A Horror to Remember
I like horror films and video games. It’s my mums fault, she used to talk about how awesome the Alien series of films were when I was younger. So like any curious child I have always warmed to the genre even if I had to wait till I was an adult to watch the films in question. For today’s article I decided to take you on a trip through the console generations and share a few of my favourite horror video games. Some you may know well but I also wanted to give some love to some you may not know. So get a comfy sheet to hide under as things are going to get spoooky!
Granny’s Garden – BBC micro
Usually you go to school to learn rather than be scared. When I was at primary school, we had a single computer shared between four classrooms. That computer was the BBC micro. An attempt to get kids familiar with these strange computer contraptions. It’s also home to the first terrifying video game I ever played- Granny’s Garden. This is a game where you need to save some children from a evil witch. You played the game by going from screen to screen typing solutions to puzzles. But, if you messed up a horrific witch would appear on screen and send you right back to the start of the game to do it all over again. Sure the graphics are crude by todays standards but that witch still haunts my dreams.
Zombies! – Mega Drive and SNES (aka Zombies Ate my Neighbours in USA)
Back on the Mega Drive where Konami was at the top of their game with game creation. Zombies was a light hearted top down shooter game, where you need to explore levels while saving your neighbors from various horror nasties like living dolls, mummies, werewolves and of course zombies. The monsters were inspired by a variety of horror films making this quite the treat for horror fans. The weapons are utterly charming, taking down the undead with water pistols, fire extinguishes, plates, basically common things you find round the house. The game was designed to make you laugh more than scare you. To top it all off it was co op. Sadly for the time I mostly had to enjoy this game alone. Even though I went at it alone the game made me see the funny side of horror. Sadly Konami shows little love to this long dead franchise but a spiritual successor aptly titled Demons Ate my Neighbors is now in the works.
Metroid Fusion – GBA (also on WiiU via Virtual Console)
The Metroid series has always had an underline horror feel to it. As Samus you are often exploring these planets inhabited by all sorts of nasties all by your lonesome. Fusion to me though was the series strongest and scariest entry. The main enemy being parasite X, an organism able to inhabit and control its host. Throughout the game you get to watch the environment and its enemies gradually get taken over by this hideous organism. Not only that there’s a clone of you with creepy white eyes that occasionally pops up to chase you. Creepy!
Dead Space – mobile (No longer available for sale)
What? James likes a mobile game. Back before mobile gaming became nothing more than an infection of free to play micro transaction nonsense (a horror in itself) there were some legitimately great titles available. I love the Dead Space series on consoles and was pleasantly surprised by how impressive the mobile game was. A standalone title, with its own storyline. The developers were able to convert the console experience onto the small screen perfectly. Even the touch controls felt responsive and fluid something I usual hate in mobile games. Sadly unless you downloaded this game it’s no longer available. A shame as this would feel right at home on the Nintendo Switch today. I have fond memories playing this with my headphones on while commuting on the train back in the day.
Dino Crisis – PSone and Dreamcast
It has dinosaurs and it plays like Resident Evil job done. What you want more? Ok Dino Crisis set the stage for the Resident Evil franchise to move to the next gen. The game ditches the pre-rendered backgrounds for full 3D, for some this felt felt like a step back as there was less detail but it was a design leap forward and become the precursor to games like Resident Evil Code Veronica on Dreamcast and PS2. Dino Crisis does the impressive feat of also replicating the dark and isolating feeling I had playing the old resident evil game but with dinosaurs. Not an easy design to achieve. The sequel would lean more into an action series but the first entry in the series would remain in the horror realm. For me the game was at its most tense, exploring empty corridors with the fear that a raptor could jump through the window at any moment.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requim – Gamecube
Eternal Darkness left a lasting impression on horror fans long after the Gamecube and the subsequent closure of the studio that created it Silicon Knights. Alexandra is on a mission to find out who or what killed her grandfather only to soon realize sinister horrors are at play as well as the fate of the world itself. Two things stand out from Eternal Darkness for me. First off its probably one of the only horror games, let alone video games in general, that has you play as a wide range of characters from various time periods from the Roman era to the present day. The second stand out is how Eternal Darkness has the ability to scare the player by totally messing with the game itself. Things you may feel are glitches like characters heads falling off or save file corruption warnings are just some of the ways the game will play with your mind. Not everything is what it seems and since Nintendo owns the patent of this game design we’ll probably never see a game like Eternal Darkness ever again. Not unless it comes to Switch of course. Also Alexandra is voiced by the living legend Jennifer Hale.
Resident Evil – Gaiden GBC
I love the Resident Evil series but thought I would give a little love to one of it’s lesser known titles. Gaiden was a game dismissed by many as a rather rubbish portable horror title. The battle mechanic was awkward and the game suffered graphically due to its portable limitations. But where Gaiden shined was it’s story. You play as the greatest Resident Evil character of all time, Barry Burton who is investigating a zombie outbreak on a boat. He soon discovers a monster that is able to mimic people, a character some may find similar to the monster featured in John Carpenters The Thing. Characters you meet may not be who you expect. Of course it has Zombies because its a Resident Evil game. The story takes a interesting twist at the end which would have lead to some great narrative directions for the Resident Evil series as a whole. Sadly its not considered cannon, boo to you Capcom.
Condemned Criminal Origins – Xbox 360 and PC
One of the more effective first person horror titles. Every action you take is seen in this perspective, even the small details like ducking down below planks of wood to using various forensic tools like camera’s and UV lights to investigate crime scenes. The architecture of the buildings you explore is amazingly detailed. At times you feel you’re exploring an entire household to scale. Adding to that the darkness and incredible use of audio it creates a lot of moments where you question what is around the corner. You play as Ethan Thomas an agent framed for the murder of two officers looking to clear his name. There’s very little shooting with most of the combat being melee focused. If your lucky to find a gun bullets are very limited so every shot counts. This was quite the hidden gem that released early in the life cycle of the Xbox 360 and to this day doesn’t always receive a lot of attention. The game also features an unnerving scene with mannequins, try not to turn your back on them.
Until Dawn – PS4
Until Dawn is a game to be enjoyed with others on the sofa. This is a game where you control 8 teenagers on a snow covered mountain top who are meeting up to party as silly American teens do. Of course horror ensues and you soon discover someone is out to murder the teens. You play the game by making decisions and performing quick time events which may lead to characters living or perishing. What’s clever about Until Dawn’s design is that it mixed in various horror themes into one game. One moment you think your playing a slasher film, then a paranormal one only for the story to inevitably settle onto something you may not expect. There are several ways to play through the game so each playthrough can feel dramatically different depending on the choices you make. My wife and I play this yearly and its one for the highlights of our Halloween.
Silent hill 2 – PS2 and Xbox
When I think strong and effective horror games my mind often wanders back to Silent Hill 2. A game that leads away from the first games themes of cults and a town inhabited by horrors and instead focuses on one of the deepest horrors known, the horror we do unto ourselves. James Sunderland receives a letter from his dead wife asking him to come to Silent hill. James as a broken man obliges walking into a foggy town most of us would happily avoid. Of course this is a video game so we have to throw in Silent Hill for the baddies and stuff. But Silent Hill was always at its most effective when nothing was trying to kill you. The atmosphere and loneliness you feel walking the streets, as James searches for his wife is something that few games have successfully replicated. A memorable and effective horror experience while also echoing some fascinating themes of mental health. A game that leaves its mark long after you have put the controller down and remains one of my favourite horror games to date.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to share your memorable or favourite horror games from the past in the comments below. Have a happy Halloween and sleep well.