Carrying on from the first part of this series, comes the greatest horror offerings in video game history. If you can squeeze a session with any one of these gems in-between your “Friday the 13th” marathon, or your fifth viewing of “The Thing” this Halloween, you owe it to yourself.
19. Clive Barkers Undying - It’s incredible what some great audio design can do for a game. “Clive Barker’s Undying” has a lot going for it (including a great story and a generally unsettling atmosphere), but special props have to be given to the audio which sets the mood so well, it actually generates a bulk of the game’s scares by itself. It takes a hell of an effort for a semi-fast pace first person shooter to cause the wide variety of scares you get with “Undying,” which is why we’re all lucky that it is a hell of an effort that we got. One of the few games that I wouldn’t mind seeing getting the HD remake treatment, “Undying” seemingly takes glee in how much it scares you.
18. Sweet Home – Until the invention of the internet ”Sweet Home” managed to go unheard of for many in the US, as it was only released for the Famicon in Japan. However, looking back at it now, it’s hard to not admire how ahead of its time the game was. Based off of a movie of the same title being filmed roughly around the same time of the game’s development, “Sweet Home” is a traditional RPG style game that has you investigating a haunted house with a team of five characters (each with their own abilities, naturally). Made by Capcom, it’s pretty easy to see the “Resident Evil” aspects inspired by this one, right down to the slow door openings. What really makes the game memorable is how disturbing it is for an 8-bit title. There is a pretty clear reason this game wasn’t released for the NES at the time, and playing the game now (via available fan translation) is odd because you’re not expecting a game of this era to go out of its way to be so terrifying.
17. Penumbra Series – A huge cult favorite, and a bit of a cheat as this is actually three games, the “Penumbra” series is a good example of ambition exceeding limitations. Initially designed by a team of four people, the “Penumbra” series follows the journey of a man who receives a letter from his supposedly dead father that takes him to the barren, fiercely cold area of northern Greenland. What makes the games so incredible is the use of physics in just about every aspect of the game. As your main survival method is stealth, you have to be aware of your environment at all times to survive. The use of physics based puzzles and combat situations are varied and exceedingly clever, and have rarely been topped since. “Penumbra” falters in parts where combat is forced, and taken as a whole the series is up and down (the third chapter is particularly weak), but you’ll rarely find a more clever game of its type.
16. Dead Rising- The zombie genre is basically its own animal in the world of video games, but one of the highlights of the undead revolution in games is Capcom’s “Dead Rising.” Anyone who grew up watching “Dawn of the Dead” always wanted to see how they would fare against a mall full of zombies, and Capcom obliged them with this title in 2006. The highlight of the game is the variety of weapons available, as if it isn’t bolted down, it’s probably a weapon. Obviously trips to the hardware store or gun shop are a given, but it’s the more absurd items like giant gumball machines and bowling balls that highlight this playground of destruction. I’m also a fan of the game’s photography system which rewards you for well timed zombie shots, and the game’s creative achievements which are some of the best on the 360. If it weren’t for a truly bad save system and some control issues, I’d have “Dead Rising” far higher.
15. The 7th Guest – The game that moved more than 2 million copies and helped to popularize the CD-ROM as a gaming device, the “The 7th Guest” is a classic haunted house horror story that is as important as it is entertaining. A truly bizarre tale involving an eccentric toy maker with haunting visions of dolls, and a mansion where 6 guests are invited under uncertain circumstances, the “The 7th Guest” is a an adventure title in the style of “Myst”. Much like that game, the “The 7th Guest” is filled with mind bending (but rewarding) puzzles that help drive one of the stronger horror narratives in gaming. The somewhat corny acting and graphics are more charming than annoying as you can really appreciate it in a nostalgic type way, and, more importantly, the sense of achievement is still very much alive. If there was a gaming history school, like a film history school, the “7th Guest” would definitely be on the curriculum.
14. Splatterhouse – Not all horror is meant to be taken seriously, and sometimes is just fun. “Spatterhouse” is a perfect example of this, as its gratuitous violence and countless film references made it a game of infamy back in its heyday. Released at the height of the “beat em up” arcade craze, “Splatterhouse” has you playing the protagonist Rick on a search for his girlfriend Jennifer. Using everything from a meat cleaver to a shotgun, there was nothing like “Splatterhouse” at the time, and there still isn’t really today. No game ever had so much fun with its horror content, and the levels, enemies, weapons and incredible bosses will inspire you to go on a horror movie watching bender immediately after playing. Being an arcade game, it is relatively short but what’s there is still fun to play. Although, if you can, be sure to play the original arcade version that had yet to suffer various censorships, for the full experience.
13. Sanitarium – One of the more bizarre horror games ever released, its entirely likely you will find “Sanitarium” overwhelmingly bad, or entirely brilliant. I had a similar knock against the first entry on this list (“Deadly Premonition”), but the reason this one is so different is instead of being so bad its good, “Sanitarium” may actually be too clever for its own good. It starts with the usual tale of a man waking up from amnesia, only to find himself in a mental asylum. As he struggles to uncover how he got there, his reality begins to shift as it becomes difficult to tell what is real and what isn’t while playing. The highlights of the game are some bizarre “mental trips” that completely alter the look of the player and the environment. One of the few times a horror game has ever delved into the concept of the power of the mind, you play “Sanitarium” for its story, and not the bland to bad gameplay. But if you want to be scared in an entirely unique way, it is one of the best out there.
12. Alan Wake – Oh what might have been. Remedy had gained much fan love from the “Max Payne” series, and the early hype for their follow up “Alan Wake” was immense (mostly due to one of the better video game trailers ever released). An incredible sounding story of a writer who’s losing his grip on reality, and is watching his stories come to life before him, had everyone counting the days until what was sure to be the greatest horror game ever. The days turned to years, though, as “Alan Wake’s” release date seemed it may never come. When it did finally release, you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would say it lived up to the hype. However, removed from that same hype, it’s difficult to not appreciate the oh so many things the game does right. I love the story, I love the always great Remedy style level design, I love the characters, I love the TV show style set up, I love the in-game “Twilight Zone” parody show, I love the use of light as the main weapon, I love this game. An almost impossible blend of genuine scares and pure entertainment, “Alan Wake” is a game that has only gotten better since its release.
11. Condemned: Criminal Origins – One of the greatest games of the Xbox 360’s early days (and thus the new generation of gaming), “Condemned” is a great mix of “Silence of the Lambs”, “CSI”, and supernatural horror in general. On the hunt for a serial killer known as the matchmaker, Agent Ethan Thomas finds himself falsely accused of being the killer. To clear his name, he has to hunt down the real killer, and thus begins one of the most taught horror offerings video games have had to offer. The game is made up of one highlight after another, whether it is clever crime investigation scenes or the game’s stiff (in a good way) melee combat system. Every level yields several moments of jump out of your seat terror, and certain ones (like a department store filled with mannequins that aren’t what they seem) rank among the scariest of all time. The matchmaker is one of the all time great horror gaming villains, and you will become as involved in your pursuit of him as your character is. It’s a game that’s designed to get in your head with everything that it does, and succeeds with gusto.
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