Horror has been at the beginning of every new art medium. With the advent of motion pictures came Georges Méliès and his many films about devils or witchcraft or Thomas Edison with his adaptation of Frankenstein. Horror has always been associated with either film or novels but inexplicably, not with video games.
Resident Evil (the game, not the silly movie franchise) is often regarded as the first survival horror game, which usually gets misinterpreted to mean it’s the first horror game but it itself is based on an obscure NES game called Sweet Home.
To trace the origins of horror in video games, we need to hop into the way back machine to go all the way back to the distant time of 1982 with the release of 3D Monster Maze.
Released on the Sinclair ZX81 (whatever the fuck that is), this incredibly simple game involved randomly generated mazes with that goofy ass T. rex from the cover hunting you. It’s quaint now but for kids in the early 80’s, this was terror incarnate.
As long as there’s been hands on joysticks, there’s been games to scare the children holding them. So, let’s honor one of the most underrated genres of gaming with a list of five games you should check out if you like to be spooked.
5. Rule Of Rose
Set in the 1930’s, the game tells the story of a young woman named Jennifer who recently arrives at a dilapidate orphanage and immediately sees strange occurrences. There’s odd kids with bags on their heads beating things, a mysterious airship that may or may not exist and a group of girls called the aristocrats of the red crayon.
What is wrong the kids at the orphanage and why are they take sadistic pleasure in messing with you?
The strength of this game is without a doubt, it’s the story and atmosphere. It has an unreal, dreamlike quality, that’ll constantly make you question what is real and what isn’t and the story will keep you engaged throughout.
If you can get past it’s sub par gameplay and slightly frustrating puzzles, Rule of Rose offers an atmospheric experience unlike none other.
4. Splatterhouse 3
Closer in design to games like Double Dragon and Final Fight than Silent Hill or Alone in the Dark, Splatterhouse 3 is a horror themed side scrolling beat em up that tasks you, yet again, with saving your wife and now son from the evils that terrorized you from the previous games.
The plot is paper thin but you don’t play beat em ups for the engaging story. You play them because you want to beat shit up and this game has some crazy awesome shit to wale on.
Picture Jason Vorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise having to murder his way out of a Sam Raimi film and you’d have the Splatterhouse games.
Fun Fact: this game scared me so much as a child, that I had to turn it off and put a blanket over my tv for fear that a monster would crawl out of it.
3. Shadows Of The Damned
Even though this is set in hell and assigns you with killing as many demons as possible, this isn’t technically a horror game. There’s shades of horror here and there but by and large, it’s hyper violent, over the top action extravaganza, that couldn’t be crazier if it tries. And by god, does it try.
Putting you in the shoes of Garcia Hotspur who has to traverse the depths of hell to save his beloved Paula from the clutches of the lord of darkness, this game is far from that simple plot synopsis would suggest.
Imagine a 12 year old Robert Rodriguez–all hoped on pixie stix and surge–directing an X rated remake of Labyrinth and your half way to the insanity.
2. Alan Wake
Let’s play the Hollywood producer pitch game. I’m me (obviously) pitching to you, roleplaying as a hotshot Hollywood producer.
Me: Picture this–Stephen King stuck in the world of Twin Peaks having to fight shadow demons with a flashlight, But here’s the twist: it’s a video game broken up into six chapters and each chapter is like a tv episode, complete with a cliffhanger endings and recaps.
You: I don’t want to play this game. Also, put on some pants. Please. Also, you just pitched me a game, not a movie. Why would I pretend to be a Hollywood producer? This whole facade is flimsier than a house of cards.
Me: I will never put on pants. Not ever.
1. The Thing
As many of you know, The Thing is my absolute favorite film of all time. It’s one of the few films I consider to be utterly flawless. It’s a goddamn masterpiece of dread and paranoia. But did you know it has a sequel (the 2011 one is not a sequel people) in the form of a video game that was endorsed by John Carpenter himself?
Taking place right after the events of the film, you play as specialist Capitan J.F Blake who’s tasked with instigating what happened at both the U.S and Norwegian camps and a third base not mentioned in the film.
Predictably, that involves fighting a variety of different mutated humans but what separates this from other survival horror games of the era, is it’s reliance on NPCs. (non playable characters) There’s three types; engineers, soldiers and medics.
Engineers can fix fuse boxes, which unlock computers used for saving and doors to keep the infected away from you.
Soldiers have more health and are better shots, so they’re your go to guys for combat.
And lastly the medics heal you or your time.
You can give them orders to do as a group or individually and there’s also a trust/fear based system.
In order to get your teammates to respond to your commands, they need to trust you. Which requires you to heal them, give them ammo or take blogs tests periodically to prove your not infected. The higher the trust, the more they’re willing to listen to you and the lower means they’ll completely ignore you or even try and kill you.
The fear system is designed to add a little strategy to the game. For example, each NPC responds differently to different surroundings: medics tend to scare easier than soldiers. Generally, however, fear increases when entering rooms covered in blood, entering dark locations, finding particularly disfigured corpses, being attacked by multiple enemies, and hearing enemies but not being able to see them.
So you’re always juggling trust and checking fear to make sure they don’t freak out and kill themselves or injure you or they’re teammates.
It’s not a perfect game but it adds enough interesting ideas to keep the player engaged. I just wish someone would take the main trust/fear mechanic and add it to a more polished game. But John Carpenter liked it and who am I to argue with the master.