Having only recently binged almost every episode of The X-Files in a bout of nostalgia, I was very much primed for They Are Here, an alien abduction horror game from two-person developer Deklazon. I thought I'd had my fill of indie first-person horror games forcing me to flee monsters in the wilderness, but it turns out I'm still more than willing to be stalked by grey aliens through cornfields.
They Are Here plonks you in the shoes of a journalist investigating a UFO sighting, who is on their way to interview a farmer about the alleged alien encounter. Nobody knows more about UFOs than North American farmers and that's just a fact. When they get to the farm, everyone has left to look for the family's missing daughter, but not before leaving behind a bunch of slightly-too-convenient notes to fill in the narrative gaps. Aren't farmers considerate?
You've got a torch and a camera, can't fight, and you're a magnet for jump scares. In this regard, They Are Here is a lot like most of the low-budget first-person horror romps that streamers and YouTubers are so fond of—but the alien abduction angle is a great hook that gives They Are Here enough novelty to stand out in this very crowded sub-genre.
Taking the demo for a spin, I find myself outside the farm, staring at large lights in the sky that obviously aren't stars or terrestrial aircraft. But they ain't bothering anyone, so after taking a quick snap I walk through the cornfield and into the house. There are plenty of notes, photographs and a VCR that plays a brief, grainy alien abduction film. One thing is clear: this family is very into alien shit. After snooping around for a bit, the farm becomes engulfed in an ominous blue light, accompanied by unsettling and unnatural sounds, rudely interrupting my investigation.
Then all the lights go out.
There are noises coming from inside the farmhouse. And footsteps. Heavy ones. I look for somewhere to hide, but there's nowhere to go. Is this my abduction moment, I wonder? But no aliens come for me, giving me the opportunity to get the fuck out of there. I leg it outside, only to see one of the stationary lights in the sky suddenly spring to life and hurtle towards the ground. My car alarm goes off in the distance and I start to run. But there's something with me in the cornfield. I can't see it clearly but I know exactly what it is. I keep running, my character's heavy breathing filling my headset. Maybe some of it is my own breathing.
My car alarm goes off in the distance and I start to run. But there's something with me in the cornfield.
In front of the car is a set of clothes, neatly arranged in the shape of a person. I guess the aliens don't want their abductees to be dressed because it makes probing them more of a hassle. A mystery for another day, I decide, and run towards my vehicle and jump in. Naturally, it doesn't start. And when I look up, there they are: a group of grey aliens, watching me. I'm transfixed, so of course I don't see the alien right next to me until it opens the door and grabs me, bringing the demo to a close.
It's a strong introduction that manages to hit so many of the big UFO and alien abduction tropes that I love so much. The atmosphere is thick with alien menace, and the grey aliens themselves are chilling adversaries, despite being so recognisable. Whether they are standing motionless and just staring, or rushing through fields, they are always deeply unnerving. Even after all these years, it's the perfect monster design: the gangly limbs, massive remorseless eyes, and that big ol' head that suggests it's probably smarter than you. It's human enough to be recognisable, but also wrong in all the right ways, inspiring this itchy sense of unease.
The demo was also recently updated to include an additional prologue chapter, which takes place 30 years before the game and is thus mostly self-contained, though very brief. This time, I've been ordered by the military to investigate a UFO, accompanied by a helicopter lighting my way. As I make my brief trek through the forest, I happen across a dead animal covered in weird alien spores. Lovely! There's no time for an autopsy, though, as my Aliens-style motion tracker is encouraging me to move on.
Despite having little to do but walk forward and occasionally zoom in, the sound design keeps things nice and ominous, even though I feel relatively safe thanks to the chopper above. I'm sure nothing terrible is going to happen to the pilots. They'll be fine.
At first the radio chatter from the helicopter and the military base is reassuring, but the tone eventually changes—something's not quite right. A huge surprise that nobody could have seen coming. The helicopter gets into trouble, is struck by a blue light, flips upside down, and then simply explodes, leaving me shrouded in darkness.
On my own now and reliant on my night vision camera, I keep pushing forward, until I encounter the UFO itself. It's all lit up, too, bathing a lake and the surrounding area in that now-familiar blue glow. It just floats there in defiance of nature, exuding big Close Encounters of the Third Kind vibes. Then it shuts down and the motion tracker goes haywire. They're behind the trees. Watching me. I confess I panic. Yes, I yelp, waking up my dog in the process. And then I'm grabbed, for the second time today. It's over.
The motion blur is annoying, the head bob is nauseating and the writing, at least when it comes to the notes and diaries found in the farmhouse, is a bit on the awkward side, but They Are Here's demo and prologue have absolutely whet my appetite and I'm more than ready to ferret out the truth. That will have to wait until 2024, but you can get a taste of it right now.