its biggest year yet in 2022. Between the ongoing reign of Dead By Daylight (which will be implementing its Ringu chapter in the near future), Saber Interactive’s upcoming Evil Dead: The Game, and Gun Interactive’s recently announced Texas Chain Saw Massacre game, the roster of AMSH is looking very formidable. One game currently in its closed-beta is already causing quite a stir on social media, and upon checking it out recently, I realized that it’s for good reason: Hellbent Games’ VHS (no relation).
As the title suggests, VHS is heavily inspired by the bygone era of the 80s-90s movies whose tapes are likely collecting dust right now in your parents’ basement or attic. The 4 vs. 1 paradigm pits 4 teenagers (aptly a crew of Breakfast Club-esque archetypes like gothic Jess or jock Brett) against 1 killer that you’d expect from an 80s creature feature or slasher. From the synthy, new-wave-inspired soundtrack, to the inclusion of dance moves from Michael Jackson’s Thriller as an emote, VHS effectively rides the recent and ongoing wave of 80s nostalgia.
What sets VHS apart from other popular AMSH games is the fact that the primary objective is for both teams to eliminate each other, rather than 1 killer hunting down 4 survivors while they try to escape. While the killer uses their special abilities to pick off each teenager one-by-one, the teens’ objective is to craft special weapons throughout the map used to hunt down the killer. Each teen has a bar of health that’s worn down before they’re killed, whereas the killer has 4 weaknesses known as Stigmas: Burn, Shock, Curse, and Purify. By crafting weapons like flamethrowers, ray-guns, crucifixes, and swords, the teens can work together to strike down each Stigma to win the match.
The role of fighting back as a survivor rather than checking off objectives to escape is a refreshing change of pace for AMSH—especially since the path to winning is so non-linear. If you’d rather craft Molotov cocktails than flamethrowers to take care of the killer’s Burn stigma, or you’d rather focus on a different Stigma while your teammates handle the others, the choice is yours. On the other hand, if you prefer playing as the killer, the abilities of each killer currently available are vastly different. You can choose rush-down focused gameplay as The Werewolf, or more insidious stealthy gameplay as The Doll Master.
Similar to games like Dead By Daylight, playing as a teen is via third-person perspective, whereas playing as a monster is first-person. Stealth is an important factor in VHS as well, with the ability to hide in lockers and closets and vault over objects during chases. After two basic hits, teens will be knocked down and need to be healed by a fellow teammate in order to get back up. Crafting weapons in the most time-consuming objective during each match, taking the place of things like generators that need to be repaired, leaving teens vulnerable in the meantime.
For whichever role you prefer to play as, VHS strongly encourages you to customize your character in extensive ways. Even in its beta, the amount of ways that you can customize your character’s style, from hair color down to socks, is impressive. In addition to aesthetics, a robust perk system with perks unique to each character allows you to further craft your playstyle to fit your needs. A progression system based on leveling up is also an important feature, similar to Dead By Daylight, in obtaining new perks and in-game currency.
But while there are many similarities and inspiration from other AMSH games, VHS capitalizes on quite a bit of quality-of-life improvements that other games could take note of. For example, when knocked down as a teen, instead of being stuck in place waiting to be picked up or rescued, you’re able to project a Specter that can continue to explore the map while you wait to be healed. Teens can also communicate with each other via voice chat, pinging items or objectives that can be seen across the map, and a tracker next to each player’s HUD that indicates where each fellow survivor is at all times and what they’re working on to strategize accordingly. For example, if you see that one of your teammates is being attacked in the Chem Lab, you’ll know where to avoid.
Interestingly, in a recent update for Dead By Daylight, Behaviour Interactive announced that they’re experimenting with an extremely similar status feature that indicates what each Survivor is up to next to their player HUDs. One has to think that the positive reception to the feature in VHS may have influenced the decision to experiment with it in Dead By Daylight. This instance may be indicative of what we can expect to see more of as the AMSH space becomes more saturated—I, for one, am excited to see what kind of innovation is promoted as a result.
While an official release date hasn’t been announced, it’s a safe bet to assume that VHS will likely release sometime in 2022 based on how finished the game already feels in its beta. If you’re interested in trying out the beta, you can still sign up to receive a code on its official website—however, it may take a bit to receive it as the waitlist is apparently lengthy. If you choose to wait for the full release instead, you’ll be able to get your hands on it pretty easily: according to the developers, VHS will be free-to-play as well.