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  • Writer's pictureJuan Cruz

The Devil: horror audio with a personality

When I started playing The Devil, I wasn't sure what to expect. On the surface, it seemed like a simple indie title released for the 2020 Haunted PS1 Summer of Spooks Game Jam. The first thing that you see is the title screen; the first thing that you hear is a startling sound that introduces the main theme... an entrancing, mysterious track that pulls you in with its spaced-out melody and repeating ostinatos.

I spent at least five minutes on that screen without moving, simply enjoying the music; it was so well done and seamless, it felt like an offense to interrupt it by moving on. Eventually, I did move on to play the game; and what a game it is! I played it all the way through and then went back through it again; after a while, I looked at the time and realized I'd been playing for more than two hours. The game has a way of making you lose track of time as you play it, and a huge part of the reason why are the phenomenal soundscapes created by James Campbell and Shane Yach. Incredibly creative sound design and an amazing soundtrack add a heavy layer of personality to The Devil, which is already a very interesting game on its own.

Made by a small team of people with incredible dedication, this game has a very mysterious premise. Described by the developers as “A classic survival horror game in the lineage of Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Siren”, the story follows a rugged man known only as a “lifter”. The man has been picked up by a tall, moving edifice named the Spire, at the top of which you find yourself upon starting the game. Very angular passageways, intricate routes and industrial elements fill the screen as you explore the Spire, moving in an inevitable downwards path. Without spoiling too much about the plot, the player encounters a number of unusual characters on the way down, most of which display a nonchalant or rude attitude when interacted with. This all serves the purpose of making the player feel an oppressively heavy atmosphere that permeates the entire game. Now, let's talk about the audio.

The audio in this game is outstanding; it brings to life the world around you and makes you feel immersed in the game. Walking from one room to another feels that much scarier and tense when you hear the sound of creaking, screeching metal doors. As you walk down into the depths of the Spire, the ambience becomes gradually more industrial in nature, relying heavily on chains, machine sounds and unearthly groans that seem to come from the very depths of the earth. These industrial soundscapes are reminiscent of the first Silent Hill soundtrack, which is commonly known to be the most experimental one as well. The sound pays homage to those influences without being derivative, and at the same time displaying a very unique style. This is one of the reasons why the audio is so successful.

The entirety of the sound design in the game is top-notch. There is so much attention to detail coupled with fun, creative choices, that you can just tell they had a blast creating it. My personal favorite moment comes when you enter a room that resembles a mess hall; a veritable maze of cubicles occupied by strange characters that appear to be eating. The sounds of chewing and squelching of food fill the room, making you feel uncomfortable and squeamish. In the words of composer and sound designer James Campbell:

“...going in we wanted to make slow-burn creepy moments rather than anything intensely scary regarding sound design. My first idea with the cafeteria was to record myself eating yogurt and clanking silverware together. Those sounds are in the final product, but it really got disgusting when I looked up 'spaghetti ASMR'.”

These sounds are blended incredibly well with the reverb chosen, giving the place a mushy, repelling atmosphere that makes you want to get out of there as fast as possible.

Finally, at the end of this long trek through the Spire, you reach the bottom and manage to exit the building, finding yourself in a dark swamp. This was another one of my favorite areas, mainly because of the sonic atmosphere that fills it. As soon as you walk into the darkness of the swamp, you feel completely enveloped by sounds coming from nowhere and everywhere at once, unnerving screeches and unnatural squawks. These sounds actually have a fascinating origin; the lead developer of the game, Aaron Taecker-Wyss, recorded seagulls and penguins on a trip to Antarctica.

After sending these recordings to Campbell, he proceeded to blend them with cicadas and crickets. The effects applied to the sounds were echoes and pitch-shifters, which made them sound as if they were surrounding the player. This ambience, along with the squishy footsteps and low illumination, causes an uneasy feeling that lasts until you find the secret that the swamp is hiding...

As for the music, that's another matter. While the sound design is jarring at times and unsettling, the music serves as a very sparse element that, when present, counteracts the tension with trance-inducing patterns. Only certain rooms receive a musical treatment, though, and this makes them stand out as special areas.

For example, a room that contains a healing Source has the soothing title track, “Heal”, playing in it; this makes the player feel safe and at ease, like a sort of sanctuary. Meanwhile, a huge room inside the temple area, which houses the Devil Shrine, plays a disturbing track dubbed “Devil Room”. This track employs chimes and dissonant piano interventions to make the player feel unstable and in the presence of a powerful force. There are also more tension-filled tracks, such as “Faint”, written by Shane Yach; the constantly beating rhythm and underlying ghostly drone effect drive the player to keep running during the second half of the game. One of my favorite tracks plays during a crucial moment down in the swamp (which I won't spoil), and is aptly titled “The Encounter”. Starting out softly and gradually becoming more present, this track does a great job at spooking the hell out of the player. An effect that sounds like an unearthly howl is a recurring element throughout this buildup, all while dissonant intervals persist in the background; it truly is a fantastic piece of music.

You may have noticed that we've been talking about the music and sound design as two separate entities; when you play The Devil, however, it will become evident how well these elements blend together as one, until you almost can't tell if the sounds are part of the music or not. A major tip of the hat to James Campbell and Shane Yach is in order, as they have succeeded in not only complementing the gameplay, but successfully creating the sounds of a mysterious world, along with the rest of the team. It is clear from playing this game that the people making it have passion and dedication, but it is also very clear that they have fun in what they do, and this is especially true with the audio. The creative choices taken are refreshing, and the soundtrack seems to flow with the game. I can think of no better way of ending this review than in exhorting everyone reading this to go download this game right now and experience it for yourselves! Indie games thrive on their fanbase, and this game is definitely deserving of one. You can find this game on, the link will be posted below. Go play The Devil, it's a hell of a ride with some amazing sound design and music to boot.

The Devil was made by:

Aaron Taecker-Wyss (@TaeckerWyss)

James Campbell (@bbtombo)

Catherine Brinegar (@cathroon)

Flan Falacci (@big__flan)

Nic Freeman (@NonFatalDrop)

Shane Yach (@tipsheda)

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