The History of Horror Video Games Part 2

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The ’80s planted the tree that would bear the fruit of success to come, but it wouldn’t happen overnight. Both the movie and gaming media subsequently evolved over time. Silence of the Lambs, Candyman and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, were just some of the most successful movies with the decade’s transition. Gaming would enjoy a different kind of success thanks to a rivalry between two companies and their mascots. The Atari, on the other hand, would die out due to constant failures, like E.T. Instead, Nintendo and Sega took the forefront.

Ushering the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo in the early days of the ’90s saw immense market growth in video gaming. Horror-themed games were still relatively small in numbers, and each company had their own titles. Splatterhouse 2 and 3 would be launched on Sega’s platform, being a sort of console exclusive, in contrast to the first one being an arcade title. However, Sega’s rival would fair better, as it was already a well-established platformer franchise. 

horror games

Super Castlevania IV was the next installment in the Castlevania series. While considered a remake of the original, it would rework everything from the ground up. The power of the SNES was tested to its fullest potential, and it endured. Nailing the horror aspect with appealing monsters and color palette of muddy browns, greens and coppers. The transition from 8-bit to 16-bit also enabled better controls and platforming. No longer stiff, Belmont could now control his jumps mid-air, as well as whip in all 8 directions, instead of the 4 in previous games. A well-rounded package, and a good start of the decade, one that only got better with new releases.

Are You Afraid of The Dark?

By this point, most of the horror-themed games took influences from cinema, but literature would soon become a source of primary inspiration. H. P. Lovecraft’s most notable works have been used as a reference in the past, but never before like this. In 1992, Infogrames would publish their first survival horror title, with universal praise. Ripped straight from books like the Necronomicon came Alone in the Dark. Though primitive in its art direction, it would still provide genuine scares throughout the entire experience.

Booting up the game introduces the title screen and the choice of the two protagonists you can play as. While Emily Hartwood would be significant in future releases, it was Edward Carnby who was considered the main protagonist. In 1924, Louisiana, Carnby finds himself investigating a case involving the mysterious death of Emily’s uncle. However, his uninvited awakening into the Darceto Mansion unleashes all kinds of eldritch abominations. Edward then takes it upon himself to rid the mansion of these apparitions, simultaneously discovering the truth behind the disaster.

The controls could easily be described as tank-like, while the camera fixed depending on the position of the character. Both Emily and Edward also have a limited inventory, able to stack up only a few items necessary for survival. As previously seen in Sweet Home, it has been fully implemented in Alone in the Dark. Characters needed certain items to fend off deadly creatures, as well as solve intricate puzzles. The most significant influence novels had on the game were its monsters. Ghouls, Nightgaunts and the Chthonians, all inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos. This would not be the first time books inspired games, and sci-fi would soon get the same treatment. 

Cyber Horror

When it comes to the movie Alien, there was always something appealing to the Xenomorph. A blend of sex, horror, and tech, it truly made for a terrifying foe, and one is all you need. H. R. Giger would be responsible for such beautiful abominations and would contribute his work to Cyberdreams’ Dark Seed. A point-and-click adventure game set with the same distorted imagery as that of the Alien movie. However, another smaller group would also catch the attention of this art form, id Software.

horror games

First-person shooters were becoming a new trend, and id needed some fresh new ideas for their upcoming game. A perfect blend between flesh and machine, Doom was born. Doom was the definitive FPS game, and for good reason. In terms of horror, it nailed the atmosphere with its demonic and satanic imagery. Addictive, fast-paced, and brutal, Doom had one philosophy. Kill as many and as fast as you can, and the reward, the slaughter, and carnage. It would be followed up by a sequel, and numerous clones in the same vein.

Eventually, Aliens vs. Predator transitioned from a film into a video game. Three playable races, and the same appeal as Doom, it would set the template for a full 3D game down the line. However, a rogue machine is more dangerous than any xenomorph. 1994’s System Shock is a nightmare filled with artificial intelligence that went mad. As we all know, here on Earth at least you can try and escape, but in space, nobody can hear you scream. SHODAN doesn’t bend to any satanic ritual and isn’t a natural predator. It’s a thinking and killing machine. First-person shooters were picking up the horror theme and would influence some of the best games of the next decade.

The PlayStation’s Biggest Rivalry

Not all horror games would be so imaginative and groundbreaking, some in fact still capitalized on zombies and slashers. The House of the Dead was a unique zombie rail shooter that provided temporary fun, while Clock Tower gave us its own slasher mascot, Scissorman. Horror games like these did receive positive reception, but it was nothing that hasn’t already been seen. During this period, the rivalry between Sega and Nintendo quieted down, due to the introduction of a new competitor. The Sony Playstation, would dominate the market with its presence, and create a new rivalry, one that would last longer than the console wars.

The first to make its debut would be Capcom, with its zombie survival horror title Resident Evil. Using the same scheme as Alone in the Dark, Capcom would take a more modern approach to its setting. Instead of divine eldritch creatures, a virus was the cause of the zombie plague. A corporate menace under the alias Umbrella produced abominations in a means of selling them as bioweapons. The player would be thrust into the role of various special forces characters attempting to survive the infestation and expose Umbrella. 

Konami would follow up soon after Capcom’s success with its own horror title, Silent Hill. Taking on the role of Harry Mason, an everyday man, players search for his lost daughter in the titular town. Instead of a more action-packed survival game, Konami went for more psychological fear. This was never explored to this degree before. However, hidden motives based on emotional and mental horror resonated much closer with fans of the genre. The suspense, paranoia, and distressing atmosphere drove the plot, without the need for a corporate or military threat. The two franchises would clash, and continue their rivalry into the next decade where they would eventually settle it.

The 2000s

The shift into the 21st century saw mostly sequels and clones of all these established releases. Some smaller titles like Nightmare Creatures and Blood would fly under the radar, but manage to find a crowd of their own. Aliens vs. Predator and System Shock would both get a full 3D followup, while Castlevania would reach the pinnacle of Metroidvania with Symphony of the Night. Resident Evil, on the other hand, was treated to a third entry, as well as a sister franchise, Dino Crisis. All was looking bright, but also a bit bland.

horror games

Horror games were once again looking to innovate. Tying up licensed properties like American McGee’s Alice or collaborating with famous screenwriters as in Clive Barker’s Undying. Zombies and mansions have been done to death. In a sea of jumpscares and copy cats, the only one that delivered was Konami. Just as it saved the genre back in the ’80s, with Castlevania, it would once again stand tall and bold. In 2003 we were graced by a true masterpiece, equal that of a movie, with Silent Hill 2. Everything, the first game did right, was done even better this time.

A similar premise, but a different protagonist and even more psychological twists than before, a perfect formula for a horror game. For some, the rivalry would end there, with an obvious winner. However, many didn’t exclude Capcom from the fight, and they would be proven wise in placing their fate. It was a golden age, horrific, but truly blissful. The mid-2000s would gather all of the established trends and introduce new ones to the fold. But, like every horror movie, not all of them could have a happy ending. And time took its toll on some franchises.

To be continued in Part 3.

If you missed part 1 of the series make sure to check it out right here.

Igor The Goose

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