Published on February 22nd, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
History of Horror Games: The Golden Age
The Golden Age… as named by various Gaming news sources and Wikipedia!
This cheeky allusion to Hollywood is probably the best way to refer to it, as the horror genre has not been as popular since.
Whilst generally acknowledged as beginning with release of Resident Evil in 1996, I, for ease, am going to let D be on this side of the fence as it suits better than being piled in with Clocktower, which came out the same year but on the SNES.
D was released in 1995 on the 3DO but was also available on the Sega Saturn and Playstation, it’s an adventure survival horror with some heavy puzzle elements. Unlike Resident Evil, it is a first person game reminiscent of Myst and the opening features CG FMV instead of hilariously bad footage of night-job actors. It featured incredible music and prominent sound effects that bolstered the creepy atmosphere, this is probably due in part to the games designer, Kenji Eno, who was also a musician and also directed D2, Dreamcast 1999, and co-designed Enemy Zero, Saturn 1996, (with Fumito Ueda of Shadow of the Colossus fame) both also survival horror games similar to D.
Kenji Eno recently passed away on 20th February – he was an incredibly innovative developer who used music and other features to create new experiences like his game Real Sound: Kaze no Regret, which was designed to allow deaf people to play the game just as an able person would.
Then came Resident Evil in March 2006. It was inspired and apparently originally meant to be a remake of Sweet Home on the NES but in the end Shinji Mikami decided to make an original game. The backgrounds were pre-rendered and inspired by the Overlook from The Shining, the characters were 3D and had tank style movements and featured some of the worst ever voice acting and there wasn’t anything particularly marvellous about the game from a technical standpoint, yet it managed to sell nearly 3 million copies and there’s been countless remakes.
One of Resident Evil’s main draw-points was the gameplay. It involved elements of adventure and puzzle solving from earlier games like Alone in the Dark, it even had 3D character models over 2D backgrounds, and the characters were able to shoot enemies and do inventory hoarding. The level design was incredibly complex, one fan even made a brilliant piece all about it here. (In fact I do recommend checking that site out, it’s fantastically elaborate.)
But, what I think was the biggest thing of all that grabbed people’s attention?
This was the first time that zombies were added into a game and were actually good. (Zombies ate my neighbours doesn’t count)
Mikami did for games, what Romero did for films. They created a zombie revolution that took the target demographic by force. In fact, it’s a wonder why no game previously had made a serious attempt at the whole zombie thing, what with most other horror staples being so repeated. The horror in RE was visceral, it was interactive – you could choose to run from or take on enemies and it was effective.
Then Human Entertainment had the fortune of being able to release Clocktower 2 (PS1 1996) in the wake of Resident Evil, but it didn’t hit our shores until a couple of years later, known only as Clocktower as we didn’t get the first one. The game continued with the same elements as the first Clocktower, only this time in 3D and was able to make itself stand out, it even got another game on the Playstation, Clocktower II: The Struggle Within.
Overblood (1996) came out the same year as Resident Evil and is also an adventure horror with subjective tanklike controls, but with 3D backgrounds and a sci-fi story. The game is not particularly smooth and the translation is a little off. The game is a spiritual sequel to Doctor Hauzer on the 3DO and is not inspired by Resident Evil much.
The Note (1997) is a first person adventure game that didn’t come out in America. It is unusual as it’s extremely realistic, in really boring ways. The screen wipes black every so often from the character blinking, it stays so true to being first person and when a room is dark you have to open the curtains and set torches to lighten the room.
Hellnight (1998) A first person horror adventure on the Playstation, I haven’t played a lot of the games on these posts, mostly experiencing them through trailers/videos and such as I haven’t had time/money/resources to play them, but this game I jumped just watching some gameplay footage! I just bought it on Ebay so am looking forward to finding time for this bad boy.
Parasite Eve (1998) This bugger didn’t come out in Europe but it’s a fantastic sci-fi horror based on a Japanese novel of the same name and made by Square before they became rubbish. Tetsuya Nomura did the art and it looks very Final Fantasy VIII and there are some great mechanics such as weapon customisation, with strategy based action RPG battles. The monsters in the game are really well designed and grotesque.
Blue Stinger (1998 Dreamcast) If this was inspired by Resident Evil, it failed on so many levels. It follows the same formula as Res being a survival horror adventure, but is so strange. The characters are really despondent and vague. The story is nutty and the gameplay is horridly clunky. I bought the game based on the end of this trailer. Go to 3:05
Galerians (1999 PS1) A psychic power based survival horror, it was praised for its story but had awful controls.
Dino Crisis (1999) is made by Shinji Mikami and is basically Res but a lot faster and easier, there were 2 sequels but the third game is apparently a bit naff. Trade zombies for dinos!
Silent Hill (1999) was the one of the last games on the Playstation and was the most successful of the games inspired by Res, instead of gory horror, Silent Hill opted for cool, psychological horror and used the short draw distance of the console to great effect with heavy mists covering the town. It managed to pull itself away from Res and stand on its own feet, creating a franchise which is only eclipsed by its former. Personally I prefer Silent Hill as it’s more gritty, creepy and a lot easier!
Koudelka (1999 PS1) is a horror RPG with an unintuitive battle system but good nonetheless, it’s a prequel to Shadow Hearts and features Goetic demons – lore not often seen in games, between all the Lovecraft and Jamesian ghosts.
System Shock 2 (1999) on PC is a shooter of many genres including survival horror, the story is told through a series of audio logs and spirits. It is a widely influential game, spawning many spiritual successors and influencing the FPS genre as a whole.
Carrier (2000 Dreamcast) a special forces agent is plonked in the middle of a base after his copter is shot down and his friends killed by strange creature people, so it’s a just another Res clone.
And finally we get to Illbleed on the Dreamcast. This game is really whacky,with an almost Suda 51 vibe going on and really strange humour, the game utilises a stat and senses system and is an adventure game.
Nods also go out to Nightmare Creatures (1998 PS1) and Soul Reaver which both had some elements of horror in, but not really enough to count as survival horrors.
Noticeably most games of this era are Japanese, it seems the west were having trouble with the huge rush of games that were being released from the East, but fortunately with games like System Shock 2, they were of a very high quality.
After the Playstation’s string of titles after Resident Evil, horror took a backseat which it has still never truly recovered from. My next post will cover transitory horror games – the games that got lost from the public eye.