Halfway to Dawn is a surprisingly tense, bite-sized survival horror game for Playdate

Andrea Baroni’s Halfway to Dawn is unbelievably bleak for a game you can play from start to finish in about 10 minutes. I mean that as a compliment; it’s the best horror experience I’ve had on the Playdate yet.

As someone who tends to gravitate towards all things spooky, one of the things I’ve been most interested in as I explore what’s out there for Playdate is seeing how developers will make horror work for the weird little handheld. Halfway to Dawn takes a blended approach: in the first half, it’s a text-based narrative game where you’re scavenging for resources and readying yourself for the long night ahead; in the second, it’s an all-out fight for your life against an onslaught of eldritch creatures.

Halfway to Dawn wastes no time in setting a mood of desolation and impending doom, beginning with dialogue from our protagonist about feeling “as lifeless as these scattered remains of humanity” in a city overtaken by some unnamed terror. During the narrative portion of the game, you must choose among different locations to visit — the mall, pharmacy, gun store and a house — so you can hopefully find things like first aid kits, guns, ammo and traps. But there’s no telling whether each of these trips will be successful.

Andrea Baroni/Cyberleaf Studio

You might find a box of shotgun shells but never get your hands on a shotgun to actually use them. You might even get hurt while scavenging. There is also the option to rest, which will fill up your health bar (while you’ll start with full health on Easy mode, Hard will start you with two out of the six health points already depleted). But an hour will pass after each selection, and you have to stay conscious of the time. The clock starts at 6PM, and once it strikes 1AM, you’ll be forced to go out and defend yourself against the monsters until dawn.

At this point, the game becomes a top-down shooter — and depending on how you fared with resources, a pretty challenging one at that. Monsters will be closing in on you from all sides, some of them harder to take down than others, and you can only replenish ammo and first aid kits from your finite supply at set breaks marking the passage of one hour. If you run out before then, you’ll have no choice but to try and fight off the monsters with a knife, which you can swing using the crank. That’s about as effective as you’d think it is.

Halfway to Dawn is a very, very short game, but it really had me sweating on some runs. It’s a fun one to keep coming back to, since the randomness of resource collection makes for a different experience each time. And the tension of it all is perfectly rounded out by a synth-heavy soundtrack (available on Bandcamp), which could be right out of an ‘80s B-horror movie. If creepy is your thing, this is definitely a game to check out. Halfway to Dawn is on the Playdate Catalog and for $5.

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