Tag Archives: horror

The Night Warriors

There was a time when I regularly wrote about comic book adaptations of video games over at the Geek Force Network.  While that time has come and gone, you can still enjoy the numerous articles I penned about such media crossovers at the archives.  Here is one such post from those halcyon days, just in time for the spooky October season.


It’s that time of year once more; when the barrier between the natural and supernatural is at its weakest and little ghouls haunt the streets in search of sugary treats.  For this week’s video game comic column, it only makes sense to venture into the darker side of the printed page.  There is a rather massive subgenre of horror comics, and its tentacles stretch far into the video game world.  So let’s dive into a realm where monsters do battle in rounds of two, until only the strongest survives.

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It was back in November of 2004 that Udon Entertainment debuted their Darkstalkers comic series.  At this time, Udon was releasing their work through Devil’s Due Publishing, which included a Street Fighter comic series that launched in 2003.  The Darkstalkers comic ran for six issues, until it abruptly stopped in April of 2005.  In October of the same year, the chief of operations Eric Ko, announced that Udon had become a full-fledged publisher and its lengthy hiatus was due to producing material for the video game Capcom Fighting Evolution.  Since that time, Udon has grown into a massive comic book and video game powerhouse, producing several comic series, art books, and work for video games such as Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and New International Track and Field.

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For the Darkstalkers comic, Udon had plenty of interesting characters and settings from which to source fresh story material.  This is especially true, since most fighting games have very few details outside of “some people got together to fight in an arbitrary battle tournament held by a mysterious benefactor.”  For example, this story comes straight from the Darkstalkers instruction manual:

“When the sun sets and humanity retreats to the imagined safety of their beds, a mysterious entity appears in the sky to assemble the wicked and the evil. The unimaginable secret power of the dark is unleashed! Ten supernatural beings of destruction have materialized to wage their eternal war for the domination of the night. The Vampire, the Mummy, Frankenstein, Bigfoot. . . their very names conjure fear. But who or what has summoned them? These creatures of myth and legend, the Darkstalkers, have gathered for what is destined to be the greatest battle ever. And the fate of all humanity rests on who wins the epic struggle. The Darkstalkers are coming. . .tonight!”

From this rather bare bones plot, Udon crafted a solid story about the various machinations of the Darkstalkers who hide in the dark corners of the Earth.  In this six issue series, the conflicts between certain characters take center stage, while the sideline characters are left as mere window dressing.  So while Dimitri and Morrigan prepare for an eventual battle of the ages, Rikuo and Lord Raptor only show up briefly in side stories and single panel shots.  Every issue features plenty of great fighting scenes, complete with signature moves and plenty of nods to the fans of the video games.  There is also loads of background on many of the major characters, including several side stories that flesh out their motivations even further.

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As with most of the comics from Udon Entertainment, the artwork really shines.  The horror themes of the video games allowed the artists to include plenty of heavy contrast and shadows, which really lend to the atmosphere of the comics.  The characters remain in the anime-inspired style of the fighting games, but with more vibrant colors and further detail for better expressions.  In spite of the show-stealing appeal of the characters, the backgrounds have not been overlooked.  There is plenty of detail in the settings of each scene, with some panels exclusively dedicated to moody environmental shots.

Besides the solid story work and gorgeous art, my favorite part of Darkstalkers comes at the end of each issue.  A single page is always dedicated to a gag comic called Darkstalkers Mini.  The fun work of Corey Lewis (pseudonym, Rey), these quick strips feature super-deformed versions of the fighters in silly situations, most of which end with goofy punch-lines.  Unfortunately, when Udon collected the comics into a trade paperback, all of these side stories got the boot.  On the plus side, that has made the individual issues of the comic unique to the trade version, so be sure to track these gems down!

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At the end of the first issue of Darkstalkers (right before the Mini comic), there is a writers’ commentary aptly titled, “From the Darkside.”  On this page, some of the staff from Udon spill their guts about the joy they felt in creating the Darkstalkers comic books.  There is talk of the great chance to write a darker story than the usual Street Fighter comics, along with their mutual love of horror films and fighting games.  At the very end, the colorist, Gary Yeung, says that the goal at Udon was to “make a faithful interpretation of Darkstalkers from a game/animation into a book.”  Through action-packed stories and striking artwork, all wrapped up in a spooky atmosphere, it seems like Udon met their goal quite nicely.

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Bloodborne- Witch of Hemwick

Of the many horror stories I ingested as a child, the ones that linger in my memory featured an unexpected turn of events.  Tales where the main character believes they understand the entire scope of a situation, only to discover the true nature of a threatening scenario is right behind them.

As I traversed the Hemwick Charnel Lane area of Bloodborne, I was regularly accosted by a unique enemy- old crones brandishing crude weaponry.  Appropriately called the Hemwick Grave Women, these hags were often found celebrating around the numerous decrepit tombstones of the Charnel Lane.  Whenever I would try to sneak by their gruesome revelry, these shrews would attack in a mob; lashing out with dagger, scythe, and even a bloodied sledgehammer.

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These coordinated strikes implied that the Grave Women must have some sort of leader guiding their movements.  After seeing the mutilated faces and bestial proportions of this flock, I could only imagine how monstrous their shepherd must be.

At the top of a hill, I found the well-worn remains of an old farm manor that seemed to be a place of status within this massive graveyard.  I entered the building and descended into a large basement storeroom, where a lone creature stood on the opposite side.  This thing was nearly twice my height, with long skeletal limbs and skin that resembled aged leather. Thick matted hair grew from its head to cover most of its upper body, and two glowing eyes gazed out from this mess of decay.  As this beast brandished a sickle and lumbered towards me, I knew this must be the leader, the Witch of Hemwick.

The game identified her as such, displaying a health meter at the bottom of the screen with her title.  I took this as my opportunity to launch my first attack at the ancient witch; repeatedly striking her with my threaded cane.  Despite the fury of my blows, the witch made little attempt to defend herself.  This gaunt creature quickly fell to my assault, but this victory seemed hollow.  Then I noticed: throughout this short melee, the Witch’s health meter remained untouched.

Something was wrong.  Why did my attacks deal no damage to the Witch?  The room was now empty, but the sense of dread was stronger than ever.  The music in this area matched my emotions perfectly.  What started with soft and haunting strings had swelled into a menacing chorus of otherworldly chanting.  The once beguiling sound of a single violin became a threatening symphony of brass and percussion.  With the music reaching a violent crescendo, I knew something must be stalking me.  I frantically searched the room, but to no avail.  The room seemed devoid of such a predator.

It was only when I stopped to take a breath that I noticed her.  Lurking just behind me, close enough to reach out with her dagger caked in blood, stood the true Witch of Hemwick.  A ragged little crone, hunched over from a life of horrors, wearing a cloak with all manner of eyes sewn into the patchwork fabric.  It was she who had summoned the gaunt monster from before.  She would be the real threat on this day.

bloodbornetruewitchSo far, the Witch of Hemwick has been my favorite boss encounter, and perhaps my favorite moment, in Bloodborne.  It subverted my expectations, just like the preferred horror stories from my youth.  The music particularly contributed to the foreboding atmosphere of this encounter.  The team of composers for Bloodborne (Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Yuka Kitamura, Nobuyoshi Suzuki, Cris Velasco, and Michael Wandmacher) did an amazing job crafting a song that would match the emotional course of the player; from a lulled sense of security, to heightened foreboding, and finally, the feeling of being threatened by an unexpected otherworldly menace.

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Splatterhouse – Evil Cross and Nightmare

In the past, I have talked about how the schlock and gore of Splatterhouse appealed to my high school self.  This game had all of the components an awkward horror nerd required: a setting heavily influenced by monster movies, side-scrolling beat ‘em up fun, and an eerie soundtrack full of gothic riffs.

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Composed by Katsuro Tajima and Yoshinori Kawamoto, the Splatterhouse soundtrack featured tracks with heavy metal titles like I Can Feel It in My Veins, I Will Find You, and Evil Cross and Nightmare.

Somewhere between horror movie track, heavy metal ballad, and baroque classic, Evil Cross and Nightmare is a fantastic song that takes much of its inspiration from Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin.

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Pokémon Red and Blue – Lavender Town

Sometimes, the legends behind a piece of spooky media are scarier than the media itself.  That is certainly the case with the theme for Lavender Town.

Within the world of Pokémon, Lavender Town is home to the main gravesite for departed Pokémon.  There is a seven-story tower located in the town that serves as a mausoleum for hundreds of deceased creatures.  Many of the people present in this town are visiting to pay respects to their fallen Pokémon, so there is an ever-present air of melancholy.  Outside of the mourners, there are also aggressive Ghost-type Pokémon that will attack the player as he/she travels through the tower.  Composed by Junichi Masuda, the theme for Lavender Town reinforces the gloomy atmosphere of the area, with a lilting melody and haunting sound effects.

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In the real world, a very creepy urban legend has grown from this off-putting tune.  This track contains high-pitched sounds that are outside the typical adult hearing range, but still within the typical child hearing range.  This fact led to stories of Japanese children being driven to fatally harm themselves when hearing the Lavender Town theme.  Tales of children being driven mad and clawing at their faces have made their way across the internet, giving this song an even darker reputation.

While none of these stories have been verified, the legend of the Lavender Town theme persists as a particularly creepy tale of video game music.

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GIMMGP Spooky Games Month V: Spooktacular Video Game Music

Good evening, faithful readers!  We are moments away from the midnight hour that rings in our favorite month of the year.  Over the last four years, Laura and I have filled the scary season of October with piles of posts on horror games and their ilk.  For the fifth year of the GIMMGP Spooky Games Month, we have a particularly eerie experiment for you.

For the next 31 days, we will feature daily posts highlighting ghoulishly great game music.  Each day in October will spotlight a spooky song from a different title, along with a bit of background on the music and our experiences with the related game.  We will be covering a wide scope of video game history, sharing a variety of tunes across several console generations.

So be sure to tune in to GIMMGP every day in October for a freshly unearthed song for your spooky seasonal soundtrack!

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Dealing with The Evil Within

The scope of survival horror has been widening over the years to the point of splitting into two distinct types of game. One type features well-trained heroes dealing with horrific abominations using advanced weaponry.  This sort of game uses graphically detailed viscera and jump-scares to get the adrenaline pumping.  The second style of game instead disempowers the protagonist, placing them in a terrifying situation from which they must escape.  These titles are haunting and mysterious, using complex narrative or psychological stress to get under the player’s skin.

When well-executed, both strains of survival horror can provide a worthwhile experience.  However, the mechanics and aesthetic of each category often conflict, which is why the gap between the two has been expanding.  Some titles have tried to include bits from both types of game, but a solid marriage between the two has yet to blossom.

Early previews of The Evil Within teased the idea of this culmination of survival horror; a game that would feature solid gunplay with a psychological horror theme.  The result is a game that feels like many individual working pieces jammed into a faulty machine.  It’s as if Shinji Mikami had his next five game ideas written out in a development journal, but he was worried that not all of them would see the light of day.  So he cherry-picked ideas from each of them to make The Evil Within.

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The Evil Within seems to be torn between two story ideas.  There is a grim tale of outdated medical practice and dark family secrets.  A world of old villages and occult belief.  On the other hand, the mind-bending romp that puts a murder spree in a mental hospital sounds good, too.  That one has detectives and loose morals, unreliable narrators and high action.  “Oh well, better use both,” says the writer as he hammers out the plot of The Evil Within using tropes from the entire breadth of horror movies.

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The gameplay is also at odds, fluctuating between predictable shooting and frustrating stealth.  Each environment contains hiding places and noisemakers to avoid conflict, but the sheer amount of enemies requires a certain level of combat before a player can proceed (often with limited ammo).  Like the discordant story, the gameplay jumps back and forth between action packed shooting (Resident Evil 4) and surreal stealth survival (Silent Hill).  Since the game never commits to one type of play, neither is well-executed.

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Along with the bipolar shooter arenas, there are several scripted moments of trial and error.  Many of the major enemies in The Evil Within are able to kill the protagonist in a single blow, but this is rarely communicated to the player.  As a result, drawn out death scenes and long loading screens become a frequent punishment of unavoidable failure.

I just happened to play this bloated game during the same week I enjoyed the streamlined experience of P.T.  In what we now know as the Silent Hills Playable Trailer, the minimalist environment of a single home’s hallway instills more fear than the massively disjointed dreamscape of The Evil Within.  The limited gameplay options could seem sparse to some, but this potentially short game masterfully executes the singular design of tense exploration.  Every step the player takes works towards a horrific conclusion, instead of tearing through hordes of gore-covered zombies as a means to pad the length of a game.  If The Evil Within is a horror movie marathon filled with cheap thrills and disparate moments, then P.T. is a haunting short film that leaves a lingering unease with all who watch it.

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The endorsement of P.T. over The Evil Within may seem like a matter of preference.  Concerning the sort of survival horror game I tend to play, I am not surprised to find that a cerebral and narrative-heavy experience won out against a gore-filled shooter.  But The Evil Within isn’t simply a different kind of game from P.T. because of its gameplay and aesthetic.  It’s different because The Evil Within tries to include every survival horror trope of story and play in its content; thinking that more equals better and failing in the execution of any.

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Simul-tober: Is Gore Necessary?

All Hallows Eve has arrived, and with it comes the unfortunate close of our Simul-tober experiment.  This week’s article is from Cynenway, a fellow contributor from United We Game, who posts about all sorts of fantastic subjects over at A Life With Cyn.  Once you have finished your annual candy hunt, be sure to check out all of the other excellent horror gaming posts from this past month at United We Game, Cheese Toastie and Video Games, The Duck of Indeed, and A Life With Cyn!

Without further ado, Happy Halloween and Merry Horror Gaming!

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Gore is a bit of a tricky subject when it comes to games, and even more so when it comes to horror games. I am one person who feels that gore should only be put in where it’s necessary, which really isn’t often. My friend was arguing with me the other day about how it was an integral part of horror games. Some people would assume from my distaste for gore that I am squeamish. I’m not overly so. Although the scene from the movie (which I’m afraid I’m going to throw a few movie examples in, since the media are pretty close) Silent Hill instead of the game, in which Pyramid Head rips off the girl’s skin and throws it, is an instance where I find it completely unnecessary.

I can’t say that gore is completely unnecessary, but a lot of the time, it’s done more as a jump scare, or to the point where you’re just desensitized to it. As much as I love the Silent Hill series, there’s blood everywhere. It stops being the first thing you notice when you walk into a room. Jump scares definitely have their place, as with the mannequin scene in Silent Hill 3. The most memorable one for me though, is from 5 Days a Stranger. I don’t remember how old I was, but I would assume still in Elementary School. I wandered into my brother’s room to see what he was playing. The scene seems straight-forward enough. The guy was talking to a child who was in the bath, or a shower. I didn’t get the full context, but I got that much. Then the curtain is pulled away, and you have a corpse in a bathtub full of blood, writing on the wall. The game didn’t have great graphics at all by today’s standards, but that scene has stuck with me to this day as one of the most effective.

My point is that yes, gore can definitely be effective. Yes, it can even be seen as necessary. But again, using a movie reference, think of Alien. There was really just one particularly gory scene (the Chestburster scene), and while I know that may be the thing of nightmares to some, it never was to me. Instead, it was the rest of the movie. Turning the corner, never knowing what may be ahead, just knowing that you were hunted no matter where you went. That is horror to me. Not the guts lying everywhere around you, or body parts hanging from the ceiling. You do not have to have the gore to have horror, as I was trying to make my point to my friend. It has its moments, but becomes more of a backdrop than anything else.

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Guest Post: How Important is Immersion to Horror Games Really?

We’ve got a special treat (no trick) today on GIMMGP: a guest post from Sam of Cheese Toastie and Video Games!  Sam and I have swapped spooky posts this week, so be sure to check for a fresh post from me over on her blog.  Sam is a fantastic blogger, whose work can also be found on United We Game and Geek Force Network.  If you are looking for more ways to scratch that horror itch, be sure to check out her Let’s Play videos featuring both titles from the Amnesia series.

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Image from http://www.amnesiagame.com/#media

What better way to celebrate Halloween than writing about all the things that make us afraid? Other than dressing up like a scary clown and stuffing yourself with candy that you’ve gathered from obliging neighbours of course (am I getting too old for that)? Truth is though, I haven’t really played all that many horror games (at least comparatively). That might seem strange considering how much I love horror movies. In fact just last night I decided to watch Insidious before I went to sleep, since I apparently decided I don’t really need sleep after all. But when it comes to games, I’ve actually found very few that could really give me that heart pounding, palm sweating fear that some of the great horror movies have induced in me. Perhaps it’s because the industry is still so young and there are still so many kinks it’s working out that for the few brilliant gems out there, there’s also a whole lot of rubbish to sift through. It’s only recently that I began to discover a love for horror in games after I realised that horror in games CAN work, although it’s the ones that take advantage of its status as a game rather than try to replicate movies that are one that shine brightest to me. Because games do have something very special that movies can’t really do. They can make you feel like you’re really there and completely immersed and that’s not something to underestimate, especially when it comes to making your skin crawl.

Of course, not everyone experiences horror the same way. For example, Paranormal Activity was the first scary movie in a long, long time to really give me the heebie-jeebies. Not since Ju-on did I spend so much time after a movie looking in closets and peering around corners. However, for other people those movies were a load of crap – just a cheaper, crappier version of The Blair Witch Project. So of course, what scares me might not scare you and some of the things I mention here might not resonate with you at all. I do think though, that something that many gamers can agree on is that we play at least in part to get lost in game worlds, in stories and characters. How immersed you become in a game is often the standard by how many people judge a game, whether it’s expressly stated in those terms or not. This should be doubly true for the horror genre, because isn’t it scarier when you really believe? When the game devs really get what makes you afraid and create realistic scenarios that reflect your thoughts, feelings and fears at least in some small part?

I think it’s that immersion and realism that a lot of AAA horror titles lack and is what so many indie titles capitalise on and is partially why those smaller games like Slender: Eight Pages or Amnesia: The Dark Descent receives such critical acclaim. Complaints regarding Dead Space 3 were partly centred on the fact that it was too action focused and that it lost much of its fear factor as a result. The reason that big action sequences, scary monsters and jump scares can’t induce lasting terror by themselves is because it’s not those momentary bursts of fear that really make a really good horror game. Real terror is induced by building tension slowly, by putting you in situations that play on inner fears and dread. In fact, one of my favourite scary moments ever from a game was not really from a ‘horror game’ at all, but was just an action RPG with some genuinely terrifying moments. The game was Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and it was a mission where I had to explore an abandoned and dilapidated hotel/mansion in a more traditional horror scenario. After some time of navigating dark corridors, catching glimpses of people out of the corner of my eye and having objects tumbling inexplicably from their perches, I came across this gem – an old newspaper about a serial killer who had murdered a whole bunch of people in the very hotel I was in. Apparently he had hidden the head of one of his victims inside a washing machine. I looked up and realised the room I was in was a laundry room. A washing machine door suddenly creaked open, but it was too dark to really see anything. With my heart in my mouth I slowly crept over to it, knowing I had to look in, because the mission object I needed might be in there, but really, really not wanting to…

The reason it was so scary was it played on real fears that a person might have, of serial murderers and dead children and limbs hidden in household objects and of course, there was the atmosphere. It was believable and completely immersive. Even though I didn’t want to, I really felt like I was there in that dark mansion, with a possible serial killer/rampaging ghost out to get me. A combination of factors made me feel I was in real danger and the terrors I saw in that house lingered with me long after I finished playing. It’s why I thought that Doom 3, despite being a brilliant game wasn’t really all that scary. Sure, I jumped a lot, possibly even screamed out loud occasionally, but that’s not what really makes something truly scary in my eyes. The stories, enemies, weapons and gameplay so removed from reality and were clearly focused more on making it a tense first-person shooter than being any real attempt at horror, that the result was fun, yet un-terrifying game. And that’s where I feel a lot of modern horror games, especially AAA titles like Dead Space 3 fall down. The devs who make these games fail to realise – that’s it not about all monsters and ghosts and running away, it’s about making you feel immersed in the horror of it, about making you believe and it doesn’t really take much money to do that.

Of course that leads to the question of what immersion is and how you can achieve it in a game. I’ve talked a lot about scenarios, but that’s not all there is to it. Many factors enhance immersion, including music, believable characters, voice work, story and its overall aesthetic. It’s also not about how much money you can throw at these things either, as proved by games like Dead Space 3. It’s about these elements being used to create a sense of atmosphere. It’s not necessarily about being based in completely reality, as there are plenty of successful horror games where the themes are supernatural-oriented like the Amnesia games. It’s more about whether there’s something there that you can identify with and if all the elements come together cohesively and realistically within the game world. It’s difficult to feel immersed in a game that feel like it doesn’t know what direction it’s going in and just uses jump scares and clichéd horror elements to try to frighten us.

Even though the horror genre has been in decline where AAA games are concerned, it’s still an amazing time for horror game fans, with tons of experimental indie titles popping up everywhere on the internet. Many of these titles are achieving what the bigger games can’t, by getting down to what really makes us afraid and creating immersive game worlds that will have you quivering under the covers at night. It’s a lesson that hopefully some of the bigger devs will learn too.

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Going Back to the House

As I have mentioned before, my friends and I were obsessed with horror movies back in high school.  Rental stores and VHS tapes were still readily available, so we took advantage by consuming several scary and schlocky films on a weekly basis.  Many of our adolescent nights were spent watching gallons of fake blood splash across the screen, and our video game habits were not too different.  Survival horror was rapidly carving out a niche in the gaming market.  Series like Silent Hill and Resident Evil were making their debut in stores, but this was not the first time that I had encountered the genre.

There was a series that I had only read about in magazines as a kid.  These games were filled with so many monsters and mutants, so much guts and gore that they were never released on the squeaky clean Nintendo consoles I owned.  It wasn’t until I had access to a Sega Genesis emulator that I was able to experience… Splatterhouse.

SplatterhouseArcadeThe Namco classic opens on Rick and Jennifer, two college sweethearts who take shelter from a particularly nasty storm in local landmark, the West Mansion.  Once inside, the pair are attacked by the horrible abominations that inhabit the home of Dr. Henry West, a once great man of medicine who went mad and conducted gruesome experiments.  These demonic creatures mortally wound Rick, and steal Jennifer away, presumably for some sort of sacrifice.  As Rick is bleeding out, he discovers an ancient Mayan mask, which begins to speak to him.  This “Terror Mask” fuses to Rick, healing his wounds and transforming the demure hero into a hulking beast of a man.  With this very familiar mask’s encouragement, Rick tears his way through the mansion to save Jennifer, leaving piles of monster corpses in his wake.

Splatterhouse2This game and its sequels hit all the right marks for my high-school self: a setting heavily influenced by horror movies, with an eerie soundtrack full of gothic riffs, all wrapped up in side-scrolling beat ‘em up fun.  At the time, the violence and gore within Splatterhouse was a bit of a shock to the general public.  This was before the days of the ESRB and its ratings system, but many critics called for the game to be censored or outright banned from home distribution.  This sort of outcry only fueled my desire to play this grisly game.  For teenagers, what could be cooler than stuff adults want to keep from you?

As I grew older, my love for shocking and schlocky horror films began to wane.  I still had a special place in my heart for specific titles, but on a whole, I just wasn’t interested in modern scary movies.  There was too much blatant violence and torture that only seemed present for shock value.  My taste for horror gaming changed as well.  I became more interested in engrossing environments and psychological stories instead of just buckets of blood and sharp objects.  But when I came across the latest Splatterhouse on a massive sale at my local gaming retailer, I just couldn’t resist taking a trip back to West Mansion.

Splatterhouse2010On the surface, the 2010 release of Splatterhouse is rather similar to its predecessors.  The plot is mostly unchanged, save for cramming in more details and a Lovecraft-inspired reason for all of Dr. West’s experiments (to make a deal with the Great Old Ones to resurrect his dead wife).  The violence is still turned up to 11, with plenty of blood and viscera to go around.  There are even side-scrolling sections of the game which are a total throwback to the original trilogy.  But just as horror movies adapted to new audiences, so did Splatterhouse.  The combat in the game is reminiscent of most modern action games: spam light combos, use heavy hits on bigger enemies, perform gory QTE fatalities.  The soundtrack is a combination of campy horror tunes and heavy metal hits from several big-name bands like Mastodon and Five Finger Death Punch.  The mask is now voiced by Jim Cummings, and provides plenty of swear-filled one-liners as the game progresses.  All of these new features fit with the game and its themes, but there is still something lacking in the execution.

Splatterhouse2010BoomstickTo start, Splatterhouse has its fair share of bugs, particularly during auto-saves.  Loading times are frequent and the obnoxious repeating screen of twitching enemies gets old very quickly.  The boss fights are quite repetitive and uninspired, often degrading to wearing down some monster until it has time to regain ALL of its health and start the next phase of the battle (which is the same as the first).  The game features plenty of nods to classic horror movies, but most of these are ham-fisted and serve no purpose outside of window dressing.  To top it all off, the original trio of games is available as unlockable bonus material, but the sound for these games is emulated poorly, making the music and effects practically silent.

I think the real reason behind my lack of engagement with the new Splatterhouse is because that sort of mindless gore just isn’t my thing anymore.  Minor annoyances aside, the game is a gorgeous third-person action game that will appeal to horror fans.  The combat is solid, the music is great, and all of the details that have become synonymous with modern schlock are in full force throughout the game (blood, nudity, and lots of pointy things).  But I know it’s not for me.  Other folks may flock to the theaters during October to watch whatever scary movies are currently playing, but I am content to stay home and watch the classic horror films I have seen a dozen times before.  The same goes for video games.

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The Horror in Brevity

A few months ago, reddit users were asked to come up with horror stories that are only two sentences long.  Many of the tales spawned from this request are quite creepy and leave a lingering unease, in spite of their length.  The most effective of these stories play on universal human fears and utilize the reader’s ability to extrapolate the narrative even further.  Due to their nature, these two-sentence musings provide few details as to the setting or the characters involved.  There is no time to explain or to build the surmounting terror; the reader is thrust into a story in motion at the climax of a bad situation.  As I read through these very short stories, I wondered: could a video game scare players under similar constraints?

When gamers make a list of the best survival horror titles, the featured games often have one trait in common: an atmosphere of dread.  From small towns infested with monsters to remote space stations that may not be as empty as they seem, these settings are crafted to put the player on edge.  So much work goes into the ambient sound and visuals of each area, so the player does not need a bulky narrative to explain why he/she should be frightened.

Despite this effort, the developers of such titles take the time to build a complex story.  The best of these games make use of both setting and story to create an engaging game, while the worst of them clutter a potentially chilling experience with unnecessary areas and exposition.  Across the board, these games follow the traditional three-part mold of a feature-length film.  It’s almost as if a horror game has to contain certain story elements and have a lengthy playtime to be a success.

Sepulchre

Enter Sepulchre; a point-and-click PC game from Owl Cave.  From the developers’ website: “It’s a game featuring horror, trains, and huge bags.  It should take most people around half an hour to play through.”  A perfect example of truth in advertising, Sepulchre took roughly forty minutes to complete, during which time I took control of a passenger on a train, eager for a bite to eat.  Like the two-sentence short stories, this game does not require much set-up to cause a sense of dread.  The lack of information, along with striking visuals and sound, created a foreboding atmosphere that lingered long after completion.  It seems a video game can incite fear under heavy constraints.

If you are looking for a short jaunt into an ominous world not so unlike your own, please check out Sepulchre.  Your time together may be brief, but the horror will last a lifetime.

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