Chilla’s Art’s The Closing Shift is plausibly unsettling

Chilla's Art

As I type this, The Closing Shift is Chilla’s Art’s newest horror game for PC. It released on March 19, 2022 and, so far, appears to have been well received by both the player community and the many, many VTubers who have streamed it since its launch.

Like most of Chilla’s Art’s later games, The Closing Shift is a first-person perspective “walking simulator” (their descriptor) style of horror game in that it’s more of an adventure game with a linear narrative to follow than a title where you’re actually in any real “danger”. That said, there are some sequences towards the end of the game where you can “fail” — thankfully, rather than sending you right back to the beginning as in some of Chilla’s Art’s earliest work, failure simply prompts you to retry from the start of the sequence.

The Closing Shift

In The Closing Shift, you take on the role of a young female barista working the night shift at the local Starbucks knockoff, Chilla’s Coffee. Our heroine is habitually late to work and doesn’t have the best relationship with her senpai who works the shift before her. On top of that she’s concerned that she might have a stalker — particularly once some of the customers in the coffee shop start talking about rumours of suspicious individuals in the area.

But she has a job to do — and so do you. Similar to how The Convenience Store had you performing mundane tasks in a static location as the narrative gradually revealed itself around you, The Closing Shift sees you spending the majority of your time actually taking orders and serving drinks. This is done in a pleasingly interactive manner similar to what you’d see in games like Coffee Talk and the legendary VA-11 HALL-A, only from a first-person 3D perspective rather than a simple menu-based interface.

Thankfully, you’re not thrown in completely at the deep end for this side of things, as in the back-of-house area of the coffee shop, there are some short videos you can watch showing you how to serve hot and cold drinks plus food items, and a convenient whiteboard lists all the ingredients required for any drinks the customers in the game will ask for. There’s also no penalty for failure; attempting to serve an incorrect drink will simply result in an unsettlingly loud farty sound effect, and all you have to do is try again.

The Closing Shift

The coffee-making action is actually surprisingly immersive, and if you’ve ever worked in hospitality you’ll doubtless feel a sense of familiarity in how you’ll initially start working tentatively, slowly and carefully, but before long you’ll be multi-tasking and efficiently doing things in the best way possible. It’s undeniably satisfying to be able to whip up a customer’s full order in a matter of seconds — even though there’s absolutely no in-game reward for doing so.

Where The Closing Shift really shines is in its plausibly unsettling nature, however. As the rumours of the stalker in the area increase, and you hear various perspectives on the situation, you’ll start to feel more and more on edge, and the game features just a couple of perfectly timed mild jump scares to maximise your feeling of discomfort in this regard. By the time the game’s later “nights” roll around, it’s hard not to feel a slight sense of panic just wandering through your apartment building’s car park, glancing around furtively and hoping that the weird shape in the shadows you think you just saw was just a bush or something.

Unlike many other Chilla’s Art games, The Closing Shift does feature a few occasional cutaway sequences depicting things from the perspective of the “villain” — so it is confirmed to us, the audience, quite early on that there is a very real threat to our protagonist’s wellbeing.

The Closing Shift

This is a notable shift from several other Chilla’s Art titles, where the fear came from that which was completely unknown; in this case, however, it’s still very effective, because although we know that the villain’s out there — and, after a particular event, we can get a pretty good idea who they are, too — we just don’t quite know where they might be hiding or what they actually want. Consequently, even performing mundane tasks — particularly those that involve going outside, like taking out the trash — become much scarier than they might otherwise be.

There’s some excellent use of environmental effects at times to add to the unease. My personal favourite was a sequence where you’re closing up the shop after one shift, and you’ll doubtless notice a van in the car park. This is obviously suspicious, but it’s even more unsettling when you go to put the bins out — which necessitates turning your back on where the van is — and, of course, as soon as you turn around again the van has moved to a different position.

For the most part, The Closing Shift resists the temptation to lean on the supernatural as justification or explanation for its horror, and this makes the whole thing feel pleasantly mature in its tone. This really helps with delivering its core message about how vulnerable young women in particular can feel when given a reason to feel like they might be unsafe for one reason or another. The Closing Shift is scary precisely because it’s something that feels like it could actually happen.

There is one particularly “weird” sequence partway through the game, but the way this is implemented works well, and works within the context of the story — particularly when you consider the stress the protagonist is likely feeling at this point in proceedings.

The Closing Shift

The ending is arguably a little unsatisfying — it honestly feels quite like they had one ending which had a nice sense of closure, then tacked a bit on the end afterwards — but, on the whole, The Closing Shift is another excellent immersive horror game from Chilla’s Art. I’d probably go so far as to say with the solid “coffee-making” gameplay in this one, it’s one of the more immersive games from the developer’s complete collection, and the sense of atmosphere and tension throughout is absolutely magnificent.

Chilla’s Art continues to go from strength to strength with The Closing Shift, with each new game from the developer clearly refining their skills and their sense of ambition in terms of immersive gameplay and mysterious storytelling. It’s been a real pleasure to explore these titles to date — and here’s hoping there are plenty more to look forward to as time goes on.

The Closing Shift is available now for Windows PC via Steam. You can support Chilla’s Art on Patreon here.

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Pete Davison
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