Suggested Audio Jukebox:
 Power-Pill “Pacman”
 Michiru Yamane “Dracula’s Castle”
 Jeff Danna “Promise”
 Was Not Was “Spy In The House of Love”
 Slipknot “My Plague”
 Iron Maiden “Can I Play With Madness”
Watching movies has been my number one pastime for as far back as I can remember. Should I be looking to be entertained, then placing myself in the hands of whatever film I have selected for 90+ minutes is a sure-fire way to pass the time and, dependent on my selection, a dash of learning isn’t entirely unthinkable either. I like music a great deal and have wildly varied tastes so there is plenty of fun to be had with that too. However, as a form of escapism, it is a decidedly poor second and cannot boast of engaging as many senses. However, playing games is an altogether different proposition and, while it is over three years since I hung up my joy pad for the last time, I have lost count of the amount of hours I have invested to being a gamer. For over a decade I ran an independent video game retailer and, for the entirety of that period, film had to be content with taking a back seat.
It’s hard to know exactly where my interest initially piqued although all signs seem to point to Pong. One of the earliest arcade video games, Pong was introduced while I was still one of six million sperms swimming around in my father’s nut sack and I was six-years-old before it got its hooks into me. By then it had made its transition from the arcades to home console, courtesy of our good friends at Atari and was proving something of a winner on this format. This two-dimensional sports game simulated table tennis and was controlled by paddles, which afforded vertical movement as you competed against either a CPU opponent or another human player. The goal was to attain eleven points and, while somewhat long in the tooth by today’s standards, back then it represented the absolute height of technology.
Videogames had my attention and frequent visits to my local arcade introduced me to all manner of other marvellous time wasters, all capable of relieving wide-eyed kids like myself of their pocket-money. Space Invaders was a dominant force, while Pac-Man always appealed to me more personally. Here the object was to navigate our ravenous yellow sprite around a close-quarters maze gobbling pellets, whilst attempting to remain one step ahead of a posse of particularly inhospitable ghosts. At all four corners were strategically placed power pills which, when consumed, turned the tide in Pac Man’s favor for a limited time and occasionally a piece of fruit would appear as an additional sweetener, thus affording one of his five-a-day. This time paddles were superfluous to requirements and a joystick provided us the power to run the gauntlet from these persistent spooks.
I couldn’t get enough of video games and it seemed that a new contender announced itself almost bi-weekly. Frogger was next on my to-do-list and also taught me about the perils of running across busy roads without the necessary care and attention. Making it to the safety of the lily pad in one piece was a perilous pursuit, made all the more thankless by rolling logs and cantankerous crocs en route. Fiendishly addictive, it almost always ended in tears and tread marks as the toad in question seemed unable to time his dash and cursed my poor control for sending him hopping to his doom. I was now a fully fledged gamer and it wasn’t long before I craved something more. It just so happened that my growing fascination coincided with the launch of dozens of increasingly complex challenges.
1985 saw the launch of Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and this was far more suited to my sensibilities than ushering amphibians across hectic freeways. It was also my very first side-scrolling platformer and one of the most challenging games I have ever played to this very day. However, the reason why it did a number on me was its horror theme as I had already expressed an interest in the macabre by this point and it catered for my needs exquisitely. The player controlled a valiant knight, Sir Arthur, and was charged with rescuing the elusive Princess Prin Prin from the treacherous grasp of Beelzebub himself. Of course, Satan’s little helpers had no intention of making this quest easy and were littered throughout each level in an attempt to halt your progress. Zombies would burst through the top soil unannounced, winged beasts hover with intent to maim and kill, and all manner of other desirables were on hand to strip our knight of his sovereignty, quite literally.
Tooled up with a shiny suit of armor and any weapons strewn throughout each level, he was certainly valiant but also somewhat up against it. You see, the enemies had a tendency to relieve him of his chain mail, leaving our poor nobleman to battle the incessant hell spawn in nothing more than his boxer shorts. Thankfully, he wore his very best pair and, should he ever reach his beloved princess in tact, then celebratory sex was only a thin layer of cotton away. Alas, making it that far was no walk in the park and the game over screen was only ever one ill-informed movement away. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins was the very epitome of hard as nails and Capcom relieved me of more silver coinage than should have been considered kosher. However, I was nothing if not a sucker for punishment and also a shameless exhibitionist so Sir Arthur provided on both counts.
By the late eighties, I announced myself Nintendo’s bitch as Super Mario Bros. afforded me the chance to engage in a similar quest from the comfort of my own home. I was already familiar with the Japanese super power, courtesy of their handheld game and watch console and had whiled away multiple hours attempting to dodge barrels hurled in my path by the mischievous ape, Donkey Kong. However, this proposed a different challenge entirely and, lo-and-behold, it all boiled down to saving a fair maiden from the evil clutches of a tyrannical overlord. Fucking princesses were becoming the bane of my existence and I had half a mind to let Bowser have his way with her and simply request a hand job from my brother Luigi instead. That said, Nintendo were masters at afflicting the player with one more try syndrome and the chirpy sound bites and garish color scheme eventually wore me down.
Of course, with Mario making himself a household name, it wasn’t long before another player entered the fray and fierce rival Sega provided the competition courtesy of a spiny mammal on amphetamines. Sonic The Hedgehog was something of a speed freak and also a self-confessed jewellery nut. While his Italian plumber counterpart was saving up his small fortune in coins, Sonic had a thing for gold rings and amassed as many as he could cram into his cheeks as he dashed full pelt across increasingly precarious landscapes. Regrettably, careful planning was never his strong point and, should he spin straight into a set of strategically placed spikes, then it was back to the drawing board once again. Granted, the rush of adrenaline he provided was somewhat moreish but I knew which camp I belonged to and grew weary of his exploits in no time. Mario, on the other hand, was a far more thoughtful protagonist and won me over with the ‘tache.
The NES Entertainment System was a far more mouth-watering proposition and there was never any shortage of software to keep things fresh. Of course, nothing quite measured up to Mario and, while Megaman appealed to my trigger happy sensibilities, the challenge was a little too all-encompassing for a casual gamer like myself. That said, Konami did something of a number of me as they commenced their Castlevania series and catered for my horror needs exquisitely. Simon Belmont was the hero and his opposite number was none other than the great Count Dracula. Armed with his devastating whip, Belmont traversed Dracula’s castle, battling numerous enemies based on some of the most heinous monsters from classic horror folklore. Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, Medusa and even the Grim Reaper populated his lair and Konami’s action-platformer was an ever-present cartridge in my 8-bit console.
Splatterhouse was another winner, this time under Sega’s umbrella, and Namco’s side-scrolling beat-em-up boasted the tagline “The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children… and cowards” as an additional bargaining tool. Players assumed the role of Rick, a parapsychology student tasked with navigating a mansion chock-full with grisly ghouls and rescuing his girlfriend Jennifer from a fate most unpleasant. On the plus side, he’d recently been resurrected by a “Terror Mask” which left him more than vaguely resembling one particular slasher icon from the eighties and similarly handy with a machete. While primarily a brawler, Splatterhouse went a fair way to convincing us that horror had a home on our consoles and, in 2010, spawned a shamefully entertaining low-key remake.
I was left hankering after more of the same and, when I heard that Friday The 13th itself was due to be given the pixel treatment, the opportunity seemed far too good to pass up. The premise was positively loaded with potential as it pitted the player against Jason Voorhees in his favorite stomping ground, Camp Crystal Lake. Moreover, you played one of six counsellors and was responsible for ensuring the safe passage of as many of them as possible as the game progressed. This game appeared to have been designed solely for me and I saved up furiously to add it to my meager collection. Alas, while there was a certain degree of tension in navigating the map and attempting to remain one step ahead of the hulking juggernaut in question, Friday the 13th was fairly insipid and is commonly regarded as one of the lousiest games ever to see the light of day on the NES. My fingers had been burned and my interest in games waned further as I was introduced to mind-altering narcotics and traded my joystick for a weekly fix of LSD and the whole world became a garish kingdom ripe for the exploration.
Indeed, it was a number of years before my appetite for videogames returned and, while hallucinogenics and the Super Nintendo were a rather potent combination, any outings became increasingly infrequent. That was until Sony released their hugely popular 32-bit PlayStation console and Capcom diverted my attention once again. Technology had advanced significantly during the interim and side-scrolling platformers were now replaced by pseudo-3D survival horror numbers. Resident Evil had me at “I hope this isn’t Chris’s blood” and its pre-rendered backdrops were far more optically agreeable than anything I had witnessed previously. While freedom to operate was limited by locked doors and dead ends, the adventure aspect had he hook, line and sinker and infrequent save rooms provided the opportunity for snail-paced progress as I explored this lavish mansion to the hilt. Enemies were varied, from shuffling zombies, to plagued dogs, and terrifying bosses who showed up when you least expected it. This was the breath of putrid air that I had been waiting for and Resident Evil became a mainstay for around the week it took to topple the nefarious Tyrant and reach that evac point.
Meanwhile, Konami were also at it again and Castlevania: Symphony of The Night saw an evolution of the age-old side-scroller by supplying an intricately designed castle to navigate however we saw fit. However, while backtracking in Resident Evil was often a laborious exercise, doing so here would pit you against respawning enemies all attempting to whittle down your defences. More critically, you were rewarded with regular level ups and encouraged to explore every nook and cranny as the walls were packed with relics and other suchlike bonuses. If that wasn’t reason enough to salivate, then defeating evil eye himself in the correct manner presented an altogether tougher challenge by way of an inverted lay-out, making a mockery of 100% completion by challenging that we double that tally. In the history of videogames, this is my personal darling as the design is so meticulous and it literally turns on its head just as you are preparing to wind down and soak up the bragging rights. Utter genius.
While Konami may have broken the mould with Castlevania: Symphony of The Night, they were back at the pottery wheel again soon afterwards and, if ever a game was fashioned for my eyes only, then Silent Hill would be that game. Resident Evil seemed to have the whole survival horror theme licked but, strip away the deadbeats, and it was primarily an action-orientated affair. This couldn’t have been farther than the case with Silent Hill as the playable character, Harry Mason, was far from of mercenary standard. Essentially just your everyday schmuck, Harry was thrown into a nightmarish world that made an absolute mockery of the mansion. The town of Silent Hill offered something of a sandbox to traverse and hapless Harry was required to mooch around the low-hanging mist in search of his missing daughter Cheryl, fighting off some decidedly inhospitable stragglers with whatever bludgeoning tool he could get his hands on.
When push came to shove, as it invariably did at frequent intervals, he was hardly what you would call combat ready. Swinging a lead pipe frantically as winged nasties swooped down all around him was made all the more troublesome by his rigid movements and slow reaction speed, while any firearms he happened across were considered plush if they possessed more than three bullets. Needless to say, his aim was for shit too. However, what made Silent Hill such a landmark game in my opinion was the transformation it undertook once those wretched sirens sounded. Suddenly, this already decidedly unwelcoming municipality morphed into what could best be described as hell’s cauldron and the once deserted school provided a lesson in involuntary bowel movement. The very walls stripped away to reveal a chamber of torture so mortifying that I was tempted to chalk Cheryl’s disappearance down to experience and leave my beloved offspring to rot.
Meanwhile, the enemies were way beyond a makeover and, while I’ve always been reasonably fond of infants, they’re a darned sight less endearing with their epidermis subtracted. Silent Hill appealed to my darkest side and, while perhaps not as accomplished a game as Resident Evil pound-for-pound, was as far up my street as anything I had ever been subjected to. It also opened the floodgates for numerous other horror-themed efforts, each more macabre than the last. The PlayStation 2 upped the ante with its increased processing prowess and Sega also got in on the act with the technologically superior but woefully under-performing Dreamcast console. Survival horror was commonplace now and both the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series’ continued to flourish, while numerous pretenders to its throne fell by the wayside. However, there were a few exceptions to the rule and our next subject snagged itself a fair following by daring to take an altogether different approach.
Project Zero, or Fatal Frame as it was known in its native country, did away with weaponry entirely in favor of a solitary camera and was all the more disheartening as a result. Koei Tecmo’s nightmare maker pitted the player against all manner of undesirable specters and the only available defense was to catch them in the crosshairs and snap their mug shots. Resource management was just as critical to your progress as dwindling film left you with nothing more than strong language to fend off these ghouls. The long-running series first appeared in 2001 and, any horror aficionados amongst us, will attest that hellish imagery was something the Japanese had down to pat at this point making the location far less than hospitable. Suddenly the shamefully ill-prepared Harry Mason appeared tooled up to the eyeballs as there were no lead pipes on hand here to swing pathetically.
Sony also brought us Forbidden Siren soon afterwards and boasted a particularly intriguing concept as it afforded its player with the ability to sightjack. On paper, this sounded like a formidable mental tool as it enabled the player to see and hear any enemies in the vicinity by temporarily assuming the form of the enemy. This would prevent any sneak attacks and keep them one step ahead of the game over screen right? In theory yes but there was just a single catch to this enlightenment. While playing voyeur, the protagonist was rendered immobile, leaving them completely vulnerable to attack. Sometimes ignorance is bliss and, considering the kill seeking Shibito equated to our very worst nightmares incarnate, momentarily insight came at a distinct price. Forbidden Siren took a refreshingly brave approach to the genre and was the kind of game that simply begged to be played nocturnally.
Let’s not forget Clock Tower, Human Entertainment’s flawed but fascinating point-and-click adventure which struggled to make a name for itself outside Japan. Granted, this was reasonably lifeless for the most part and involved engaging in some particularly mundane on-rails detective work as the player attempted to solve the mystery by way of an on-screen cursor. However, just as our vital signs were in danger of fading, it played its only trump card and encouraged us to stick around. Particular actions would trigger the appearance of Scissorman and, if ever a villain lived up to his name, then this mortifying menace did precisely what it said on the tin. Wielding a pair of shears almost too enormous for the poor fellow to shoulder without his knees buckling, he made it his number one priority pursuing you through abandoned offices, blades snipping at your heels the whole time. If he made it into your personal space then “panic time” played out and involved mashing the buttons furiously before he cut you down to size. Hiding appeared to be the best option and was no less fretful an endeavor as it involved praying for dear life that he couldn’t spot your feet beneath the cubicle door. Clock Tower was far from great but, considering my love for Tony Maylam’s The Burning, it got by on Scissorman’s charm alone.
As the noughties marched on regardless, Playstation 2 lost much of its appeal and Microsoft converted me to their way of thinking. In late 2005, the XBox made an appearance and one of its launch titles in particular made an instant impression on this sick puppy. Monolith Productions presented us with Condemned: Criminal Origins, a first-person psychological survival horror game which requested we play detective. Sniffing around crime scenes for hidden clues using state-of-the-art gadgets to gather evidence, the game sprung to life when the enemies closed in. Firearms were present although ammunition was decidedly scarse and most of the combat boiled down to last-gasp melee. This is where Condemned flourished as it forced you to improvise using weapons gathered from the environments, including pipes, shovels, and 2×4. Alas, quality depreciation was a constant concern as the moment you swiped a bloodthirsty vagabond with a plank of wood, only to watch it shatter on impact, was one to suggest a rapid rethink.
I recall one level in particular as it placed us in a rundown apartment store after dark and surrounded us with inanimate mannequins. I say inanimate when we already knew this was bound to change and each shuffle was pre-loaded with consternation. It drew out the scenario superbly, biding its time before unleashing its plastic tormentors and jumping at shadows became the norm in this time. Let me just say this, Kim Cattrall was nowhere to be seen. With nerves now soundly fraying, we were captured and subjected to a spot of first-person torture. Having nails plunged into our palms was a rather ominous pleasure and our perspective guaranteed that we felt every last agonizing blow. It was a grimy affair, bereft of anything other than burgeoning dread, but it took its cues from a game that appeared two-years previous and placed similar emphasis on dodging those deviants.
Rockstar North’s Manhunt caused considerable controversy as the brutal violence was deemed reprehensible by the media. Banned in several countries and implicated in real-life murders, it pitted us up against the meanest-spirited degenerates ever injected with AI (with disease ridden syringes I might add) and suggested the shadows were the best place to launch our attacks. Manhunt was all about the stealth, to the point where being rumbled left us little more than moles for the whacking. Should we play things smart and use each darkened recess to spring from unannounced, then we were treated to the opportunity to suffocate these slags with plastic bags or find some other method of hasty execution to exploit. Aside from the visceral thrill of the kill, the questionable joy came from listening to each goon as they minced around yards from your coordinates, reminding you that they what their game plan was once they located you. If you were expecting a quick game of rummy then you were sorely mistaken.
Speaking of stealth, the most harrowing experience I ever had in gaming derived from the most unforeseen source imaginable. Ubisoft Shanghai’s espionage spy thriller Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow was Tom Clancy’s brainchild and couldn’t have been farther than your conventional horror fare. In single player, it was never less than tense, but the kicker was in system link multiplayer. Spy vs. Merc was a two-player skirmish that pitted one against the other and provided a completely different tool set for both. The spy’s only attack was of the sneak variety, while the Merc had flashlight and firepower at their disposal to flush out and promptly perforate any cowering undesirables. The objective was clear, hack a number of terminals in as low-key a manner as feasible, while the opponent attempts to protect their assets. To add a dash more danger to the spy’s radar, cunning tracking devices and explosive traps could be mischievously placed wherever the Merc saw fit, while roving security cameras were an another headache entirely.
To me, this mode was the closest I have felt to assuming the role in a slasher. While mercs were provided with assault rifles and fragmentation grenades, I was all about playing spy as the fear factor was cranked up to thirteen. Laying low in a cramped air vent, presuming yourself to be undetected, only to discover that you triggered a spy trap moments earlier, and being smoked out then riddled with shrapnel, was a heart stopping scenario indeed. Meanwhile, no less mortifying was the Merc’s fretful position of standing there with chest puffed out, feeling like the shit as you prepare to obliterate your adversary, only to be snuck up on from behind and throttled to your eternal cradle. You want horror in a videogame? This was the all-giving apex of the most abject variety. Things hotted up further with its sequel Chaos Theory allowing for another player to enter the fray but, for me, one-on-one was the true mindkiller. A well-plotted round of Spy vs. Merc would average at over an hour in duration. That’s rather a protracted period to clench that bowel.
Survival horror continued to flourish as Resident Evil 4 pushed the boundaries with arguably the series’ crowning achievement. Gone were the customary shuffling zombies and, in their place, a whole village load of embittered residents and chainsaw-wielding bagheads, none of which took kindly to your attendance. Each location was less welcoming than the last and often it was a case of barracading yourself into fretfully close-quarters as the onslaught became too overbearing. Then, just as you suspected you may have weathered the storm and peeked your head out, something revved up and relinquished said head from your inventory, decorating the words “You Died” with the sight of your decapitated cadaver slumping into the pool of gushing grue from your exposed windpipe. Resident Evil 4 was exceptional in the extreme and breathed fresh life into an ailing genre single-handedly. Suddenly, the flood gates were open once more.
Capcom also had other tricks up their blood-drenched sleeves and, with the zombie apocalypse infecting our screens worldwide, decided to have some fun with the formula and play things tongue in cheek. Dead Rising wasn’t like your conventional survival horror and took just as many pointers from open world numbers such as Grand Theft Auto as it did Resident Evil. Assuming the role of photojournalist Frank West, we were holed up in the one locale we knew full well was a hive of activity for the undead – the shopping mall. We weren’t alone as survivors were scattered everywhere and it was our responsibility to chaperone them back to the safe confines of the security office before they ended up hors d’oeuvre. Thankfully, Frank was a resourceful chap and weapons were liberally sprinkled around the mall to assist with the overwhelming odds. Indeed, by the time the sequel arrived, he had brushed up on his carpentry skills and was able to combine attack items. From spiked bats, to paddlesaws, and the glorious Dynameat (which consisted of a stick of dynamite duct taped to a slab of mutton), stepping into Frank’s size elevens was a hootenanny waiting to happen.
Even the once unfashionable Electronic Arts came good in 2008 when Dead Space relocated the action to the great ocean of emptiness and placed us on lockdown with some particularly fiendish intergalactic aggravators. Isaac Clarke may have been a lowly systems engineer but he sure was handy in a fix. That said, for all his combat prowess, the odds were still stacked worrying out of his favor, thanks to reanimated alien scourge named Necromorphs. With far more many limbs than they knew what to do with, these mutated monstrosities were a constant threat to our colons and we all know what good screaming in space does you. However, it wasn’t all bad as, with all these flailing tendrils, came infinite possibility for chop suey carnage. By pinpointing individual limbs, Isaac could remove them from their root, and this provided a gloriously gratifying upside. Any sense of achievement was short-lived as their sheer wealth in numbers led to many a group hug. By the time Dead Space 2 docked, these festering fucks had told their mates and it kicked off to the power of two.
I cannot mention space without gifting a massive tip of the Crimson Quill to Looking Glass Studio for their interstellar first-person role-player, System Shock 2. While many will not be familiar due to its PC origins, the name BioShock may ring some bells and this was its spiritual successor. Set aboard a starship, it provided the player with psionic abilities and an expansive skill set, then laughed in their faces by introducing its own exclusive brand of genetically tampered misfits and dribblers. Widely regarded as one of the finest games of all time, System Shock 2 was a constant drain on the player’s mental endurance and its contorted carnival freaks made frequent guest appearances in my nightmares for months after completion.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem by Silicon Knights lived up to its title by suggesting that the hinges of its pilot were slackening. Spanning numerous time periods, it offered conundrum-based shenanigans and decked its halls with threatful warlocks at every turn. However, this wasn’t even the half of it. You see, just as things began to feel as though they couldn’t have gotten any weirder, the software would play tricks on our minds, leaving us unable to decipher our ups from downs and, at one point, suggesting that the game had crashed. It was all a ruse of course, a cunning ploy to strap us into our straitjackets and it worked a treat as I felt my own sanity slipping increasingly throughout. Grossly overlooked on account of appearing on Nintendo’s floundering Game Cube console, Eternal Darkness was nonetheless something of a designer original.
I feel obliged to give a quick wave to Alan Wake before we power down our consoles as Remedy Entertainment were also courageous enough to think outside of the box when inviting us to Bright Falls. This episodic number had a Twin Peaks feel to it and was perhaps most notable for its smart narrative but stood out from the crowd for another reason also. While Alan was able to rely on firepower to a point, his flashlight was just as necessary to making progress as the darkness played host to dogged ghouls whose only discernible weakness was light, something never in any great abundance. Once that battery light flashed, it was time for Alan to run and slow-motion dodge for dear life as he frantically searched for replacements. Again, twisted reality played a significant part and our beleaguered lead berated ever choosing Bright Falls for his holiday destination.
The above are just a few of the horror-themed games that resonated with me personally but there were plenty of others that could just as effortlessly been included. Alas, I can no longer feel my fingers and, thus, we’ll have to settle for a closing gallery comprising some of these wondrous also-rans. It is also worth noting that it is almost three years since I last picked up a controller so modern fear fests such as Alien Isolation, The Evil Within, Dying Light and the massively appealing Until Dawn are regrettably out of my jurisdiction. Film will always be my bread and butter and, while playing games has provided countless hours of distraction, it will have to be content with playing second fiddle. However, as a self-confessed horror nut, there are few more involving propositions than having my wits relinquished in this most personal of manners. And to think it all started with a bat and ball.