It’s Halloween season and everyone is getting into the spirit of it the best they know how. Parents are picking out costumes and checking routes for safe trick r’ treating. Teens and the freshly adulted are gearing up for debauchery. Emergency rooms are decked wall to wall with whatever the hell you use to pump stomachs with, and every pair of Uggs and Lululemons as far as the eye can see has a pumpkin spiced whatever-the-hell.
Since everyone is doing what they do best I figured I should follow suit, and what I do best is blather on at length about things I am way too invested in. Which is why I am here to present to you dear reader, my rundown of four of the most unique horror video games that I have ever come across.
Let’s start this off by going way back to the NES. Life was simple, the ninja turtles had never been cooler, Hulk Hogan thought he had a film career, the word technicolor was impressive. While everyone was out finding secret whistles and jumping on goombas I was-doing the same thing, albeit terribly, but I was also playing Maniac Mansion. Originally released on the Apple 2 and the Commodore 64 this was a point and click adventure that was more comedy than horror. Regardless of that it laid the groundwork for what I believe makes a really great horror game. Working at a disadvantage with limited resources and a heavy emphasis on planning ahead.
The game basically broke down like this – You have five characters with unique abilities necessary to solve the game’s many puzzle and whoever you chose to use affected the strategy and puzzles you could solve. Working with that you could achieve one of five endings, supposing you didn’t get everyone killed. The game was non-linear and could be completed a variety of different ways, none of which involved killing the antagonists. If you were spotted, you were totally screwed. Sometimes you ended up in a dungeon with no way out (that the game tells you about) or you just got your little dude killed. That was the game. If you wanted to beat it, you had to have a solid strategy and without one you were toast.
Next on the docket we have Resident Evil. The Playstation original, with the terrible voice acting and live action cut-scenes. The guy who played Wesker was the best Val Kilmer forty dollars could buy. Anyway, this game created the survival horror genre and coined the term using a lot of the same elements I talked about with Maniac Mansion. While not the first game to be classified as horror it was probably the first game anyone ever admitted to playing with the lights on.
You and your team of highly trained, super well-armed pseudo cops are sent to find your super cop B stringers. That’s when things go seven shades of screwy and you wind up alone. It’s important to note that right here is where you make a crucial choice, Chris, or Jill. If you played as Jill you got more ammo, more inventory, and a lock pick. If you played as Chris you could take a few more hits. I want to say that this was a huge move for strong female characters in games. It really was trailblazing because it was 1996 and everyone’s muscles had muscles; and her clothes stayed on the whole time. Unfortunately, whatever Capcom’s intentions were, the result was everyone saying that playing as Jill was the easy mode and if you beat it using Jill, your accomplishment was somehow diminished. This was frustrating not just because it threw women under the bus, but because it flew in the face of the core of the game. Resident Evil took much of what made Maniac Mansion fantastic and built on it. The puzzles were more complex, the danger more real, the mansion more mansion-y. You had to plan ahead and ration your ammunition. Half of the game is spent skirting zombies instead of shooting them because for all the puzzling, planning, and inventory stocking you did, the grueling boss fights completely changed the pace of the game and you had to adapt or die. Using Jill wasn’t the easy choice, it was the logical one.
I could blather on about Resident Evil all day, but this article isn’t about how awesome that title is. It’s about influential games, and what completely opinion based video game article would be complete without the contrived shoehorning of a game you’ve never heard of and the author insisting it is a secret masterpiece? Which is why we’re going to move on to Tecmo’s Deception. Also for the Playstation, Deception takes place in an imaginary kingdom with an aged king sending his favorite son out to war. You return from war and watch in horror as your father ist murdered by your own sword that somehow learned to float. The guards bust in, you’re set up as the murderer and are promptly burned at the stake. With your dying breath you cry out for help from anyone, and the devil answers. You’re reborn and dropped off at a spooky castle (instead of mansion) with the goal of finding the keeper and killing the crap out of him. You might think being the undead intern of the devil would afford you some pretty sweet weapons to do this with. No. You get bear traps and a cage. Eventually you kill this guy and become the Castle’s new keeper, with a new task to kill any and all intruders using various traps and pitfalls that you upgrade over time as you grow more powerful.
Deception doesn’t go easy on you either. Sure in the beginning it’s thieves and bandits, but before long the love of your life stumbles in and you gotta kill her. Once that’s done you can harvest her soul OR you can turn her into an undead slave that you unleash on your victims. It’s not even like it was a bad relationship before you died or anything. You two were in love, and she came to try and save you. It only gets worse from there. Soon it’s less adventurers and more desperate villagers hoping the treasure will save them from famine, or cure their dying children, and you kill them all. It’s a game that sticks with you not because of the jump scares or the gore, but because of the things you have to do in order to reach the end of the game.
Lastly I’m going to remind everyone that Fatal Frame exists. In it you play as a young teenage school girl whose older brother has gone missing. You decide that you are the most qualified person in the world to go looking for your college aged brother that disappeared while investigating an extremely haunted Japanese mansion. Right from the get go things get weird. You might be wondering what all you have to defend yourself from in the evil spooky mansion, and it’s most assuredly less than friendly residents. The answer is an old camera with special film. Film that you have a finite amount of, mind you. You enter the mansion and are beset on all sides by ghosts. Ghosts you can’t see unless you are looking through the lens of the camera, and you can only pacify the spirits by taking their photo. The game is so atmospheric and the variety of ghosts that draw strongly from sources in Japanese horror really help to make you feel desperate while playing. The pacing of the game and the constant feeling of vulnerability is what really drives home the horror aspect of this game. Couple that with resource management and a limited inventory space, and you have one intense story to tell.
Each of these games helped influence an entire genre. They took creativity and ingenuity and really pushed the line as to what could and couldn’t be in a video game. They each took a unique approach to how a game could be played and completed. No matter how unique these games may have been, or how different their stories were, they all share the same basic principles. Limited resources, puzzles, strong emphasis on thinking ahead and all great horror games are set in an old (usually haunted) house.
Written by : David Hoch