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Thumper review


Thumper works beautifully in VR, where the private cinema of the headset locks you onto the rail your silver-plated trilobite rides, tackles all manner of rhythm action violence before expiring, inevitably, in an burst of jagged shrapnel. In truth, though, this is the kind of focussed, relentless game that creates its own private cinema regardless of whether you’re playing with PSVR or nothing at all. Sat in our chattering offices, the world beyond the screen didn’t so much bleed away as vanish instantly. Suddenly, I was right in there, zipping along after that weird, heroic insect as we raced deeper and deeper into blood red caverns, measureless to man. To break off after a level is to feel light-headed and a bit wobbly – you’re returning to the surface too quickly. To break off during a level is unthinkable. The bends!

A lot has been made of Thumper as a rhythm game driven by horror rather than simple neon sheen or techno dreaminess, as is more often the case. There is something to this. Thumper reminds me – and I appreciate that this is not a very inclusive analogy – of Level 4 of the Seattle Central Library. Most of that astonishing building is breezy and light, formed from expansive angles and cheery airport carpeting. You see sky and you see sunshine – well, as much sunshine as you ever normally get to see in Seattle. But Level 4 is a different story. Level 4 didn’t get the memo. Level 4 is blood red and made out of intestinal curves. Meeting rooms, apparently – but I dread to think of any decisions that got ironed out in this hellish space. Level 4 is awful, but it’s intoxicatingly awful. It makes you feel queasy, but you don’t really want to leave. You want to go deeper. You want to understand.

That’s Thumper. What an aggressively horrible place this game takes you to – and how surprising that it builds its Rothko nastiness from clean lines and smooth arcs. Thumper places you on a track that bucks and loops like a rollercoaster as it moves through a landscape that’s bloomy but filled with hard glass and chrome, like a perfume ad burped up by the abyss. Should horror be so cleanly constructed? Apparently it can be, anyway. The razored geometry looks first organic and then frankly Cthulhian. Fringes ripple away at the edges of the endless, lurching track you zip along: bars of light gathering and then bowing to form centipede legs, rib cages, the praying hands of cultists and even the vaulted ceilings of an infernal cathedral. On you rush. And then you make a mistake. And then you make another. And that means you are dead.