Sunday, October 31, 2010

Horror Videogames

In honor of Halloween, I'm going to talk about my favorite horror videogames. Everybody always talks about horror movies this time of year, but I wanted to do something a little different, and something that I hope is a little more fun. By no means is this any kind of best of list, nor is it a complete round-up as I am wont to do, but it's just a list of my personal favorite horror or gothic videogames.

And I'm going to do my best to write this in chronological order:

I'm not sure if this was really a horror game, since it wasn't actually scary. But it was a series about a family of vampire hunters that dedicated their lives to stopping Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the grim reaper, and, um, flying Medusa heads that were annoying as shit. The Castlevania games have gone down in history as some of the best and most challenging games ever. Very few games exemplify the 8 bit era better than the first three Castlevania games. They're just... brilliant.

I still remember the first time I played the very first Castlevania game. It was 1986 and I invited my best friend Johnathan Kovatch over because my mom had bought me some game called Castlevania. When he came over and I put it into my NES (because, good friend that I was, I waited for him to come over. Of course, he lived only a block away.), it blew are minds. I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said it was a serious contender for best... game... ever. It generated a bunch of sequels, some of which were great and some of which were terrible, but I'll save that for another blog post.

I never owned this game, but I had a friend who owned a TurboGrafx-16 so I used to play at it his house all the time. Actually, I'm going to geek out on you for a minute and point out that my friend didn't actually own a TurboGrafix-16. I lived in Switzerland at the time, so my friend actually owned a PC Engine, which was the PAL equivalent of the TurboGrafx. But we were talking about Splatterhouse. All things considered, Slatterhouse wasn't that good of a game. It was just a standard, early 90s beat em' up with a main character that was just a rip off of Jason from Friday the 13th. But, on the other hand, it was a 90s beat 'em up with a main character just like Jason from Friday the 13th, so it was awesome. Anyway, the 12 year old version of me thought it was awesome. It also had one of the best ads ever for any game. Click on that link and tell me you don't want to play Splatterhouse right now!

They made a few sequels, but I never played any of them.

Resident Evil
Strictly speaking, the Resident Evil games created the survival horror genre, whatever that means. In fact, the term "survival horror" only exists because Resident Evil opened with a screen that said "Welcome to survival horror," thereby creating a name for a new genre of videogames. And thank god that happened, because the Resident Evil games are awesome. I'm going to briefly discuss every game in the series that I played.

Resident Evil
The first Resident Evil game was probably the second or third game I bought for my Sega Saturn. And, yes, I owned a Sega Saturn and I have no regrets. It was a great console with an awesome library of games, but, again, that's a blog post for another time. The original RE game has become something of a joke for it's awkward control, bad writing, and terrible voice acting, but it's also lauded for being ridiculously fun. It's also still the scariest videogame ever made. It was the first truly scary videogame, and it has certain moments that have yet to be topped to this day. Everybody who ever played RE when it came out came remember that moment when the mutant dogs jumped through the window. We all remember, because it was the first time a videogame actually made us scream out loud. And from there, it just got more and more terrifying. Awesome game.

They later rereleased it as a "director's cut" for the Playstation that was terrible, and a completely updated version for the Gamecube that was incredible. 

Resident Evil 2
This was the game (along with Final Fantasy VII) that forced me to buy a Playstation. By the time RE 2 came out, the Saturn was pretty much dead, so I knew I'd have to jump ship and buy that new Sony machine everybody was talking about. But I didn't actually buy a PS2 until I played RE2 at a friend's place... and it changed my life forever. Resident Evil was a fantastic game, but the sequel was about ten thousand times better, longer, and more epic. I mean, it came on two discs! I can't remember any Saturn games coming on two disks.

Anyway, this game was amazing. I'm pretty sure this was the game that really made Resident Evil the phenomenon it still is today. Great game.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
This game was ok. After Resident Evil 2, it was a bit of a let down because it wasn't amazing. It was just ok. It was fun and it felt like a Resident Evil game, with good graphics and lots of scares, but it was still just ok. I don't remember any real standout moments, nor could I recite every story beat like I could all of the other RE games I played. It was just ok. It remains the only RE game I owned that I never beat. I just got bored at one point and stopped playing.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Now this was more like it. Code Veronica is still my all time favorite Resident Evil game. I'm pretty sure it was an exclusive for the Sega Dreamcast, so that probably means most people never played it, but that's a shame because it was awesome. This game really opened up the Resident Evil mythology and took players out of Raccoon City finally. It was an epic adventure that spanned the entire globe, had the best gameplay in the series, and was just so much fun. Also, it was scary and creepy as shit.

The switch to the Sega Dreamcast (a truly underrated console but, again, that's a post for another time) brought the series to full 3D. The camera angles were still static and you moved your character in a two dimensional field, but the graphics were all rendered in 3D, and they were gorgeous. And you also had a quick turn button! That was the best thing that every happened in the history of videogames, and I'm only kind of being facetious. Awesome game. One of my all time favorites in fact.

I still have my Dreamcast and I still popped this one in from time to time.

Resident Evil Zero
This was a Gamecube exclusive, and it was a lot of fun, but it still ranks up there with Nemesis as one of the RE games that was just ok. This was the first original RE game on the Gamecube so the graphics were incredible, but this was released after the updated version of the first RE game, so it didn't really stand out. If you had to buy one RE game for the Gamecube, the redo of the original was the one to get. RE Zero was fun and cool to play, but it was just ok. And the fact that it was a prequel that didn't move the story forward was a bit of a bummer. But... I liked it. It just wasn't all that great, nor was it very scary.

Resident Evil 4
This is probably the most critically acclaimed game in the history of the Resident Evil series, but I still think 2 and Code Veronica are better. RE  4 is still a great game, however, with amazing graphics and a completely revamped control scheme that actually made he game fun to play just as a straight up third person shooter. But the story sucked, it wasn't very scary, and it didn't have any zombies!

Originally I wrote that it wasn't scary at all, but I changed that to "it wasn't very scary," because it did get a bit creepy later on when you got to the castle and had to fight all those weird, chanting monks. But other than that, it just wasn't all that great. The monsters just weren't as scary as the zombies and other beasts found in the earlier games. And as lead characters go, Leon just doesn't cut it as far as I'm concerned. This game was a lot of fun because the revamp to the controls made it more action-packed, but as an RE game, the story and thrills were seriously lacking.

But I liked it.

Resident Evil 5
I probably shouldn't talk to much about this game since I only played the demo I downloaded on my Xbox 360, but I thought it sucked. It just wasn't fun and it gave me no reason to buy the game. That's a far cry from the earlier games where, after I played a friend's copy of Resident Evil 2, I went out and bought a Playstation. The demo for RE 5 didn't even convince me to buy the game. Meh.

And, so far, that's it for the Resident Evil series. I really hope that Reisdent Evil 6 is a return to form for the series, since I miss it terribly. I haven't really loved any of the games since Code Veronica on the Dreamcast.

Silent Hill
If there's any other game series that's a serious contender to Resident Evil's status as king of Horror Games, it's Silent Hill. To be honest, I only really played the first Silent Hill on the Playstation, but I thought it was pretty good. It didn't do anything that the Resident Evil games hadn't already done (and done better), but it was still a very fun game that was very, very scary. They made a bunch of sequels but they all seemed like the same game, so I didn't really play very many of them very very long. The first Silent Hill game was the only one I owned, and I didn't even complete that one because it got boring and tedious. They also made a Silent Hill movie, but it was just as dumb as the Resident Evil movies.

Eternal Darkness
Now this is a god damn great horror videogame. I might even say that Eternal Darkness is the best horror videogame of all time. Strong words, I know, but they come from the heart. It's just an awesome game that I played for hours and hours and hours, even after I had completed it, for years and years after the Nintendo Gamecube had gone the way of the Dodo Bird.

Eternal Darkness was heavily influenced by Lovecraft (even thought it opened with a quote by Poe), who is one of my all time favorite writers. In fact, I might even go so far as to call it a Lovecraft rip-off, but that's ok because it was intended to be an interactive experience instead of just a prose story. The horror mostly came from the character's "sanity meter" which grew every time you took damage. Once the sanity meter hit the limit, all hell broke lose. Sometimes the screen would turn to static, sometimes the floor would be switched with the ceiling, and sometimes bugs would crawl across the screen. The first time you saw bugs crawling across the screen, well, that's about as scary as videogames get.

Eternal Darkness was an amazing game that would probably be a franchise by now had it been originally released on the Playstation or Xbox instead of the sad, lonely Gamecube.

Doom 3
I remember playing the original Doom when it came out and thinking it was frickin' amazing, but it wasn't scary. Then again, this was before the Resident Evil made survival horror an actual genre. Doom 3, on the other hand, was scary as crap. It was a really dark game, and I mean that literally, since every scene took place in rooms that were almost pitch black. Monsters were around every corner, and the entire last level literally took place in hell. Scary, awesome, amazing game. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.  


television lady said...

I just finished teaching Quentin castlevania 2 on the wii. we downloaded the first one but haven't done much with it yet, i'll have to get on that now that i finally have some time!
my brother and i played castlevania 2 on the NES on a black and white tv for hours but then somehow lost the game guide that told you what all the different items are used for. . . we didn't figure out that holy water broke through bricks for probably a YEAR. so we'd just amble around, fighting monsters, get to the various dead ends and then turn it off. what a bunch of idiots.

i think the day we found out about the holy water was probably the best day of our lives.
i haven't played the resident evil games but agree that silent hill was killer. did you write about the films a little while ago?
this was delightful to read.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

After reading this, I watched some YouTube videos of Code Veronica. I'm not saying it looks bad, because it doesn't--but remember how mind-blowing the graphics seemed to be at the time?

In any event, that was one awesome game. I still have all of my old consoles, including the Dreamcast. Haven't taken it out in a long time, though.

television lady said...

by the way, have you ever come across the Castlevania comics? The Belmont Legacy, or some such title? I think there are only five of them, Quentin is very interested.

jace said...

code veronica was a great game, i played it on a ps2 so it was not exclusive to the dreamcast. i have recently played the original resident evil game on the wii, its been revamped and had new scenes added. it was awesome and looked lush in hd, it goes under the name resident evil archives, so you might wanna check it out.