This tech noir survival horror game is like a futuristic Silent Hill set in a post-apocalyptic English city, and it all started with a feeling

(Image credit: Headware Games)

The first game I played during Steam Next Fest earlier this month wasn't actually part of the event at all. I believe I found my way to Hollowbody by accident, having clicked through a series of similar storefronts in search of horror demos, and what a happy accident it was. Touted as a tech noir narrative, the Hollowbody demo sees players exploring a "long abandoned British city" and confronting the horrors within. The gameplay in all its fixed camera-angled glory harkens right back to early Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but the more futuristic touchstones – like a literal hovercraft – mean that none of it feels derivative. In short, it's awesome.

For Hollowbody solo developer Nathan Hamley of Headware Games, the creative process all starts with a feeling. "If I know how I want the player to feel I can craft a world and narrative around that feeling, designed to further reinforce this emotional seed rooted in the early design stages," he explains. "In Hollowbody's case I wanted the player to be feeling a sense of discovery and intrigue that is shared with the story's protagonist, with them both experiencing something a little familiar yet distanced from the world they know."

Feeling the fear


(Image credit: Headware Games)
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This is where Hollowbody truly succeeds: the demo presents a slick and scuzzy tech noir landscape – "film noir paired with science fiction", as Hamley neatly puts it – that is littered with environmental storytelling. 

If you're wondering what "tech noir" means in the content of Hollowbody, Hamley describes it as "a pairing of film noir sensibilities within a science fiction setting. As mentioned before, Hollowbody is a game trying to capture a specific feeling and that feeling can also be felt in the wealth of moody, rain-soaked film noir cinema. It encapsulated a lot of what I wanted to put forward with this project," he says. "Also, tech-noir just sounds cool, y'know?

"By using the term tech-noir I wanted to differentiate Hollowbody's science fiction stylings from those that have been associated with the term 'cyberpunk' in recent years," says Hamley. "This is where the idea for the game's primarily setting came from: a once thriving city now left dormant for 60 years after a catastrophic event left those without the means to escape abandoned. The streets of this city are closely mirroring those we live in now, albeit a lot more post apocalypse-y." Hamley's atmosphere-first approach is partly why Hollowbody feels so distinct; it's got the fixed camera angles, puzzles that involve mandatory backtracking, and the overall gameplay feel of the best survival horror games ever, but it's all framed by something decidedly modern.

Interacting with certain items gives the player an insight into the strangely contrasting world of Hollowbody; the flats in an abandoned apartment block near the start of the demo are are digitally locked, rather than with heart or diamond-shaped metal keys, but our heroine Mica comments on the old-fashioned video-phone equipment she finds in one of them. Advanced technology should signify a futuristic world, but a lot of Hollowbody looks pretty normal. Mica's clothes are nothing outlandish, and aside from being trashed beyond belief, the streets look no different from the ones outside my bedroom window. It all makes for an unsettling incongruence straight off the bat, and I'm left wondering where and when the hell I am.


(Image credit: Headware Games)

Hamley's atmosphere-first approach is partly why Hollowbody feels so distinct.

I'm guessing that's the tech noir element doing its job. These visual and temporal inconsistencies suggest that, unlike the classic survival horrors it might take some stylistic influence from, Hollowbody is a futuristic adventure that could well be set many decades from now. 

It's a horror game, but not in the way you'd expect. Without many monsters lurking in the shadows, Hollowbody's atmospheric dread and tension is the true antagonist. It's this sense of old-meets-new that gives Hollowbody some added flair and vitality, especially in such a lively indie genre as horror. It's his indie dev compatriots, Hamley says, who have helped carve out such a proud return to popularity for the horror genre in video games – and perhaps that interest never faded to begin with.

"The indie horror scene has been thriving for many years now," Hamley says, citing 2012's Resident Evil 6 as a pivotal moment for indie horror's rise: Cry of Fear, Imscared, and Slender: The Eight Pages to name a few. "Not only were we seeing low budget or free indie titles getting traction, but a middle ground was forming, smaller studios with enough financial backing to make substantial games through clever design and resource management.

"I mention this because I feel – in the video game industry, at least – that this recent resurgent interest in horror games has been in no small part thanks to all of these fantastic developers that have kept the genre alive over the past 10+ years. We're now seeing a renewed interest in horror games from the AAA developers, but this would not have happened if it wasn't for all of the creative foundation that has been established in the indie horror scene." 

Hamley hits the nail on the head there. The fact that the horror game renaissance largely owes itself to indies is no secret, but looking at it in context almost makes me a little teary. Indie developers and their lower-budget passion projects are the lifeblood of this genre, and the short taster I've had of Hollowbody proves it a glittering celebration of that already.

Hollowbody is one of many upcoming horror games that we hope to see launch in 2024.

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.