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How Horror Video Games Went from Spooky to Terrifying in 40 Years

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How Horror Video Games Went from Spooky to Terrifying in 40 Years

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Watching horror films and reading horror novels is one way to give yourself a good spook, but nothing does the job better than a great horror game. Horror games are something that have been around since the birth of the industry, and they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

Horror games are more than just an avenue to a cheap scare or two; there are games that heavily focus on surviving, hilariously fun horror-themed arcade games, haunting RPGs, and deep character studies.

To celebrate the beloved genre, we’ve taken a look through its rich history and chosen to highlight some of the best games of the bunch and some games that represent the direction of horror games as a whole.

First and Second Generation Horror Games

Haunted House (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

horror games, haunted house

The very first home video game console of all time, the Magnavox Odyssey, had its own horror game, simply named ‘Haunted House.’

It can’t be stressed enough how primitive the graphics were on the Odyssey; the system was only able to display a few different dots on the screen. That’s why the game was packaged with an overlay of a haunted house that you would place on the screen to give the game a little more pizazz.

Haunted House was a two-player game in which one person plays as the ghost and has to hide a treasure, while the opponent plays as the detective whose job it is to find the treasure.

AX-2: Uchuu Yusousen Nostromo (PET 2001/PC-6001, 1981)

horror games, nostromo

While Haunted House is credited as being the first horror game, AX-2 Uchuu Yusousen Nostromo is the first survival horror game.

Developed by a Japanese university student, Akira Takiguchi, and inspired by Alien, Nostromo involved a player trying to escape a spacecraft that had been boarded by an alien.

The alien was invisible and would only show up when the player is close. It was a rather obtuse game, requiring the player to collect certain items in order to complete it. If you reached the end without the required items, tough luck, you’re dead.

3D Monster Maze (Sinclair ZX81, 1982)

3d monster maze, horror games

This early horror game was one of the first 3D games for a home computer. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to find any polygons to speak of, mind you, just that it was one of the first games to incorporate a Z-axis.

3D Monster Maze sees you working your way through a maze while trying to avoid a bloodthirsty T-rex. As the T-rex gets closer his anxiety level rises, and occasionally the text “RUN HE IS BEHIND YOU” will appear on screen. Sounds terrifying.

Games like Clock Tower and Amnesia where something is actively chasing you are very popular among horror fans, and it all started with 3D Monster Maze

Halloween (Atari 2600, 1983)

halloween, horror games

Before Mortal Kombat, there was Halloween for Atari 2600, one of the most violent video games for its time.

Similar to other horror games of the time, Halloween requires you to perform a certain task while being chased by a monster. The monster in this case is the psychotic Michael Myers.

Should you be caught by Mr. Myers, your head will explode. To think an 1983 Atari 2600 game could actually be more gory than the movie it’s based on.

This game also gets props for faithfully recreating the Halloween theme song with little more than the Atari’s bloops and bleeps.

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Plays all systems, all genres, all games! Just trying to finish the backlog while keeping up-to-date with new releases.

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