I've been a videogame junkie since the days of the Atari 2600. I remember that Smitty was the first kid on the block to get one, and even though the only game he had was Combat all us neighborhood kids were clamoring to play. His mom would let one person at a time in their house to go head-to-head against Smitty in a triangle vs. almost-a-square deathmatch. Eventually my family got a 2600, then a Nintendo (the one with the light gun and the robot), and so on. In the mid-90s, I remember renting the first Resident Evil (for PlayStation) game from Blockbuster. I'd never heard of it, but the giant spider on the box looked wicked cool. I brought the game to my friend Jim's house and we started in on it- my god. The game was like a revelation- it was like playing a horror movie! Two of my favorite things in the whole world, horror movies and video games, got together, made sweet sweet love, and had a baby. We spent the entire weekend playing, and when it was time to bring the rental game back, we went out and purchased a copy so we could finish it. The memories are a bit fuzzy, but there's a good chance that I was so happy I ended up making out with the controller, the game box, the TV, and/or the PlayStation itself. While the roots of horror gaming can probably be traced back to the original Alone in the Dark, for me the genre was born when Jill Valentine (the Master of Unlocking) and Chris Redfield ("I hope this is not Chris's blood!") were chased into the Spencer Mansion by a pack of zombified Dobermans.
Since the days of the original Resident Evil, many a horror videogame has come a-followin' in its footsteps, and my love of the genre has made me try most of them on for size. Here's some of my favorite horror video games in no particular order.
I don't really understand all the hatred people seem to have for the movie Alien 3. I saw it at the theatre twice and while it's a strange place to go after Aliens, I dig it (the fourth film in the series, Alien Resurrection, is another matter entirely). The pixelated counterpart, Alien 3 for the Super Nintendo system, is an absolute blast. You've got to guide Ripley through a series of varying environments (tunnels, exteriors, factories, etc) and accomplish different goals to complete missions. On one mission, you'll rescue prisoners that are all gunked-up with alien goo, while on another you'll have to clean all the alien eggs out of a hallway and weld the doors shut, and so on. For a 16-bit game, the graphics are fantastic. The action is intense- there's nothing like a room full of face-huggers to get your heart racing.
I'm not a huge fan of first-person shooters, but this game completely blew me away. The graphics are unbeatable and the plot is completely secondary to the action; something something space marines something portal to hell something demons coming, look out. When things go wrong in Doom 3, they really go wrong, and you've got to shoot, pummel, and chainsaw your way through hordes of demons and demonized space marines, often in the dark. During one part of this game, you're led through a labyrinthine area of a lab by a scientist. There's power fluctuations or surges or something and the lights are out. Eventually, the surges short out your flashlight as well...as the single beam of light fades, you see something leap out of the darkness and kill the scientist- then everything goes black. Absolutely terrifying.
The Fatal Frame series is very, very Japanese, if you get my drift. Like your typical J-horror flick, it's long on atmosphere, longer on black hair, and short on a linear plot. Armed with a special ghost-capturing camera as your only weapon, you run around haunted houses trying to solve a mystery. If you're willing to give yourself over to the game, you'll likely get goosebumps on top of goosebumps- the game is that chilling. That Ray Parker, Jr thinks he's so big- I'd like to see him go up against a vengeful spirit in some dojo in the middle of the woods! My only gripe about these games is the battle system; the camera is very clever and very unique, but it's also clumsy. Maybe I'm just uncoordinated, but I found myself wasting film taking pictures of the ceiling or floor while ghosts were attacking me relentlessly. The scares more than make up for this complaint, however.
I talked a little bit above about my metaphorical boner for Resident Evil, and I do love the series...probably more than is good for me. I've read the cheesy (way, way, way beyond cheesy, actually) books, I've got the toys, I've seen the movies...I bought a Sega DreamCast expressly so I could play Resident Evil: Code Veronica, at the time an exclusive game for that system. Yes, I loves me some Rezzies. Here I'm just going to focus on my two favorite games in the series: first up, the remake of the first entry in the series. The remake of the first Resident Evil was made as an exclusive for the Nintendo GameCube, and guess what? When it hit the streets, I traded in my DreamCast for the GameCube, and man, was it worth it. The graphics are simply amazing, from the little puffs of dirt that rise when you run over an old, dusty wooden floor to the little puffs of stinky zombie breath blown in your face, it's really a beautiful game to behold. The basic plot of the original game remains intact- members of S.T.A.R.S. are investigating a series of "cannibal murders" and end up in a dilapidated mansion in the woods, confronted by zombies and various other horrors- but there's new subplots and new material to give a Resident Evil veteran plenty fresh thrills. This game is downright scary, there's no doubt about it. The first time a zombie that I killed- I know I killed it 'cause the puddle of blood oozed out from under him!- jumped up and started running after me, I nearly crapped my pants. Then I made out with my GameCube.
My other favorite game in the saga is Resident Evil 4. Leon, the Raccoon City cop from the second game, is now working for the Secret Service. When the President's daughter is kidnapped, Leon heads to some vaguely Spanish rural village in search of her. He encounters hordes of evil villagers and cult members out to kill him, and that's just the beginning. Resident Evil 4 is a huge game- I don't even know how many hours I've spent playing it, and I loved every minute of it. The gameplay really cannot be beat- this is one of the best games I've played in any genre on any system. And hell, you know any game that's got a dude with a sack on his head wielding a chainsaw is A-OK by me.
I also really dig Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica...man, I just love 'em all.
What can I say about Silent Hill that I haven't said eight billion times? Not much. All I can tell you is that I like 2 and 3 the best, though it's hard for me to choose one over the other. Everytime I think "What about that part in 2 where Pyramid Head chases you down the long, twisty hall with that giant knife? I love 2 the best!", then I think "Yeah, but what about that room in 3 with the mirror? You know, the one where you're walking around, and the walls start to bleed and your reflection starts to bleed and then your reflection fucking stops and watches you...I love 3 the best!". I love the games like they're my own little shiny plastic children with holes in the middle. They scare me. But then you knew that.
OK, so I just made up the term "Tiffany". What am I talking about? C'mon, I'm sure you're all big fans of the singer Tiffany, particularly that hit ballad she had...you know the one. I don't know the name of the song, but she sang so poignantly- "Coulda been so beautiful, coulda been so right..." That sentiment applies to so many movies and games I've seen or played! You know, like "close but no cigar", only more heartsring-tugging and less phallic. So, heretofore movies and the such that are really close to being good but ultimately aren't will be known as A Tiffany, so when I use the term I'll expect you all to know what I'm talking about. Here's a couple of horror videogame Tiffanies I've played-
I don't know why I keep buying Clock Tower games. I play them a bit, I get frustrated and/or get nowhere, I trade them in for something else. Oh wait, I know why- there's crazy dudes with big pointy things (by "things" I mean knives and scissors, ya perv) chasing you around. The best part about the game is the fact that you can actually hide from the crazy dudes- hiding in the broom closet while a crazy dude hunts for you, walking by slowly as his giant scissors go shhhhing! shhhhing! is an awesome experience. Actually playing Clock Tower, however, is not. The controls are clumsy, the crazy dudes can't be killed (or really even stopped for any length of time), and the "puzzles" are nonsensical and frustrating. That's it Clock Tower...like that mystery girl who made Michael Jackson cry, you're outta my life!
The skies rain blood and everyone in town goes homicidal cuckoo-nutso. You, however, are still quite normal and you have to escape. The evil townies want you to die and do everything they can to kill you: they'll stab you, they'll shoot you, they'll throw things at you. They're just plain mean! Mean and crazy! This game is pretty spooky, and you've got the ability to "sight-jack" in your arsenal. This means for short periods of time you can see things through the eyes of the evil townies. A cool gimmick, but not just a gimmick- this is your only means of locating the evil townies in their proximity to you- and your only real means of escape is the use of stealth. I wanted this game to be awesome. I really, really did. But sweet jebus, it was difficult- or I found it to be difficult, anyway. I'm really bad at being stealthy when games require it. Some jerk would hear a leaf rustle under my foot and shoot me from a rooftop, or I'd come around the corner and get stabbed in the face. Ultimately, the difficulty level (or my stupid, noisy, lumbering self) got in the way of my enjoyment and Siren went bye-bye.
Horror videogames...two great tastes that something something.