"Welcome to nineteen-eighty-404", where you meet Andrew Meyers, video game enthusiast and wannabe reviewer trapped by his small town life - until he finds a new game in the local arcade: POLYBIUS.
For those unfamiliar, POLYBIUS is an urban legend - or is it? It's an arcade game that, to quote Wikipedia: 'was part of a government-run crowdsourced psychology experiment, with gameplay producing intense psychoactive and addictive effects in the player. These few publicly staged arcade machines were said to have been visited periodically by men in black for the purpose of data-mining the machines and analyzing these effects.'
The fourth episode of this anthology series follows Andrew, his best friend Jess (who is male) and a newcomer to the town named Amy, as they begin to interact with POLYBIUS. Andrew is a downtrodden young lad with a myriad of issues. He is bogged down by his religious family who dislike video games, crestfallen at rejection by game reviewers, trapped in his small town and struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. That's not to mention his life attitude (keep your head down and survive) is extremely pessimistic.
But when he spots POLYBIUS in the arcade, he quickly recognises a way to solve some of those problems. That is until the monster inside the POLYBIUS game, which marks its players for death, begins its slaughter.
There's not a lot to this episode in terms of plot: once the POLYBIUS monster begins to run rampant, the story speedily arrives at its final showdown. Andrew needs to overload the game and find the kill screen in order to destroy it once and for all. The substance is a little lacking too: given the lead character's belief that being different is a bad thing, his homosexuality isn't really addressed in relation to the that and the setting. It feels like they ran out of time to make a commentary on that.
Though commentary isn't completely lacking, as the ending does transform Andrew's "survival is all" outlook to the more positive "live life because life is for living", but "POLYBIUS" very much serves as less a social commentary and more of an entertaining episode of television.
It's not the best, however. Tonally, it fits the series so far, but it lacks some of its staples - crucially, the numerous visual 404s that usually appear early in the episodes. And I find that "POLYBIUS", like "Cinethrax" with its serious tone and dark lighting, struggles to reach the levels of "Matchmaker" and "Chronos", both visually light and tonally more upbeat.
I have downplayed the frights in this episode quite a bit in this review, but mark my words, it is a dark and scary hour of TV. The POLYBIUS monster is terrifying for its graphics and its innocent victims, and there are many shocking twists. I can only say that if you spot a POLYBIUS in your area, remember one thing: It's just a game.
- Aired on Syfy, October 26 2017 at 21:00.