Welcome to Tom’s Halloween Extravaganza!
It's time for everyone’s favourite pagan festival. No, not Christmas you silly berk, Halloween. Yes it’s that time of the year where women around the globe dress to charm a rapist and children enjoy the spooky stories of old. As for me (like most nights) I’m going to spend it drinking myself to a state of total vacancy. However, before I do that I thought I should make a list (seeing as how the survival horror genre is my favourite category of game) of the three best and worst survival horror games.
Number 3 Worst:
Dead Space 2
When I think of pant wetting fear, I certainly don’t think of an over powered space marine with a massive array of weapons, a bloody generic personality and a radiator for a face. When Dead Space 2 came out last year I wasn’t one of ‘those people’ who ran to the shops cash in hand, turned on by the thought of buying the sequel to Dead Space. After a few months, when it came down to a Gentleman’s price, I bought Dead Space 2 not really expecting much. However, the beginning was incredibly tense and, honestly, kicked things off with a great story. Isaac has ended up in the mad house as a result of not saving what's-her-name from the last game. The opening scene, when you’re wearing a straitjacket, running for your life as the space station complex has been compromised (putting it politely) was the one time in the game that I felt any sense of distress. After that, Isaac glues said radiator to his face, grabs an arsenal worthy of a small army and says a fleeting goodbye to the brief sense of trepidation that the game had to offer.
The combat is still as ridiculous as it was the first time around; all you seem to do is storm into rooms full of Necromorphs and gun them down, and the saw gun is still preposterously over-powered. Now, the reason I’ve put Dead Space 2 on the list (rather than its predecessor) is because Dead Space, while containing many of the same issues, was at least a decent first attempt. But there's still a huge difference between atmospheric pacing and just startling the played. A loud noise is a loud noise. If a cute ’n’ cuddly wide-eyed puppy burst out of the wall you'd still be startled, but it doesn't make it horror. This is Dead Space's main problem.
Number 3 Best:
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent comes to us via a little bitty development team called Frictional Games, who actually only seem to make horror and puzzle-based first person games, but hey-ho stick to what you know. The setting is London, circa 1839, and your character Daniel wakes up to find he’s got a hilarious voice and, of course, amnesia. You also find that before you contracted this storytelling cliché you wrote a series of letters to yourself telling you to kill some chap. So the set-up isn’t amazing, but it's easy enough to brush that aside one you get into the nitty gritty of the game. One great thing that Frictional Games seem to just 'get' is that repetition is to horror what skinny jeans are to health blood circulation. Consequently, you barely see the terrors of the night and mostly hear their screams of anguish. This (as well as spending time in the dark) depletes your sanity meter. Yes, much like Eternal Darkness you have a sanity meter which is, I must admit, not perfectly implemented (for example, in Eternal Darkness when you start to lose your mind, bizarre stuff starts to happen like your head suddenly plopping off, whereas in Amnesia the screen gets a little blurry like someone’s sneezed in your face).
Controlling Daniel is simple enough. So too are the puzzles. And the game, unfortunately, just a short series of extremely linear levels. But there's a certain joy to be derived from silently tiptoeing though Amnesia’s world. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, despite its blunders, is a superb horror experience and honestly outranks most of its blockbuster rivals that litter the shelves today.
Number 2 Worst:
It honestly depresses me when developers actually create an interesting and unique idea but cock it up so badly that I swear to God they have a strange phobia to success. The plot as a whole would have been an interesting take on the survival horror genre, but was mishandled to a terrible degree. You play through six chapters which revolve around getting a young girl called Amy out of harm’s way whilst the underlying story gradually reveals itself. While having a plot that is both mysterious and confusing is wonderful, the end result was an absolute mess.
Matters are made much worse by the game's abandonment of anything resembling a control scheme; apparently VectorCell decided to throw that out of the window in favour of having to guide Amy to a frustrating degree. You can’t move too far away from Amy otherwise you'll become 'infected', and apparently Amy herself is the only cure. Thus the way is paved for the main premise behind every time-related puzzle in the game.
The bottom line is AMY is not scary, not enjoyable, and not worth your time or your money. You’ll spend the majority of your time cursing at the screen because Lana (the protagonist) has gotten stuck in yet another doorway, or Amy has stopped following you because she would rather be beaten to death. Oh joy.
Number 2 Best :
Project Zero, or Fatal Frame (to use its non-European name), came out for the PlayStation 2 in 2001 and has a pretty horrible concept. You play as Miku Hinasaki, who is searching for her brother who's been missing for two weeks after exploring the Himuro Mansion. Once you and your ridiculously erotic schoolgirl outfit find the mansion you notice that: One, the place is a bloody pig-sty. And two, your brother is nowhere to be found. After a little searching you find an old camera, which is lucky since the mansion is filled with ghosts and this is a perfect weapon to use against them. You see, ghosts are like teenage girls at a family outing - they hate having their picture taken. You basically keep snapping shots until their life bars reach zero, and they let out a blood-curdling scream (which will possibly mirror your own when you see them).
Unfortunately, there are some downsides. First of all, all of the puzzles are the same, and take the form of simple match-the-numbers-in-the-correct-sequence games. However, the numbers are all written in Japanese, so it's easier said than done. But, much like Silent Hill 2, the game itself is so enjoyable that these flaws (which include poor, tank-like controls) fail to get in the way.
The reason Project Zero has made the list is because it succeeds in achieving the most basic thing a survival horror game should do, and that’s actually scare the player. You find, as you creep from room to room, that even the sound of your own footsteps frightens you. So stop playing Dishonored and give this a try; it’s only about three quid now.
Number 1 Worst:
If I could list most of the games I’ve played in recent years I would. I almost chose BioShock because I find it to be a boring, uninspired mess (and also because my housemates love it so much that they'll no doubt be arguing over who gets to dress as a little sister for Halloween). There was also the latest Silent Hill for the Vita, which was anything but Silent Hill. However, I've gone with FEAR 3, purely because I became so weary with it.
You play as the protagonist Point Man who, along with Paxton Fettle (who was killed in FEAR 1 and is now a ghost... with supernatural powers), have to find Alma and stop her child from being born. While not harping on about the graphics (which was the issue most people seem to have with the game), FEAR 3 is strongly co-op based, which was a strange choice for an otherwise single player franchise that's striving to be horror. There’s nothing chilling about a table flying across the room if you’re too distracted by your partner obliterating enemy soldiers to worry about it. And having access to a wide range of weapons and bullet time really starts to stomp on horror’s head.
Controlling Point Man and Mr Fettle are two very different beasts, and for the most part this is done quite well. Paxton is basically there to make the bullet time function obsolete, as he can possess any poor sod and control him like a walking meat target. Point Man's controls are largely unchanged, bar a new sliding kick which is oddly effective against almost every enemy in the game, so you could be forgiven for spending most of your time power-sliding across the floor.
But the main problem with FEAR 3, and the reason why it’s my number one worst horror game, is because it’s just not scary. The FEAR series has never had that sense of fear, ironically, and that is a bit of a problem when the developers are following every horror cliché in the book.
Number 1 Best:
Silent Hill 2
I promise that, after Halloween, I won’t mention Silent Hill 2 for at least an article or two, but yes, Silent Hill 2 my number one horror game. I’ve already argued that it has ‘unparalleled storytelling and pacing’, two things that are essential in videogames, especially horror ones, but allow me to flesh that out. The story starts with James Sunderland - our protagonist - receiving a letter from his wife Mary, who died three years ago (which would confuse even the brainiest of minds). James then ventures to Silent Hill, as instructed by his dead wife's letter.
After some searching of the foggy surroundings you'll encounter Maria, bears a strange resemblance to Mary, and it is here that the mind-bending begins. One of the reasons why Silent Hill 2 is such a good game is because it’s extremely immersive. The fact of walking alone through a misty town only to find creepy monsters or people who seem slightly off creates a strangely thrilling experience. Coupled with the fact that almost everything in this town reminds you of Mary is a perfect sense of pacing that makes you want to find out more. How did I get that letter? Why is everyone here mentally ill? Why does James have a Back Street Boys haircut? These question and many more are slowly answered in Silent Hill 2.
Yes, the controls are truly horrible (moving isn’t so much tank movement as it is walking with two cinder blocks attached to your feet). Also, the voice acting and dialogue aren’t what you'd call great, but the soundtrack honestly saves them both because it adds weight to the atmosphere, which is what really makes Silent Hill 2 great.
While the first Silent Hill was about some ridiculous cult, Silent Hill 2 mixed things up so that there had always been something odd about the town, and those who are unlucky enough to step into it are going to be forever traumatized by the experience... assuming they can get out alive.
Well that’s my list for this year. Goodbye from everyone here at Tom’s Halloween Extravaganza!