When I was in high school, one of my first jobs was working at a big chain video store. While it was fun to be around movies and movie fans all day, it did have all the pitfalls of any public facing customer service job. Weird customers, understaffing, and repetitive work were all par for the course, but the worst part was the eerie feeling that would sometimes creep over you as you were closing. There’s something about the liminal time where the store is no longer open, but you’ve still got stuff to do before you leave. You feel strangely exposed when someone comes knocking on your door after hours, still feeling obligated to respond to them but without the protections of the social norms of an active public space. This is the feeling that Rewind or Die, the latest game published by Torture Star Video and developed by Comp-3 Interactive, is attempting to capture, even if it only tries for the first third of the game.
Like the other games from Torture Star Video, Puppet Combo’s publishing label, Rewind or Die is a grimy mix of PSX and VHS visual style, creating the video game version of a low budget slasher movie. The action plays out from a first person perspective, starting with you covering a closing shift at Videos 2 Go and ending with a cat and mouse game against a psychotic killer. Throughout the two and a half hour runtime, you’ll work your way through five chapters, solving puzzles and escaping from the slasher known as Slaw. And much like other Torture Star games, you can expect buckets full of gore and crude humor throughout.
The opening chapter, where you’re working a shift at the video store, was the strongest part of the game for me. The devs found clever little ways to make gameplay out of retail work, like cleaning the trash and shelving tapes, and the interactions with customers were all spot on. The guy asking if I wanted to know a movie fact gave me flashbacks to the types of customers that would talk your ear off because being nice to them was part of your job description, and all the other characters you meet were full of personality. The ramp up of menace in this section is perfectly played out, going from slightly weird moments to frantic dread expertly. There’s even a moment where you play out a scene from the perspective of another character in order to illustrate the danger you’re in.
After your shift at the store comes to a brutal end, the rest of the game is spent trying to escape the clutches of Slaw, a serial killer with a pig head and meat hooks. You’ll solve puzzles throughout a slaughterhouse and sewer, collecting items to unlock more and more of the levels, classic survival horror style. This part was less successful for me, as it felt more generic than the unique personality of the opening section. A lot of areas look a bit bland and same-y, especially given the grimy and indistinct visual style they’re going for.
This got compounded in the fourth chapter, which was a large maze level where Slaw was roaming the hallways, like Mr X from the Resident Evil 2 remake. Since you have no way of fighting back, any time he sees you your only option is to make a mad dash until you’ve put enough distance between him and you for him to start roaming again. The first time this happens, it’s a tense and frantic moment, forcing you to rush through a maze you’ve barely explored, but it quickly makes the game feel tedious. There were times that I just wanted to take a moment and solve a puzzle, but I kept getting interrupted and having to run around in circles before I could make my way back and resume attempting solutions. It got to the point where if I was spotted I would just let him kill me and restart at the checkpoint because it didn’t feel like I had any interesting tools to make the chase more fun. The final chapter does provide a thrilling version of a boss fight, so the game does end on a more exciting note.
For an indie game this size, I was impressed that the game’s cast of characters was fully voiced, adding personality to the NPCs you come across. While I wasn’t really sold on Slaw as a compelling villain, his sound design did enough to keep him scary. The voice acting also helped give the jokes and one liners a bit more punch than just reading the text. Rounding out the package of the game is a character model viewer and the promise of two possible endings for the game.
There’s a lot to like in Rewind or Die. The horrors of retail make a great foundation for a game to be built on, I just wish the back half of the game integrated that more fully. That flavor seems to be only present in the beginning, replaced by a generic slaughterhouse setting and a stock standard psycho killer. I feel like the use of side character perspective was an effective but underutilized tactic that could have helped keep things centered around the video store for a bit longer, leaning into its strengths. Had the chase sections given you more tools to avoid the killer, like closing doors or hiding in lockers, that chapter could have been more thrilling and less tedious.
Rewind or Die definitely has me interested in more from Comp-3, but I don’t think I’ll find myself wearing out the tape replaying it.