Since I was a little tyke, I’ve been a fan of horror. The first film I ever saw in the genre was a late night rerun of A Nightmare On Elm Street as a 10-year-old. The gruesome escapades of Freddy Krueger as he hunted down Johnny Depp and his friends within their own dreams gave me nightmares of my own for the week that followed. Still, the fact that a film could have such an impact on me ingrained a love for horror that is still with me to this day.
So with Halloween upon us, what better time to go hunting through my dark, spiderweb-engulfed roof cavity to find my collection of old horror games and relive the blood, viscera and meaty chunks that they all have to offer.
Evil Dead: Regeneration
Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC (2005)
- Fear factor: A puppy licking your face.
- Gore Grade: An episode of “Itchy and Scratchy”.
Based on the Evil Dead movies, this hack ‘n’ slash title was written as an alternative sequel to Evil Dead II and had Bruce Campbell reprising his iconic role as Ash — years ahead of Ash vs. Evil Dead to boot.
You’ll get the chance to take up Ash’s signature chainsaw and Boomstick (a shotgun, for those unaware), going hell for leather against countless Deadites using a plethora of special attacks and gory, yet stylish, finishing moves. Throughout the ordeal, Ash is teamed up with the half-human, half-Deadite and all vertically challenged Sam, voiced by Ted Raimi, the brother of Evil Dead Director Sam Raimi.
Evil Dead: Regeneration was an excellent game for its time, with quality laugh out loud moments that are rare in games — even by today’s standard. It featured entertaining game mechanics such as randomised finishing moves, special combat abilities, plenty of special attacks and combos to master and was (gasp!) a half decent game based on a movie franchise. The variety added with the inclusion of Sam’s character brought excellent value to to the title with him assisting in combat, crawling through confined spaces, providing quality slapstick humour and clever banter throughout the game.
Evil Dead: Regeneration is a must-play if you can get your hands on it. If you haven’t seen the movies or watched the new TV series, well… you should be all over the franchise like a Deadite on the Necronomicon.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
- Fear factor: A fluffy bunny rabbit having a nap.
- Gore grade: A mild blood nose at most.
There were at least two games inspired by the film that spawned my interest in horror. The first was 1989’s top down adventure which ran on my Amstrad 286. In this game you chose between one of five Dream Warriors from the original film- each with their own unique dream power- and walked the streets searching for Freddy’s house. Once in the house you were tasked with solving puzzles, avoiding traps and attacking skeletons, slime monsters and even possessed wheelchairs. It was essentially a very basic dungeon crawler. I never managed to complete A Nightmare on Elm Street and the pixelated game over image of Freddy that showed up on my old 256 colour computer screen over and over again always freaked me out more than the real Freddy from the movies.
Still available on vapourware websites around the internet, it’s only worth the effort if you’re an obsessive fan of the films.
A Nightmare game was also released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment system… but it was bloody terrible.
Xbox, PlayStation (2003)
- Fear Factor: Drinking home brew moonshine in Thailand.
- Gore Grade: Swing dancing with a blindfolded Edward Scissorhands.
Manhunt was released by Rockstar and initially received an MA15+ rating in Australia. A year later the game’s classification was refused and it was removed from shelves due to the severe depictions of violence it contained. Luckily I managed to get my hands on a copy before sales ceased and have held onto it for dear life ever since.
Playing as a convicted criminal James Earl Cash (serial killer’s name much?) rescued from death row, you follow orders from a psychopath holding your freedom in his hands. As he directs you through a series of Big Brother-style snuff films this stealth orientated game has you taking out members of various gangs who are out for a little blood of their own.
Using less than conventional weapons such as plastic bags, baseball bats and shards of glass you’re able to chose from three levels of brutality for each enemy take down. The more brutal the kill, the faster it will play out but at that the risk of other enemies hearing the loud cracking of bone and the desperate gurgles of your victim as they slowly exit this plane of existence. Taking the slower approach grants a quieter kill thus your antics are less likely to draw remaining enemies to your location but the longer animations potentially leave you exposed and unable to hide from patrolling bad guys.
Manhunt is certainly not for the squeamish and there are even reports that staff at Rockstar were uncomfortable with the violence depicted. Nonetheless it’s a fantastic game and worth playing if you can manage to keep your food down while doing so.
A sequel was released on the major platforms of the era with the Nintendo Wii version having you use your Wiimote to perform the brutal murders depicted throughout. Needless to say it never made it to our shores due to the lack of an R18+ classification at the time.
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (2008)
- Fear Factor: Spending the night in an abandoned asylum on Halloween during a thunderstorm.
- Gore Grade: A drunk butchers convention.
Dead Space had quite a bit of success with two sequels following the original (and even an on-rails shooter for the Wii). As is usually the case through, the original is by far the best.
It took an interesting turn in the survival horror genre by putting the player on board a seemingly abandoned spacecraft dealing with a vicious alien species who slaughter every living thing they see. To make things even more interesting (and bloody) it included a gameplay mechanic that required you to dismember enemies in order to kill them requiring a very strategic approach to gun play and weapon choice.
While Dead Space 2 and 3 were both more action orientated games the first in the series was quite scary and took a much slower pace with plenty of jump scares and clever atmospheric build up thanks to excellent lighting effects, audio direction and scripted events.
Fatal Frame/Project Zero
PlayStation 2, Xbox (2001)
Fear Factor: Public speaking naked in front of all your ex-partners and future employers while covered in spiders and standing on a pile of cobras.
Gore grade: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.
Project Zero (or Fatal Frame, as it was known internationally) remains the only game I’ve been unable to complete purely due to how much it scared me. The last time I played it I became so overwhelmed with fear that I had to take the disc out of my console, lock it in a drawer, and then spend an hour playing Conkers Bad Fur Day to balance out my mental state before attempting sleep.
Set in 1980’s Japan you take on the role of Miku Hinasaki who’s in search of her brother Mafuyu who has mysteriously disappeared while exploring an old rundown mansion.
As you walk around the creepy house you’ll solve run of the mill puzzles and encounter various spirits that are out to get you. The twist here is that you can’t see the ghosts haunting the mansion. Instead you feel their presence via vibrations in your controller and a creepy radio static sound that gets louder as they get closer. Only when you look through the viewfinder of your trusty camera – which changes your view from third to first person – can you get a more accurate guess at the spirits location and you can only actually see them once you’ve taken their picture, capturing them in the image forever.
Set in the 80’s you don’t have the luxury of a digital camera so your shots are limited by how much film you have available. In true survival horror style your “ammunition” is very limited forcing you to be overly calculated with the shots you take, yet still needing to be quick off the mark as to not let these murderous apparitions drag you to the afterlife.
It is without doubt the scariest game I’ve ever encountered.
There are more to come…
Over the years there’s been plenty of horror inspired games. Some which go way over the top with gore, some have even been accused of inspiring real world murders. Others contain little to no real violence yet still manage to paint the undies of many an adult gamer. While certainly not for everyone the levels of interaction that gaming provides over film bring significant potential for jump scares, suspense and horror.
As VR becomes more popular (and eventually affordable) the level of immersion possible – especially with horror games – increases significantly. As a horror fan I’m excited to see see where the genre goes over the next few years with this new method of experiencing games. Let’s hope Australia’s classification system doesn’t do something stupid and ruin it all.
Have you got any favourite horror games that weren’t mentioned here? Perhaps something more terrifying than Project Zero? Sound off in the comments below.