Because when else would you celebrate horror, really?
It’s due time for someone to look back at gaming’s love affair with the horror genre. I won’t be hitting every horror game ever made because that would drive me crazy, but I will be hitting all the big names. Without further ado, here’s my favorite medium’s fling with what’s probably my favorite genre.
You could say that the whole horror thing started with LucasArt’s Maniac Mansion, but I disagree. Plus, I’m ending on a licensed game, so I’ll start out with one. Friday the 13th is probably the biggest “horror” game to come out for NES. It isn’t great, a precedent for licensed games that carried on for generations, but many considered the game scary. It’s focus is on running from a Technicolor Jason, who looks more like a gym rat and less like something anyone should see as scary.
Regardless of what anyone thought, the game would go on to be held as one of the worst horror games ever created — a far cry from LucasArt’s Maniac Mansion, or as it’s more colloquially known, Bet You Didn’t Know Day of the Tentacle Was a Sequel.
SNES Falls Behind
While nothing big really happened on SNES in terms of horror , Sega Genesis had a big one. Where SNES had a port of Doom and not much else, Sega Genesis had two sequels to Arcade’s Splatterhouse series — the first real slasher-like game for consoles. These games are notorious for just being stupid fun, which is what the horror genre in Hollywood had morphed into through the 90s. Gone were the days of Alien; we got movies like Jason Goes to Hell and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare instead. Splatterhouse 2 and 3 were clearly evocative of this time, as the games weren’t really scary, just bloodier.
And on the TurboGrafx was It Came from the Desert, a Cinemaware game that harkened back to movies like Them! and other Hollywood B Movies. The game was loved by a lot of people, enough to warrant a critically-acclaimed mail-in sequel.
Playstation Reigns Supreme
The release of the Playstation saw an influx of horror games like Juggernaut, Galerians, D, and Fear Effect. Most of these were from Japanese developers, and a lot weren’t great, releasing to either mixed or negative reviews. Many genuinely good series were launched, though “good” is a relative word.
The Parasite Eve series would fart along until its apparent death in 2010, but the cult classic series Clocktower also began during this generation. Clocktower was new: you had only one pursuer, the killer known as Scissorman. Scissorman could show up at any time, and if he did, you would have to button mash to get away. The game was also unique in that it had several endings. Clocktower gained cult status while remaining a pretty scary game even today. The sequel, however, was a case of too much too soon. Clocktower 2 was very much like the first, and while the running from your pursuers while solving puzzles was fun, it got old after a while.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, the PSX and Saturn did spawn both the Resident Evil (or Biohazard if you’re Japanese) and Silent Hill series. These are seen as rivals, but I have no clue why. They are polar opposites, with the only exception that they both control like blocks of wood.
Silent Hill launched the more “average Joe” type of horror. The protagonist isn’t a super hardcore military man who can go in and blow everyone away; he’s just a guy looking for his daughter. The atmosphere still holds up really well in the original, and the town and cult inside are just creepy.
Resident Evil, on the other hand, takes the Aliens approach, as you watch this super trained team get picked off one by one. It suffers a bit, as the voice acting is (legendarily) bad, and all of the scares have been ruined by every horror game listicle. There’s nothing I can say about Resident Evil 2 that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over, but 3 was a big deal — bigger than people give it credit for. It took cues from Clocktower and had a lone, big bad guy by the name of Nemesis. He was the one who constantly pursued Jill, the sole protagonist, as opposed to the first game’s multiple protagonists. While these games were technically multi-platform, they were considered best on PSX. They would later be ported to the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube.
The Big 2 Golden Age: PS2 and Xbox (and Gamecube)
The PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox era — this was the best of time horror games. While the best games in the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series came out during this time, there were several others too. Smaller series like Fatal Frame began, and the ultra-violent Manhunt series came and went. Clocktower 3 ended the series, and though it had good ideas like the panic meter (which hasn’t been used nearly enough), it wasn’t enough to save the game from middling reviews. This generation also had the first of the major horror game reboots: the critically acclaimed Doom 3 on the Xbox.
Meanwhile, the best games in the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series were released right out of the gate. Silent Hill 2 is still one of my favorite horror games (despite it being spoiled to hell and back), and Resident Evil 4 is up there as well. Silent Hill 3 is much like the second, and while it’s not my favorite, I still really like it. Silent Hill 4 is probably the most ambitious, changing a lot of mechanics, and even the setting. But even though this was the golden age, all good things must come to an end.
Fall of the Big 2: PS3 and Xbox 360 (and Wii)
This is the generation where Resident Evil and Silent Hill fell apart. People were too busy fighting over whether or not Resident Evil 5 was racist to realize it just really wasn’t that good, and the less said about RE6, the better. Getting away from horror to be more action oriented is fine, as I’ll talk about in a second, but having a stupidly complicated story no one cares about isn’t. Silent Hill, however, released more games that prompted people to ask “Why?” more than anything. Downpour and Homecoming seemed like pale imitations at best, Shattered Memories was hurt by being on the Wii and PS2.
In this era, a new Splatterhouse came out, even though no one really wanted or cared. Alan Wake also released, a pretty good blending of Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone. Possibly the biggest release would be System Shock’s descendant Bioshock. It’s scary and atmospheric, and has a really good story.
While Bioshock may be the biggest, my favorite new horror IP was Dead Space. The first title had plenty of mystery, scary enemies, gore, and a solid twist. Dead Space also set up a good universe with plenty of questions, namely “What the hell is that big twisty thingy?” and “Why do I have to do this asteroid shooting mission — is there no god!?” Dead Space 2 answered a lot of these questions, while also adding Uncharted-esque action to keep the game interesting. Dead Space 3, while not the best, carries the series’ general feeling of sadness and defeat, and the Awakening DLC is probably the best DLC I have ever played.
The Current Day: PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U
We’re creeping up to today. While there isn’t that much of a horror showing, what is there seems promising. Outlast is alright, but after a while the scares get dull, and the story isn’t one I necessarily care for. On the more mainstream side, Evil Within is a mess. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, and anything it tries to be is really predictable. The best showing is Alien: Isolation. It’s a pretty solid horror game, and the Xenomorph is a terrifying antagonist.
So far, the best thing on the current gen is PT, a teaser for something that has so much promise: Silent Hills (yes, plural). That demo is the thing that consistently scares the piss out of me, even though I know most of the twists and turns by now. If PT is anything to go by, horror gaming may very well have another boom in the wake of games like Silent Hills and the promises being made about the next Doom. Until then, though, it seems like we’ll have the recently announced sea of DLC for Isolation and maybe Resident Evil Revelations and/or the Resident Evil Remake to tide us over.
Article by contributor J. Patrick B.