[It’s that time of the year again, when kids are too scared to go trick or treating and the hooligans patrol the streets at night. To keep the Halloween tradition alive, we take a look back at our favourite horror themed games.]
LucasArts, Mega Drive, 1993
OK, so Zombies may not be one of the scariest horror games of all time, but it is one of the best horror spoofs ever made. Called Zombies Ate My Neighbors in North America – somehow censors must have thought that zombies eating neighbours wasn’t a very nice title or something – the game is a quirky parody of all the great horror and sci-fi films of the past.
One or two players make their way through the various areas (people’s gardens, playing fields, or a spooky castle) rescuing normal everyday folk (neighbours even) while blasting, beating, freezing and generally destroying zombies, mummies, chainsaw maniacs, killer babies and so on. What we have here is a sort of variant on the Gauntlet/Smash TV theme with the player(s) battling against the evil hordes of creatures sent out by Dr. Tongue, who has plans to take over the world.
In true spoof style, the level titles will seem familiar to film fans: ‘Seven Meals for Seven Zombies’, ‘Dances With Werewolves…’ While there are loads of different enemies all too willing to slash or munch on our heroes, there are also a large number of various weapons with which to waste them with, including water pistols, cutlery, plates, grass trimmers and rocket launchers. Careful use of the weapons is needed, though, as each one has a different effect on each enemy, and ammunition is limited, so it’s not just a question of mindless blasting.
Visually, the game is very colourful, and while the animation isn’t particularly sophisticated the level design throughout is excellent. And that two-player mode comes in handy when things start to get frantic as your partner can help you fend off the oncoming creatures. Granted, there is a sense of deja vu during the later levels, but the two player mode truly compensates for this and there’s enough originality and humour here to keep any sci-fi, horror, shoot-‘em-up or adventure fan interested.
Capcom, PC, 1998
1996 was quite a year for video games. Not only had Sony began conquering the console world, but Capcom had also released a frighteningly good third person action-adventure. That game was, of course, Resident Evil and it set the gaming world alight with its B-movies style horror plot and clever gameplay. Although it was originally developed and released for the PlayStation – with a delayed Saturn version – it was with the PC version released a couple of years later that we first got a taste of this new term ‘survival horror’.
The game is introduced via a grainy live-action FMV sequence. It’s July 1998 and mysterious murders have occurred in the outskirts of Raccoon City. After a small team of trained commandos, the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad), go missing, Alpha Team is sent in to find out what’s going on. On their arrival at the scene, they come face to face with a group of savage dogs and are forced to seek refuge in an old mansion, which appears to be abandoned…
Yes, it has to be said that Resident Evil does borrow elements from Alone in the Dark – the same third person perspective and pre-drawn static backdrops – but this doesn’t matter, as it is arguably an improvement on that formula. Resident Evil balances its action and puzzle gameplay elements well enough that the whole thing doesn’t get boring or constantly hectic.
The involving storyline – which wouldn’t look amiss in one Romero’s zombie movies – the camera angles and incidental music give the game a true cinematic atmosphere, all helping to keep the player going through the various shocks and scares. While not as polished as the sequel, Resident Evil still holds its own, as being the original and inventing a new term in video gaming called ‘Survival Horror’.
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Capcom, Arcade, 1988
This very author used to play this the local fish and chip shop or the ice rink, or both. Either way this author excelled at it and outplayed everyone else, showing great gameplaying skills or highlighting the incompetence of everyone else. It would be nice to think that is was the former.
Developed and released by those Capcom people in 1988, the game features platform high jinks with all sorts of ghouls and ghosts, hence the title. Being a sequel to the earlier Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, the gameplay is very similar, but updated for, erm… 1988, with updated graphics, sound and gameplay.
The player controls Knight Arthur, who has to progress through the macabre levels, defeat the various creatures that get in his way, and free his bride from the clutches of the evil fiends. As with the first outing, if any ghoul or weapon hits Arthur, then he loses his armour and continues on in his long johns; a further hit results in him dropping to the ground in a pile of bones. Fortunately, extra armour is available in randomly placed treasure chests, as are various weapons, including a lance, axe, and discus.
A great game with colourful graphics and delightfully jolly music. Although a platform game at heart, the level design is wickedly unpredictable as one minute you can be running from to right, the next, right to left, and the next, moving vertically. It was also one of the first arcade games that this author played at home. Yes, at home. The Sega Mega Drive conversion was so good that it was hard to see any differences from the arcade.
Firday The 13th – The Computer Game, Domark, Amstrad CPC, 1985
We played this underrated 8-bit horror shocker back in the day and were pretty scared by it all. Well, we were young lads after all, and we though it would help the atmosphere of the game if we played with the lights off and sound belted up. Ooops.
Night Trap, Digital Pictures, DOS, 1995
Many people may have been nonplussed by both the game and the controversy it caused (see Retroaction issue 2 for that story), but we were really surprised how much we liked this game. We must be suckers for poorly scripted, acted, and filmed B-movie horror style games.
Decap Attack, Sega, Mega Drive, 1991
Decap Attack might not be the best platform game ever made – it’s a bit slow in places and the action can get slightly samey – but the graphics are different and the whole idea of not playing another cute platform game has great appeal. Oh, yeah, and there’s a slight horror theme running through the game, so there.
Aliens, Electric Dreams, Commodore 64, 1986
A pretty scary film and a pretty scary game. This is a first person adventure where the player roams around an alien infested space station. Oh, and the lights do flicker and go out on occasions as well. As frightening as you can get, and on 8-bit hardware, too.