I have a confession to make. I really want to play Clock Tower. I own Clock Tower. I am far too afraid to play Clock Tower. I am interested in the mystery and horror movie set-up, but once some crazy motherfucker starts chasing me with hedge clippers, I just curl up and cry.
The same goes for any critically acclaimed horror game. Silent Hill 2, Amnesia, Slender are all beyond my ability to cope with the feeling of helplessness. The horror settings and themes are fascinating and ones I would like to experience. Getting away from the fear and tension (which I understand is often the point) here are five games that explore horror without making the player shit themselves.
ObsCure, released on the PS2, Xbox, and PC, is the most traditional survival horror game on this list. It’s basically Resident Evil high school with plant shadow monsters. Normally this would be enough to keep me away if it were not for one feature; Co-op.
Playing through a cheesy low budget b-horror movie setting is far improved when you roll through with a friend. The game was never well received, and for good reason. It does nothing special and, at the time, there were far better examples of the genre. I always did want old school Resident Evil to be multiplayer and this was probably the closest we will ever get to that.
There are a few interesting ideas going on in the game; using light sources to fend off the shadow monsters was an enjoyable mechanic. Each of the five playable characters also had different abilities. It also featured permadeath in which you could beat the game after losing several of the cast. You also had the ability to beat your friend in the face with a baseball bat with no consequence, which should have been a bullet point on the back of the box. All in all, ObsCure is a neat little budget title that should have gotten a little more love then it did.
Sweet Home was a ground breaking title Famicom game that was never released in America. Combining a JRPG with specialized characters in a haunted mansion was a revelation back in 1989. If this had come out in the West it probably would’ve shaped horror games in many ways. It also would have given mental disorders to half of a generation.
Sweet Home is about a documentary crew that is investigating a deceased artist’s home. They are quickly locked in by the ghost of said artist and the creepy messed up adventure begins. The backstory involves a woman who was grief stricken over the death of her children who fell into an incinerator. She begins to toss other children in the incinerator to give her children playmates. If this were not enough nightmare fuel she ends up killing herself and continues to terrorize everyone who approaches her house.
The gameplay is like Dragon Warrior crossed with Maniac Mansion. It’s top down and filled with puzzles and mystery but combat is first person and turn-based. It also featured diaries and notes for back story purposes. Each of the five characters had a special item to use in combat and solve puzzles, however you can only keep a party of three maximum. Permadeath is also a factor, affecting the ending by how many people survive.
Sweet Home has been cited as a direct inspiration for Resident Evil so it did eventually have its impact in the West. The creepy story is tempered by its low-fi technology and detached nature. It has been translated into English so anyone over here can experience both a great game and an interesting piece of history.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is one of the most messed up games ever made. Based on the short story by Harlan Ellison, it is about a sentient computer named AM that has wiped out almost all of humanity. AM has kept five humans alive for over one hundred years, and he has filled that time with physical and psychological torture. The game plays as a point and click adventure when AM decides to put the characters through a personal test.
The story was co-written by Harlan Ellison, and it has one of the best stories in video games, despite some lines of dialogue being a bit awkward. It’s less horror in the sense of monsters and ghouls, but when you play as a nazi doctor and a woman dealing with her rape, you realize just how horrible reality itself can be. Without going into anymore spoilers, they did allow multiple endings, some not as bleak as the original story (although changing the character who was dealing with his homosexuality is a big loss).
The mechanics are rooted in the mid ‘90’s adventure genre, so it’s not the most intuitive game. It doesn’t fall into cat hair mustache territory though. To be fair, this was the same year as Full Throttle and Disc World (1995), so it was not a bad year, but the genre was certainly beginning its decline. The surreal nature of being in a simulation run by a raging hate machine helps keep everything grounded in an internal consistency.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was critically acclaimed but never reached the popularity it should have. Thankfully, these days, it is available through GOG and Steam. It holds up rather well due to the sprite-based 2D technology. The audio is not the best but the experience is one that should not be missed.
Tecmo’s Deception: Invitation to Darkness
Tecmo’s Deception is a strange beast. It begins with your character being falsely accused of murder and set up for execution. At the last moment the only deity willing to save you is Satan. You than spend the rest of the game trapping souls in a mansion in a quest to bring Satan into the world. Just let that sink in for a moment, you literally play as Satan’s servant.
You accomplish your goal by placing traps and then luring interlopers into them. Most of the game is played out in a first person perspective. Once a person is killed, you sacrifice their soul for more powers, rooms, and traps. You can also capture people and use their bodies to create unholy monsters. Being a 3D game from 1996 means it’s a bit rough to look at these days but, conceptionally and tonally, it’s pretty amazing.
As an example of the dark tone, one mission involves a family seeking treasure in your mansion to afford some cure for their daughter. After stealing their souls, a scene plays showing the little girl alone, waiting for her parents who are now in Satan’s possession. You can subvert your objectives and reach a different ending, or you can be a horrible monster.
Deception spawned three sequels, the latest one simply called Trapt on the PS2, and a new one has been announced for next year. There have been plenty of other games that allow you to control the bad guy, but rarely without some humor or attempt at satire.
Nosferatu is a cinematic action platformer on the SNES set in a horror world (Prince of Persia set in Castlevania). It’s a standard rescue the girl from a vampire story. What sets it apart from other games of the era is its combination of unique, solid mechanics, great level design, and some creepy aesthetics.
You must transverse a trap-laden dark castle while punching monsters. It’s more controllable and fluid than Prince of Persia but still has that animation emphasis. While not ground-breaking, the combat is pretty good and flows really nicely with the rest of the mechanics. There is something to be said for punching a werewolf to death.
The levels amount to a lot of platforming and basic puzzles. A lot of it is figuring how to get past some pretty nasty traps. You may have to throw a switch, run down a hall, jump over a pressure plate, and slide under a closing gate. Of course, as it goes on, it gets increasingly difficult and complicated.
Having come out in 1995, the developers were able to really able to take advantage of the SNES hardware. The graphics, art style, and music are all top notch. Of course this was after the release of the PlayStation, which is perhaps why the game went under a lot of people’s radar.
Nosferatu is by no means the best game ever made. It is, however, an incredibly solid effort in a mostly dead subgenre. Games like Out of this World and Flashback are looked at as classics while this one is always overlooked. Anyone who enjoys those games should certainly check this out.
Horror, terror, fear, dread are all emotions that video games are really good at eliciting. Many games that focus on such emotions deal with a certain level of immersion. While I understand their appeal, I really cannot handle the stress and tension. The settings and themes are really interesting though, and being allowed to explore past the primal emotions of flight is something that I really enjoy.
We can look at insecurities and dark secrets of people living in a computer-run post-apocalypse to give us a more detached and thoughtful view of our fears. We can explore a frightening situation with a friend to ease the tension, and find a way to see it as silly. These games can also just tell a compelling story either of atrocities committed by someone else, or ones that we ourselves bring forth into the world. Sometimes though, it’s just awesome to beat a vampire to death with your bare hands.