“You find a dusty [Video Home System] tape, on the side is written: “Capture the Flag Project, footage 03/20/86″[.] You decide to put it into the player.”
“No Players Online” does an excellent job in evoking a sense of paranoia in me. While it starts as the recreation of an experience of some old-school first-person shooter on a completely deserted server, things take an eerie turn very quickly. While the game states that you simply have to capture the flag and to return it to your base, odd things appear to happen as you do so. Obscure music will be played by a gramophone. A human-like silhouette will suddenly appear on the horizon and fade away in the next breath. Red lights without any perceptible source will first shine down on you and then shut down just as quickly. Suddenly, someone joins you; or were they with you the whole time?
The horrors of “No Players Online” have their origins not in jump scares or something like that, but in the dramatic buildup of an uncomfortable tension. That relates to one of the two meta-aspects of the game: It is in a sense a playable essay about the feelings that abandoned game servers and projects can still prompt in us. There is a sense of nostalgia in there which is hard to describe, but at least the game has one obvious message about multiplayer games to make: They will never feel half as good without the players themselves. It feels boring or even sad to follow their scheme on your own. And the other meta-aspect? I will not spoil it for you, but let me say for now that it will be quite an unique experience. [PLAY]