Release - November 1996
Purchase - PSN, Amazon.com
"I didn't care if I was in heaven or hell. All I wanted was to kill my assassins."
The Legacy of Kain series came at a time when few games outside of AD&D allowed a character to play as a villain. The "protagonist" of Blood Omen, the vampire Kain, is undoubtedly one of the darkest main characters in video games. A nobleman slaughtered and "gifted" with vampirism, Kain hunts down his assassins and, at the behest of his mysterious benefactor, accepts a quest to assassinate the corrupted Circle of Nine. Their defeat may restore the land, but Kain's only interest is curing his vampirism and returning to some sense of normalcy.
format, but taken in a dark direction. Kain acquires various abilities one might expect of a vampire, such as transformations and magic spells, which certain puzzles require to solve. What makes it stand out is certainly the dark atmosphere and the amount of blood that bathes the screen. One of the first images we see in the intro are bodies impaled on stakes, evoking the legend of Vlad Tepes.
This is another game where I feel a lot of credit goes to the sound design. The music is beautifully atmospheric, offering a number of different instruments from vocalization to what sounds like a panflute. This is one of the few PlayStation games that features voice acting, and Simon Templeman's performance as Kain is incredibly memorable for all the right reasons, as he really sells Kain's charisma without sacrificing his dark, selfish nature.
The game's ending allows a choice between sacrificing Kain's vampirism (thus killing himself) to purify the land, or remaining alive and holding onto the curse, dooming the land for eternity. The canon choice is to doom the land. Now that is a badass.
Release - December 10, 1993
Purchase - Steam, Xbox Live
Finally, a game I don't have to say anything about! But there's still a lot to say about it. id Software's second entry into the 3D first-person-shooter genre is among the most well-known and controversial games ever produced, and most of those reasons fit right in with our horror showcase - gore, monsters, and a chainsaw. "I'm the Lord of the Harvest!"
For its time, Doom had some incredible lighting and sound effects that gave it a seriously haunting atmosphere. Lights flicker or shut off completely, so in many places you can't see what's coming at you until you find a light switch. Occasionally, you'll run into traps which shut off the lights and send dozens of monsters after you. Awesome. Often you'll hear something barking at you from behind before you knew anything was there. These touches are what make a bunch of 2D sprites with glowing eyes legitimately scary.
Keeping your adrenaline going through this experience is one of the most recognizable soundtracks in video games. Composed by Robert "Bobby" Prince, who took "make this soundtrack sound like these artists" a little too literally, the sountrack borrows themes from awesome songs like "Behind the Crooked Cross" by Slayer and Metallica's "The Thing that Should Not Be". Though there's no official list of sources, the Doom Wiki has a whole page about it. Most games in the horror genre rely on creepy, atmospheric music, but Doom's relentless metal is both empowering and intimidating, making the experience a fairly unique one. Because the soundtrack was coded for MIDI, it uses completely different instruments on different machines, so some versions sound better than others. My personal favorite is the SoundBlaster AWE32, though the 3DO comes close and the SNES port is pretty good, too.
|I've gone and spoiled the ending!|
I'd still highly recommend Doom to anyone, and if you've already played it to death or think it looks too dated, check out the Doomsday Engine and high resolution texture packs (dengine.net) to bring new life into the game. Also check out id's other offerings Hexen, Heretic, and Quake.
Release - March 29, 1998
Purchase - PSN, Amazon.com
Despite a few good titles, FMV games left a bad taste in everyone's mouths regarding the whole movie versus game debate. Games are meant to be played; movies are meant to be watched. Parasite Eve was one of the few games to embrace cutscenes as a pervasive means of storytelling while including great levels of depth and gameplay, touting itself as a "cinematic experience". Thanks to some excellent writing, beautiful imagery, solid action-RPG gameplay and a haunting soundtrack by Shimomura Yoko, it manages to pull off the blend we now take for granted.
If you've played Brave Fencer Musashi, you'll be glad to know this is one of the majority of Square's games that has no voice acting, and given games like Resident Evil where the horrible voice acting takes too much away from the horror elements, it's a welcome silence. Appropriately, the only voice we hear is Eve's, as she possesses a young opera singer's body. The operatic vocalization pervades the soundtrack whenever Eve is on screen, particularly during battle sequences, and the effect is incredibly eerie. Shimomura's music perfectly complements the tone of the game, and the piano pieces are breathtaking.
Parasite Eve was followed by Parasite Eve II, which took the character and story in a completely new direction that didn't quite catch on as well as the first. Compounded by a more Resident Evil-like control style and overstating Aya Brea's sex appeal, it feels like a totally different game, but still a good bit of fun.
Release - November 19, 1998
Purchase - Steam
Welcome to Black Mesa. Doom spawned sequels, successors, and countless user-generated mods, so much so that the formula was getting predictable and fairly tired. In 1994, Origin Systems released System Shock, which took the familiar first-person interface being used in the Ultima series and introduced it to a Doom-like cyberpunk universe, creating a game that was both first-person action and full of puzzle-based gameplay, with a heavier emphasis on puzzle-solving.
Valve's Half-Life represented a more complete symbiosis of the two ideas. Armed with only an HEV suit, a crowbar and sharp wits, theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman must fight his way out of the Black Mesa Research Facility after an experiment creates an interdimensional portal, allowing an aggressive alien species called the Xen into the facility. While combat is emphasized, advancing often requires solving puzzles, like using scientists to activate retinal scanners and using environmental objects to clear obstacles.
Half-Life has several add-ons and fan-created mods which add different perspectives to the experience. In June of 2004, Steam released an updated version of Half-Life using the Source Engine of its sequel, showing this game is worth keeping around.
Release - March 22, 1996
Purchase - PSN, Amazon.com
Before choosing to include this, I thought: "Don't open that door!" "Zombies in a mansion" is how I once summarized this Capcom classic, and with that attitude in mind, I hated it. Zombies aren't scary, they're just obnoxious. If the game allowed you to kick, half of the enemies would be no problem at all.
The plot is definitely the strong point of the game. A team of special police investigating a series of cannibalistic murders goes missing, and a backup team is sent to recover them. When they find the scene they are attacked by wild dogs, their pilot abandons them and they're forced to seek refuge in a nearby mansion. They are quickly separated, and investigating the mansion reveals it to be the testing ground of a virus that turns human beings into zombies. As with Parasite Eve, there's a scientific approach to the horror aspect, though the use of viruses makes it a bit more generic.
Unfortunately, Resident Evil has come to be characterized by its many flaws. The control scheme is horrendous, using the same tank-like system that crippled early 3D exploration games like Alone in the Dark. Characters can only shoot/stab at 45 degree angles, leaving a wide range in front of them they can't hit, and headshots are only possible at extremely close range. Thanks to these and limited ammo, a smart player will generally avoid combat altogether, but the few enemies you have to fight (like the zombie dogs and crows) are a pain in the ass to hit.
The voice acting is legendary for its poor quality. It's as if the director asked the actors to deliver their lines in the same tone they would order at a fast food window. It might fall into the category of "so bad it's good" for some gamers, but for the rest, there's a remake, or you could consider learning Japanese and play the original Biohazard. The localization did not take itself very seriously.
There's a slew of sequels, spinoffs, remakes and films for this series, but I prefer the simplicity of the first few games. The first three feel like a trilogy; the rest feel like milking a franchise.
I hope you enjoyed this top ten list! Come back soon for a third installment of honorable (and not so honorable) mentions for games that didn't quite make the top ten for one reason or another. Happy Halloween!