There’s a serial killer in town, and only a local radio DJ can help. Here’s our review of the blackly comic horror-puzzler, Killer Frequency.
The set-up for Killer Frequency is joyously, temptingly absurd. As Forrest Nash, a once-popular DJ felled by disgrace, you find yourself manning the graveyard slot on local radio station KFAM in the no-horse town of Gallow’s Creek. With a sigh, you begin the show with a cheesy, station-mandated competition of ‘Name That Scream’ and your producer, Peggy, puts through a call.
But it isn’t some local insomniac attempting to guess what event may have elicited the scream in question. It’s the town’s 911 operator, Leslie Harper, who’s calling to say she has found the dead body of the Gallow’s Creek sheriff. What’s more, the deputy is unconscious and locked in a cell, and there’s a serial killer outside called the Whistling Man, who was thought to have died decades ago.
You offer advice to help her through her predicament, serving up suggestions as to how she might extract the deputy from the locked cell and find a means of escape. Then comes the bombshell. There are no police officers left in the town, and Leslie is going to have to drive for hours to get help. The phone lines into Gallow’s Creek are down, possibly cut, and since this is 1987, mobile phones are a distant dream. While she’s gone, you’re given the job of fielding any incoming 911 calls, helping out the callers as best you can over the phone. Meanwhile, the Whistling Man is having a busy night, and you’re the only one who can prevent more murders.
The switchboard begins lighting up with a mixture of prank calls, opportunists and terrified folks who are trapped by the serial killer. To help them, you’ll often have to leave your DJ desk and hunt through the radio station for clues, like a magazine article on how to hotwire a car, or a map to the local maze. Then it’s a case of referencing the material and telling the caller what to do, often as a timer ticks down. It’s easy to slip up, telling a caller to go right when you should have said left, typically leading to some terrified screams and awful squelchy stabbing sounds. Whoops! Ah well, time to put another record on.
It’s all wonderfully silly, and the game knows it. The records you play – and you do actually get to put on records between calls – all have names like ‘Crying for Help’ and ‘Final Breath’, while maps feature places like Craven Street, and a restaurant called Grilling Spree. But it isn’t too silly. In fact, the game does an admirable job of treading the line between pathos and levity, balancing out the grim moments with light-hearted interludes. It’s a tricky balance to get right, and it succeeds with aplomb.
It also builds brilliantly, with puzzles that can become quite complicated towards the end, as you’re faced with some tricky deductions to work out how best to guide the callers. Success will rely on paying attention. And the ending can change based on how many people you can save from the serial killer.
There are some neat twists and red herrings along the way, too. As the long night wears on, you discover more about the possible origins of the Whistling Man, leading to a satisfying denouement in which the identity of the killer is revealed. In the meantime, more parts of the radio station are opened up for you to explore, uncovering the backstory of the different characters you encounter.
Killer Frequency isn’t a perfect game by any means. The selection of records to play is a bit limited, and on Switch at least, the text on some of the notes you find is frustratingly blurry and difficult to read. A few more secrets and objects to find in the radio station offices would have been welcome, too: judging by the many empty drawers it feels like the developers intended to add more at some point.
These are minor gripes, however. Killer Frequency is a short, sharp blast of gruesome fun and 1980s nostalgia which will make for a thoroughly entertaining couple of evenings.
The voice acting in Killer Frequency is superb, and in particular, Josh Cowdery’s portrayal of Forrest Nash nails the unguent tones of a cheesy late-night DJ. His ongoing feud with a certain prank caller is a delight, and the way he slips from sincere, heartfelt concern right back into a DJ-slick introduction of the next record never gets old. But across the board, the voice cast raises the game far beyond the wooden acting you might expect of a slasher B-movie.
A genuinely unique game that deftly blends comedy and pathos to create a thoroughly unforgettable story.