Immersive sims — like Arkane’s masterful Prey and the Dishonored series — are pretty much my favorite games of all time (see also: platformers and Into the Breach). There is nothing more satisfying to me, gameplay wise, than playing with systems that interact with one another — sneaking here, hacking there, stacking improbable numbers of objects just so — and seeing how the game will react to my instinctive fucking around. If those systems (coupled with, say, robust level and mission design that actively encourage experimentation) throw fun things back at me, you can basically guarantee I’ll try everything there is to try. Maybe twice. “Sandbox games” used to be the term we used to describe early open world games, but one day, I’d love to reclaim it for immersive sims.
Famously, though, even these beloved examples have… not set the sales charts on fire. A couple of years back, the conversation around the genre wasn’t so much “when do we get the next great game” so much as “can we at least hope for smaller-scale versions?”
There is hope yet for the bigger-budget immersive sim, but there’s also reason to be excited for pared down versions — smaller games that scratch some of that immersive itch without needing a massive animation staff or big art budget.
I wasn’t expecting any of this when I first lit up Kill it with Fire, Casey Donnellan Games and Tiny Build’s new physics-based shooter, which is really a sort of reverse stealth game all about murdering devious spiders. I thought it’d be a cute FPS, with some soft Hello Neighbor-style aesthetics, and I was down for that. But there’s a delicious little taste of the immersive sim in here, in its robust physics engine (you can pick up and throw anything not nailed down!), its impressively bizarre fire and explosion physics, and even in its reverse-stealth enemy structure. Hell, there are even upgrade trees and new weapons and an appreciable number of secrets to look for in its levels.
No, it isn’t Prey — the genre pinnacle — nor is it trying or claiming to be. What it is is a delightful little game that arms you to the teeth with goofy weaponry and pits you against a tiny army of spiders — of increasingly dangerous varieties. Each stage gives you objectives (and you find new ones as you go), and curious players will find mysteries hidden all around, especially if you’re willing to dig around a little bit. In one early level, I found a secret agent’s hidden closet, full of dossiers and useful goodies. An extra objective in the same level called for me to nail two spiders with one shot of the powerful pump-action shotgun, found in — you guessed it, another closet.
The spiders are gnarly little jerks that like to hide in dark corners and crevices, and jump out of cabinets when you open them. The sound design is pure comedy/horror and there’s even a ripped-from-Alien Isolation tracking device to help you find the eight legged beasts and squish them, shoot them, or set them on fire. It’s ridiculous, but it honestly works, and I found myself glued to the screen, searching every last corner, far longer than I expected to be. If you get stumped, merritt wrote a few tips.
It’s not a horror game, so much as a pretty over-the-top exercise in comedy, a la ClusterTruck — a delightful exercise in how positively stupid physics can be with the right toys. But there’s clearly so much going on under the hood, and, given all the objectives, it’s a fairly directed experience, meant very much to get you playing with those light immersive elements. There’s a far deeper game in here than the cute (and definitely fun!) gifs of glitchy fire would have you know — and for me, that’s about a wonderful surprise as I can hope for in such a spritely little package.