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Content Warning is the new Lethal Company, but with a genuinely wholesome twist

Potential advisory.

Content Warning screenshot showing players outside in green grass under sunny blue sky
Image credit: Landfall

Content Warning is the new Lethal Company - or it is today at least. It's come out of nowhere, it's a gorgeously scrappy co-op horror experience, and it excels at creating moments that are frightening but also deeply hilarious. But there's something extra in the mix with Content Warning. It's astonishingly wholesome. Well, my second game was anyway. My second game was perfect.

You spawn in a sort of children's TV version of a house, surrounded by blue sky and sun and green grass. You're with three other people - friends, or, in my case, total strangers - and you have a single mission: Film something scary. To do this, you grab a bunch of flashlights and someone grabs a video camera, and then you beat it into the garden where there's a huge black diving bell. This is where things start to diverge from the children's TV thing, I guess. You get in and close the door, and then you're off. Down? Up? It feels like down. It really feels like down.

Here's a Content Warning trailer to show it in motion.Watch on YouTube

On both of my games so far I've emerged from the diving bell into the same place: it's a huge underground cavern filled with twisted metal clutter and bits of old buildings. There are shadows and a sort of waxy scrawl on the surfaces that makes the whole place look like it's carved out of coal. Somewhere, though, there will be stairs going down, and at the bottom of those stairs there will be dark rooms filled with machinery and...movement?

All of this stuff is liable to move around a little between visits. And yes, it's basically House of Leaves, the legendary weird fiction book about a small house that contains huge corridors and depths, but with four players and emotes. In my first game it was as oppressive as House of Leaves too. I was thrown in with three Spanish players who communicated largely by burping. I wandered about a bit, realised I'd left my flashlight back upstairs, wherever upstairs was, and then something I couldn't see killed me and everyone else.

Second game, though? My heart. I spawned with three new people, back in the Children's TV house, and these three were absolute delights. There was an American who naturally took the role of dad. There was a Welsh guy and someone else who handled the camera. We'd all just met, but the camaraderie was a delight to behold. They even forgave me when I accidentally almost shut everyone out of the diving bell by being a bit too brisk with the door controls.

Content Warning screenshot showing players bathed in a red light.
Image credit: Landfall Games
Content Warning screenshot showing a shadowy monster with distorted face in the dark
Image credit: Landfall
Content Warning screenshot showing a shadowy monster lurking towards the back of a dark room
Image credit: Landfall
Content Warning screenshot showing players going up a ramp in a dark, red light-filled underground area
Image credit: Landfall

Downstairs, in the coal-face murk, these three kept everyone's spirits up. Here's the reason why Content Warning might be so charming, incidentally. You're not just down there to haul stuff or salvage or make off with loot. You're there to make a video. So you fall into various making-a-video rolls. The camera guy framed things, but also became the producer, warning us when he was low on tape. The Welsh guy was a spotter for things that looked potentially scary for us to film. The American guy was a natural presenter - so charming! Didn't miss a beat when we fell down a large flight of stairs and were suddenly lost underground with all that machinery. Barely missed a beat when a giant spider shuffled out of the darkness and killed two of us.

That spider: yes, Content Warning is not going to be for everyone. It was frightening when it shambled out of the darkness, almost an antic Biro doodle of a spider, but with a flat vented face like a steam iron. I was noting all this as it tangled me up in webs and my health started to decrease. But mainly I was laughing, because everyone was laughing. We were filming me getting murdered by a spider and we were loving it. This is horror at its cheeriest. It's Jolly House of Leaves.

I watched my team make it back to the surface where I respawned along with the other guy who had died. We went back to the house and loaded our film into a machine which gave us a disk. We stuck the disk in the downstairs telly and watched our video, chatting, laughing, reminiscing about all the stupid stuff we'd done - how we'd wasted half the battery just filming us getting out of the diving bell, and then had about five garbled seconds of me being eaten by a spider. A lop-sided horror film. The critics will hopefully see some kind of skewed authorship in its prioritising of irrelevances.

Content Warning screenshot showing a concrete underground area with orange laser beams
Content Warning screenshot showing players heading off ahead of you in a grassy, sunny overworld, as you film them with camcorder in hand
Image credit: Landfall

Anyway, this is the loop, I think. You cash in the film in the hopes of going viral, and then you spend your viral earnings on things that you can take back down into that other space. Second time around, the American guy bought a clapper - of course he did. I close my eyes now and I can see him larking about in the diving bell, waiting for us to join him, clapping the clapper over and over again in delight. The sheer brilliance of owning such a thing in a game.

That's it, actually: through the congregation of four strangers, the need to make a video together, the ludicrous horrors in the dark, the silly little extras you can buy, the utter unseriousness of your mission, there's something really charming here, something that generates a feeling, amongst strangers, that they are briefly not strangers at all. You're not looting something, you're making something - and that is very, very different for the vibe of a game, I think. It's wholesome - one of those buzzing words in the ether these days that I feel like should annoy me, because it gets applied to anything with pixelated witches and spells and recipes and frogs while being maddeningly imprecise. But this was genuinely wholesome!

Maybe horror is a universal language. Maybe larking about is a universal language. Who knows? For now all I can think about is what a perfect experience that second game was, and how sad it is that I won't see those people I played it with ever again.