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Eerie new Steam horror game puts a fresh spin on The Backrooms

POOLS takes the often memed concept of a swimming pool as a Backrooms-esque liminal space and makes an actual horror game out of it.

An area from the psychological horror game POOLS.

The Backrooms has been one of the most interesting horror concepts to watch evolve in recent years. Initially thought up as an extradimensional space made up of off-yellow walls and the occasional monster peeking out from behind corners, the idea of the Backrooms has spread to other locations that feel ‘off’; eerie liminal spaces that feel empty but not quite empty enough to relax. Alongside shopping malls and hotel hallways, family swimming pools have often been a subject of this, and POOLS has effectively run with this concept to make a full-fledged game of it.

POOLS is a psychological horror game that puts emphasis on the psychological aspect; there are no physical horrors to be found, no demons popping out to jumpscare you or lurking at the edges of your vision. It’s just you, this abandoned family swimming pool, and nothing else. This is a welcome change to many liminal space-based horror games feeling the need to include a boogeyman just for the sake of ‘real’ scares. In POOLS, no one can hear you scream; no one’s there to hear it.

There’s evidently huge amounts of effort gone into making such an otherwise innocent and family-oriented environment feel quite so oppressive. The pool’s consistently off-white color scheme is part of this, contrasted by the bright colours of children’s inflatables and slides scattered around, but the key element is the audio design. There are no sounds in POOLS other than your breathing, the water moving gently beneath your feet and the soft electrical hum of the lights, still kept on for seemingly no one at all.

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While there is no scary monster to be found in POOLS, there is a minor aspect of deliberate horror: the rooms themselves will occasionally change around you with areas you return to being not quite the same as when you first visited, making the pool itself unreliable just to walk around in. Best try to keep your sanity in check.

POOLs can be found on its Steam page here, with a free demo available if you want to just microdose your liminal horror experience.

For more like this, find yourself lost in more confusing scenarios with our list of the best puzzle games, and if you’re looking for something with a more concrete narrative, have a look at our list of the best story games.

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