This is it, this is the time I beat this level! That’s what I told myself. I had failed several times, leaped in fear several times, and drawn myself a map marking all the key things to gather and avoid. Things are finally going well and I’m on my way to finish the level. I make a dash through an area I thought I marked safe, and suddenly a zombie leaps forward, killing me, and making me flail my body more violently than the last time.
This kind of scenario is what I believe developers Strength in Numbers Studio, Inc, had in mind when they created Kaet Must Die. As the game loads up, the introduction screen is telling you that the game is difficult. I would call these screens a lie, but only because they undersell it. Kaet Must Die is not difficult; it’s brutally and painfully challenging, near the point of excess.
This is a horror game, set in first person. What works to create a sense of dread and fear is a combination of two things. First is the setting. While nothing is unique or overly different, the levels are built perfectly to encapsulate different levels of paranoia. The first level has tunnels that are littered with rubble and trash, creating a very claustrophobic locale. However, a wide and open area sits in the center of the map, which juxtaposes the smaller tunnel by making danger feel like it’s coming from every angle.
The levels are also designed with aesthetic brilliance. Each section you encounter in the same map has a cohesion to it, with enough variance to make navigation become second nature. Coloration is utilized exceptionally well, helping to landmark the area and make it memorable. Light sources are kept minimal, but used as intelligently as colors to highlight the environments.
While the setting is quite well made, the puzzles that inhabit them are what brings them to life. Each map has a something to solve, often involving finding or recovering items. The game doesn’t state them outright, and the exploration of the map is accentuated thanks to the lack of information.
The cherry on top of all of this is the enemy design. Scattered around the area are monsters of different shapes and sizes, and they exist to do one thing: kill you instantly. The first level has only two flavors of foe, but each are masterpieces in their own right. Small little men roam the area, making it a game of cat and mouse trying to avoid them. But the real killers are the zombies. Planted and lying around, these skinless horrors don’t move until you get too close. Their locations were carefully plotted to maximize their effectiveness, and quite often I found myself unwillingly stepping into their personal space, only to end up dead.
Against some elements, such as the darkness and little men, you’re given certain powers. The very first one you receive is a little glowing mushroom that sprout up around the map. Using them gives you a dim ball of light for three seconds, and they can be used to reveal what lurks in the shadows, or scare away the tiny killers. While plentiful and regenerating, their use is a key factor and they become a comfort you might use more often than you expect.
The strength of Kaet Must Die is that it forces you to split your attention. On one hand, you need to traverse the landscape and complete the puzzles. While doing so, you need to avoid the creatures of the world. This creates a hectic, uneasy feeling, and I found myself being caught off guard every time that an enemy leaped up to kill me. Despite being commonplace and overused, the jump scares were successful often because they weren’t the only thing that you had to worry about.
It’s hard to find faults with Kaet Must Die, because it combines so many elements successfully. There are nitpicks for sure, such as particular choke points that can feel cheap. Zombies exist with only a sliver of a safe path in some key passageways, and this gets frustrating when you accidentally walk into their danger zone. Some items also obscure parts of the screen, creating visibility issues while trying to avoid obstacles.
Despite being unable to complete the first level, Kaet Must Die is a game very much worth playing. I found myself drawing a map with pen and paper to try and get through the first area, and despite having this guide, I still found myself having problems with beating it. The spooky levels are off the chart and the scares hit home every time. So turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and boot up one of the most successful horror games I have ever played.