With Halloween once again upon us, my critical eye returns to things that are (or at one point were intended to be) spooky. As last year’s take was about movies, I’m shifting my focus to games.
I’m not a guy who gets creeped out easily. A straight-up spook is even rarer. I’m not some amazingly invincible person, it just usually takes a lot to get to me. But these games made it look easy, and none were as easy as:
Alien versus Predator Gold
This game was a masterpiece ahead of its own time. Its emphasis on atmosphere combined with the divergent gameplay for marines, aliens and predators made for a comprehensive experience. The weirdness you feel as an alien and how unstoppable you feel as a predator makes the vulnerability you feel when you play an ugly bag of mostly water all the more stark.
There is, of course, no fear playing the alien or predator campaigns. There’s no jump scares, they can see in the dark and have very beefy health gauges. Marines, on the other hand, can barely see a thing in the almost entirely darkened environs. If an enemy gets the drop on you, you’ll probably only have a sliver of health left when you emerge from the fight. You could cut tenseness with a knife; there is no point in the game in which a marine can breathe easy or is safe and secure from a quick death.
…And then there’s the facehuggers. Tiny, floor crawling, nearly silent creatures with the power to one-hit-KO you by latching onto your face. They’re easy to overlook and difficult to hit without a flamethrower or the smart gun. But when they do get you (and they’ll get you often), they do so in the games most immersive, largest jump scare it has: the sudden, tendrilly appearance completely cover your field of view as though somebody had unexpectedly dropped a tarantula on your face.
The game is very good about not throwing facehuggers at you right away. They build up the tension with some more pedestrian ambushes and dark chambers so you are very much so focused on looking around, paradoxically putting you in a state where you are more prone to being jumped.
9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
It’s very easy to get the bad endings in this game before stumbling your way through. While the game never directly shows gorey demises, the lengthy descriptions of the state of bodies should be squicky enough to put some off their dinner.
But it’s the “Axe Ending” (represented by an axe icon in the ending list) that’ll keep you up a night, all with just a few images, none of which involve corpses.
Unlike 999, Corpse Party has no compunctions against showing mutilated remains. And they’re all children. Add on to that the deplorable state of the hellish dimension, the ghosts, the insanity, and constant imagery similar to that found in 999’s Axe Ending and more deadly bad endings in each chapter than in all of 999, and you’ve got horror amped up far larger than exploration mode’s pixel art suggests.
It wasn’t the gruesome animal transformation scenes. It wasn’t the increasingly copious amount of goo that was melted people everywhere in the pre-rendered backgrounds. It wasn’t even about the progressive body horror that Eve went through.
It was the escape scene after the final boss fight. Especially that time I screwed up and took a wrong turn when it was really late at night. Especially when I was naive enough to think the save point wasn’t a trap.
Perhaps even more so than the marine campaign in Alien vs. Predator Gold, you are never safe in this game.
First, there’s the philosophical horror that all these… things attacking you were once people, and all the parts of those people were still there, contorted. This bit of body horror did actually creep me a bit whenever I thought too long about it.
I didn’t often think too much about it while playing the game, though, as it was difficult to find a time and place where I wasn’t in the fight. One place I thought for sure was safe was working on the upgrade benches. After all, a cardinal rule of video gaming is that when you change screens, nothing happens in the screen you left until you return your focus to it. In time, I came to realize that the bench screens weren’t submenus, but rather a UI element in the game’s environment. So you were still in the game. With the violent, flesh-rending mutated horde.
I’m not sure what you call it when a customary and expected fourth-wall break is instead averted. But it’s a great way to mess with people.