In just 10 minutes, Blumhouse's first horror game sucked me in with its lo-fi world, seance twist, and cute but quietly messed-up art

Fear the Spotlight
(Image credit: Blumhouse Games)

Fear the Spotlight worked just fine as a three-hour horror game about an asthmatic high school girl. Originally released in September 2023, it earned 98% positive Steam reviews before it was un-released specifically to be expanded and soon re-released under Blumhouse Games, a new publisher from Five Nights at Freddy's film producer Jason Blum. Fear the Spotlight is now the tip of the spear for Blumhouse's six-game push into interactive horror. It's due this year and it's been upped to a roughly five-hour adventure that folds in console ports and additional languages. And it only needed 10 minutes at a Summer Game Fest demo to get me properly absorbed. 


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What could go wrong?

Fear the Spotlight

(Image credit: Blumhouse Games)

Fear the Spotlight is a love letter to '90s horror in the truest sense. Chunky, lo-fi art invites the player to fill in gaps with their imagination, and a pronounced VHS filter acts almost as a misdirect in the way it textures empty shadows. You play as Vivian, a high school girl who winds up trapped in Sunnyside High after joining her friend Amy for a late-night seance at the school library. The setup can't help being predictable but the game presents it well and moves along at a clip. 

This will sound far-fetched: the seance goes wrong. Granted, I don't know what a good outcome for a seance might be – maybe asking your late grandma where she hid her pound cake recipe or something – but it's probably not seeing your friend levitate and then get dragged into a fiery classroom as non-euclidean space encroaches around you. And so we begin unraveling the "dark history" of this school, which suffered some sort of fire tragedy years ago that led to the deaths of several students. A memorial plaque on the library wall reveals another strength of the art style as once-cute pixel art portraits abruptly become horribly disfigured, and the contrast is striking. 

Fear the Spotlight

(Image credit: Blumhouse Games)

Modern lighting and audio elevates Fear the Spotlight's atmosphere beyond its retro veneer, but its greatest strength is how faithfully it follows Vivian's POV. You are a tiny high school girl with asthma, and it feels like it. It's mostly a third-person game, but jumps to first-person when you duck under tables – perhaps hiding from the fiery monster that I've only seen in trailers, as my demo was quite brief – or interact with the environment. There's a wonderful physicality to the world, like pulling the analog stick back to open a drawer, then individually thumbing through files in search of info. Environmental puzzles are both intuitive and mechanically satisfying, and reinforce the feeling of vulnerability. The asthma is a smart twist, too, with a rationed inhaler and Vivian's breathing adding a pseudo-sanity meter a la Eternal Darkness. 

Co-developers Crista Castro and Bryan Singh, who previously quit their jobs and ate into their savings to make this game happen, tell me that, after carefully packing the base game into a two-year dev cycle, Blumhouse's offer opened up a lot of unexpected doors. "We didn't even know that we were allowed to think about more," Singh says. Castro stresses that there's at least an hour of new core content, with a greater emphasis on fresh ideas as opposed to old concepts that were left on the cutting room floor during development. 

Fear the Spotlight is still a tightly designed game about a girl "overcoming her fears," Castro says, but bigger and more accessible than it was originally imagined. My taste of it was brief, and I'm admittedly bad with horror games because I have a hard time seeing in the dark, but it's been several busy weeks since I played Fear the Spotlight for all of 10 minutes yet it's still seared into my eyeballs, which is a good sign.  

Fear the Spotlight is coming to PC and console in fall 2024, with the updated version being a free upgrade for existing owners on Steam. 

Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a senior writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature, all while playing as many roguelikes as possible.