The Video Game Critic's
Halloween Review Special
The Critic's "Fright Factor" ratings:Ain't no thing but a chicken wing.
What was that noise? Did you hear something out back?
Okay, this game is starting to give me the creeps.
This is getting intense. Could somebody please hit the lights?
This game will scare the living [expletive] out of you.
Unbearable. Why would you even do this to yourself?!
Dark Seed (Cyberdreams 1993) C-
Here's an interesting PC title that somehow migrated to the Saturn - in Japan! Fortunately this import is highly playable thanks to its simple controls and English voiceovers. Dark Seed is a point-and-click adventure - something you never see anymore. You control a digitized guy named Mike living in a mysterious old mansion who finds himself experiencing dreams both supernatural and extraterrestrial in nature. The nightmares are rendered in gory detail via some rather unsettling cut-scenes. In one, his head is split open by aliens and a substance is injected into his brain! Mike scales nicely as moves around his house and over to a nearby town and graveyard. I find it amusing how Mike is always speaking out loud when no one's around, stating the obvious like "this road seems strangely empty, andÉ unoccupied." Be sure to have Mike shower and take his medicine each morning, or else he'll complain non-stop about his splitting headaches ("My head feels like it's about to explode!") You make Mike walk by clicking an arrow, and you can toggle the cursor into a question mark (to investigate) or hand (to search). Moving it to the top of the screen displays your inventory, along with a floppy disk "save" icon. For the benefit of non-Japanese gamers, the buttons down the left side of the save screen are load, save, return to game, and exit. Sorry, I can't help you with the various text clues conveyed via books, notes, and newspaper clippings. You'll figure it out - especially if you have an FAQ on hand (wink wink). The best part of Dark Seed is its brooding storyline, which conveys a tale of an alternate dimension clearly inspired by the movie Aliens. The atmosphere becomes pretty intense thanks to the nicely-illustrated scenery, digitalized sounds, and surreal organ music. Sadly, some pretty big design flaws rain on the parade. Many critical objects, like a hair pin or glass shard are really hard to see. You sometimes need to examine an object multiple times to expose a critical clue. There are actions you need to take early in the game (like hide items) which make no sense (until later). Even when using a walk-through, Dark Seed is difficult to finish, so I can only recommend it to determined gamers with a lot of patience.
D (Acclaim 1995) B-
D is a bone-chilling, spine-tingling first-person adventure where you control a woman wandering around a huge mansion attempting to discover what happened to her father. This game is unique because it's played in real time, and it ends exactly after two hours after you start playing, unless you finish it, of course. You can't even pause or save your place, so make sure you have two hours free before you undertake this intense adventure. The plodding pace made me impatient at first, but I soon got caught up in the creepy atmosphere. D is effectively frightening and has some genuinely intense moments. Chilling sound effects and ominous music are used effectively, and the first person graphics, although somewhat grainy, are good enough to immerse you in this dark world. Movement is smooth but also very SLOW - slow enough to make retracing your steps feel tedious. Fortunately the puzzles tend to be straight forward, so you won't get stuck in any room for too long. Your character automatically moves toward vital objects, and there are no red herrings to be found. Unfortunately, by the time you get to disk 2, the slow movement and endless puzzles start to get tiresome. The replay value is gravely wounded by the fact that you can never skip the cinematics, which are often lengthy and annoying. But overall D is a spooky and worthwhile trip, at least the first time through.
House of the Dead, The (Sega 1998) B
As the first in a series of zombie-shooting light gun titles, House of the Dead delivers brain-splattering mayhem with branching routes and some of the worst dialogue ever recorded for a video game. Panned by critics when first released on the Saturn, House of the Dead is rough around the edges (literally) but easy to get into. As you are automatically guided around a huge mansion, all sorts of ugly ghouls pop up at every turn. The shooting is pretty much non-stop as the green blood flies and heads get blown off with extreme prejudice. You fire off-screen to reload, and it seems you need to almost constantly. Shooting boxes and barrels reveal health and power-ups, but they're usually only visible for a split second. The character models are chunky as hell, but it's the sloppy, pixilated scenery with unsightly seams and clipping problems (objects that don't overlap correctly) that make this game look so ugly. The degree of pixelation is alarming, and some of the chunky trees would look more at home in an Atari 2600 game! Considering it came out late in the system's lifecycle, you'd expect Sega to have done a better job. The graphics don't matter so much now, but when the Saturn was going head-to-head with the Playstation, a title like this could only hasten a system's demise. The accuracy of the gun is very good (no need to calibrate), but hardly precise enough to target the tiny weak spots on some of the bosses. Despite its flaws, I enjoy playing House of the Dead, especially since the changing paths make each play-through slightly different. After plowing through your limited continues you enter your initials on a high score screen (which is saved). House of the Dead has its share of issues, but if you can look past its rough exterior you're in for some good 'ole Halloween fun.
Corpse Killer: Graveyard Edition (Digital Pictures 1994) D+
This FMV (full-motion video) title is available on many platforms but I actually prefer this Saturn edition. Corpse Killer tries hard to be an interactive B-grade horror flick. You play the role of a soldier out to rescue three comrades held captive on a zombie-infested island. Veteran actor Vincent Schiavelli gives a terrific tongue-in-cheek performance as the mad scientist responsible for it all. The other actors include a helpful Rastafarian named Winston and an unintentionally hilarious blonde reporter named Julie. I was anxious to use my Saturn Stunner with this game - one of the most accurate light guns around. Imagine my dismay when I discovered this game offers no light gun support! Maybe Digital Pictures got so many complaints about the poor gun control in previous versions that they decided to ditch it altogether. Oh well, the game is still playable with a normal controller - and probably more accurate. The six buttons come in handy because you can fire different weapons without having to toggle between them. Corpse Killer boasts a generous amount of blood splattering as you spray bullets at zombies that float through the air. This "Graveyard Edition" contains some additional footage including a scene where Winston is attacked by zombies rising from graves. The cut-scenes are entertaining to watch at first, but you'll soon fall into the habit of hitting the right trigger to skip them. Corpse Killer is set in some great locations including a graveyard, fort, and beach, but the video quality is surprisingly mediocre. The video consumes the entire screen but the graininess and pixelation are extremely pronounced. Incoming projectiles like knives and grenades tend to blend in with the scenery. Still, I like how you can shoot special icons to replenish your health. The poorly written instruction booklet omits some critical information, like how aborting a mission gives you the opportunity to save your progress and access a mission select screen. It's hard to recommend Corpse Killer with a straight face, but FMV fans will find it amusing enough.
Mr. Bones (Sega 1996) A-
Mr. Bones is a collection of high quality mini-games sandwiched between some extremely impressive full motion video (FMV) clips. You control a skeleton named Mr. Bones who was formerly a blues musician. He is pursued by an army of skeletons under the spell of an evil wizard. The video clips that convey the storyline are the most impressive I've seen on the Saturn, seamlessly combining live actors and computer animation. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to FMV, but these clips held my attention. The levels themselves range from typical side scrolling mayhem to some of the most original concepts I've ever seen in a video game. Some of the more unique stages include playing a guitar (cool!), playing drums, telling jokes (seriously), gliding through a huge cathedral, fighting a skeletal T-Rex, and saving a village of little people from spiders (their high-pitched screams are hilarious). In most stages, hits will cause you to actually "lose" bones, forcing you to crawl around with no legs, or hop on your spine! Although no single level here could stand on its own, it's evident that a tremendous amount of thought and effort was put into each one. The graphics are sensational, and the sound effects and music are equally impressive. If Mr. Bones has a fault, it's the difficulty level. Just making it through the first level is entirely too hard. Also, the jumping control could be more responsive at times. But overall, Mr. Bones is an amazing piece of work.
Crypt Killer (Konami 1997) C-
This shallow light gun escapade lets you blast oncoming skeletons, zombies, and mummies in temples, caves, and swamps. I enjoyed Crypt Killer on my Playstation despite its less-than-optimal controls, and I hoped the Saturn version might address that shortcoming. Guess what? I was right! The targeting in this version is very good and you don't even need to adjust the brightness of your TV or calibrate the gun. What I did not anticipate however is the degraded graphic quality. The Playstation version was never much to look at in the first place, and this Saturn version seems to run at half the resolution! Yikes! The trees in the forest stage look absolutely horrendous with their blocky trunks and chunky leaves. When a skeleton pops up close to the camera, the excessive pixelation reaches Atari 2600 proportions. I'll be the first to tell you that graphics aren't everything, but they are something, and Crypt Killer is hard on the eyes. The gameplay is still moderately enjoyable, especially if you want to give your brain a rest. You can sit back and fire away as you're automatically guided through mummy-infested ruins, caves haunted by pirates, and canals well-stocked with green lizard men. Crypt Killer is fun but repetitive. In the winding staircase scene, you continuously shoot at the same place as mummies pour out from the edge of the screen. The difficulty is reasonable until you reach a boss. Assuming the forms of mythical creatures like a six-headed hydra, these things can take a lot of punishment. Crypt Killer won't win any awards, but its simple arcade charm makes it worthy of a quick romp. The Playstation version lacks good controls and the Saturn lacks decent graphics, so light gun fans will have to pick their poison.
Jersey Devil (Sony 1998) B-
1998 was a time when Playstation gamers were desperate for a free-roaming 3D platformer on par with Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996). I know because I was one of those gamers! Jersey Devil was one of the early attempts to fill the void, and it's a solid effort. There were other contenders with more expansive stages (Croc comes to mind) but during the Fall months Jersey Devil is your best option (trust me on this one). The game's distinctive Halloween theme is evident in its spooky environments, pumpkin-headed bosses, and mad scientist storyline. The star of the game is based on an actual creature that has been terrorizing southern New Jersey for over 100 years now (see Jersey Devil Wikipedia entry). Frankly, his depiction in this game is a little cheesy. I can't decide if he looks more like a kid in a purple superhero outfit or "the Noid" of Domino's Pizza fame. The stages are slightly creepy but mostly cartoonish, with enemies that include bats, mummies, cobras, apes, and giant spiders. There are a lot of free-floating platforms but the jump-and-glide controls are forgiving enough. The stages are short and sweet, which works in the game's favor. In 1998 gamers craved huge levels, but the modest-sized areas in this game prove more manageable and fun to explore. Collecting pumpkins to earn extra lives is addicting, and the sheer number of hidden items gives the game substantial replay value. The production values are high but Jersey Devil does suffer from many issues typical of early 3D titles. The stages tend to be confined and you'll often need to finagle with the camera (using the shoulder buttons) to get a sense of your surroundings. There are graphical glitches (like clipping problems) and the control scheme isn't particularly intuitive (jump and glide are separate buttons). The analog control works much better than the digital pad. The animated intro is a treat, but the sweeping orchestrated musical score seems inappropriate. You can save your progress between the stages. Overall I'd have to say that this game has aged surprisingly well. They don't make platformers like this anymore, and that's part of what makes Jersey Devil so appealing.
Clock Tower (Ascii 1997) B-
This cult classic is truly one of the most terrifying video games ever made. Playing Clock Tower is like watching an intense slasher film, with one heart-stopping sequence after the next. The villain is a short, ugly, limping monstrosity armed with a huge pair of scissors - that's right - SCISSORS (scared yet?). You can always tell he's coming by the clanking of his scissors, accompanied by some rather alarming music. You control multiple characters in Clock Tower, and spend a lot of time going from place to place, talking to people and gathering clues. Scrolling through the bad dialogue is admittedly tiresome, and I really wish they had used real audio for that. Clock Tower plays more like a PC adventure than a console game. An arrow cursor is used to move and examine items, and the PS mouse is also supported. Using the digital pad to move the cursor is clumsy at best. The real action occurs in "scenarios", which are frightening encounters with Scissorman. Typically you'll find yourself locked in a building or house with him, and you'll have to find a way to escape. Your heart will race as you dash from room to room, frantically searching for a way to subdue this slow but relentless fiend. There's even a "panic button" you can use to make a last-ditch effort to escape his clutches! Like any bad horror movie, the characters will do dumb things like go back inside a house after escaping. Likewise, the dialogue is predictable and often idiotic. Helen: "I'm going downstairs to have a nap. What are you going to do now, Harris?" Harris: "We'll all be going home soon." Helen: "Okay, well, no need to lock up then." The graphics do the job, but the people look rough and the animation is lacking. Scissorman looks quite intimidating though, and some of the gore is shocking. As chilling as Clock Tower is, the gameplay can also be frustrating. Sometimes you'll discover something useful like mace, but inexplicably won't be able to pick it up! At other times, the actions you need to take to defeat Scissorman seem to defy logic. But in terms of pure horror, Clock Tower stands as a classic.
Clock Tower 2 (Agetec 1998) B-
Here's a survival horror game with blocky graphics, laughable dialogue, and a storyline that will have you rolling your eyes. So why am I trembling with fear? You play as Alyssa Hale, a schoolgirl who's out for revenge after being buried alive. She's pursued by possessed beings, primarily a lunatic in a devil mask. Oh, and did I mention Alyssa has a split personality? Man, it sure is tough being a kid these days! Clock Tower 2 has an archaic point-and-click cursor interface that takes some getting used to. Most of the time you just move your arrow over everything in sight until it changes shape, indicating something you can examine. The rough, pixelated graphics make Alyssa look awful - her legs look like toothpicks! The monsters don't look bad though - they look pretty scary actually. Alyssa begins her journey locked in a house where her relatives have been brutally murdered and mutilated. Despite its mediocre graphics, Clock Tower 2 actually scared the heck out of me quite a few times. The sound effects and music alone are enough to freak you out. Sometime you'll be pursued from room to room until you find a good hiding spot. Get too close to a monster and you'll trigger "panic mode", forcing you to tap the square button like crazy to escape! One aspect I didn't care for was the whole split personality thing. You sometimes have to be a certain personality to perform different tasks, and it's a pain to switch between them. Clock Tower 2 boasts 13 (!) different endings, but are these really necessary? Do they really expect anyone to finish the game 13 times? Still, Clock Tower 2 succeeds despite its flaws. If you enjoyed the first game, you'll probably like this one too.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night (Konami 1997) A-
As one of the most celebrated Playstation games of all time, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night routinely appears on critic's top 10 lists. In the mid-1990's, Sony had an ill-advised policy that discouraged 2D games on their console, so it was quite a victory for gamers when Symphony was finally released. The production values of this macabre side-scroller are top-notch, with each room painstakingly detailed with gorgeous gothic architecture. Foes come in all shapes and sizes, from skeletons, to tiny hunchbacks, to huge mythological creatures. The floating puppets are downright disturbing! Symphony's lavishly orchestrated soundtrack is remarkable, and it plays a key role in the game's ominous atmosphere. The voice acting is somewhat over-the-top, but the sound effects are fantastic. Castlevania's intricate storyline can be confusing, especially if you're new to the series. Symphony inexplicably begins with a boss battle, followed by some of the most gratuitous exposition I've ever seen in a video game. Once it gains traction however, Symphony proves to be extremely fun and challenging. There are plenty of bosses but only a few strategically-placed save points. Like previous installments, you can strike candles to reveal hearts and power-ups. There are a good number of weapons, items, and relics, and being able to juggle them effectively is key. I especially like the weapon that "stops time", letting you hack away at paralyzed monsters. Syphony of the Night's castle is massive, and it's easy to get lost within its maze of platforms and corridors. But the challenge is relentless, and you'll never get bored.
Castlevania Chronicles (Konami 2001) C+
Once again Konami has brought Castlevania back to the Playstation, this time in the form of a late-80's Japanese PC title. Compared to Symphony of the Night, Chronicles is simpler and decidedly more old-school. There's no separate screen to juggle your items, and the sound effects are tinny, as you might expect from an old PC game. The graphics however are remarkably good, with high-resolution monsters and interesting background animations. The control is a little stiff, and there are a few annoyances including "instant death" falls and irritating bats. Even so, Castlevania fans will relish this long-lost gem. An interview with the game's producer is also included.
Crypt Killer (Konami 1997) C-
Critics shellacked this game, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Crypt Killer. I enjoy the simplicity of light gun shooters, and the occult/mythology theme is appealing. Crypt Killer's six stages whisk you through caves, temples, swamps, and forests as you blast monsters that pour out of the woodwork. You'll encounter gallivanting skeletons, flying gargoyles, and "Creature From the Black Lagoon" lizard-men. Skeletons toss daggers, mummies hurl toilet paper, and zombies toss bones they pull out of their own chests. The pixelated graphics are fairly awful, but certainly an improvement over the Saturn version (hard to believe, I know). Most of the creatures are rendered with scaling sprites which appear extra chunky up close. The only 3D creatures are giggling water monsters which are so irritating that they give polygons a bad name. Crypt Killer's scenery is varied, but it's also very angular and riddled with seams. The aiming controls are sketchy. Since the game is too old to support Namco's Guncon, you'll need to settle for an older model like Konami's Justifier. These guns aren't known their accuracy (especially near the edges), so you'll want to crank up the brightness on your TV and calibrate your gun before joining the fray. From what I've described so far, Crypt Killer sounds like the worst game ever, but it's actually a lot of fun! A disembodied head with crossed eyes appears periodically for no discernable reason, speaking hilariously bad dialog like "Do not be surprised. I am Galaza, the spirit of travel. I will join you on this adventure for a while." The shooting action is satisfying because the creatures tend to explode into nice meaty chunks. Keep an eye out for special power-ups and grenades. The game moves "on rails" but the camera swings wildly as monsters attack from every direction. Periodically you'll select between two paths by shooting doors secured by chains. The bosses assume the form of mythical creatures like Medusa, and they'll easily chew up most of your lives and continues. After the game you're prompted to enter initials, but since they're not saved, don't bother. Actually, hitting the "end" button on the lower corner of the screen is usually impossible. It's a bit of a mess, but Crypt Killer is still entertaining if you're in the mood for mindless shooting fun.
MediEvil (Sony 1998) A-
Clearly inspired by Ghouls and Ghosts (Genesis, 1989) and The Nightmare Before Christmas, MediEvil puts you in the role of a lanky, partially-decomposed knight. The first few graveyard levels are your standard hack-and-slash variety, but as the game progresses, you discover a nice variety of weapons, missions, and ghouls to hack up. The difficulty is fair, the humor is good, and the game becomes more entertaining as you progress. MediEvil's graphics are particularly interesting, especially in later levels where you explore a asylum and a pirate ship. Stick with MediEvil through its tedious early levels and you will be rewarded.
Nightmare Creatures (Activision 1997) B
I really enjoyed Nightmare Creatures, if only on the strength of its creepy atmosphere. This game is right up there with Resident Evil when it comes to creating a tense atmosphere straight out of an old horror movie. Its stages tend to be dark and foggy with old, decrepit buildings. Zombies rise from their graves and werewolves leap out of the darkness. There's plenty of fun to be had as you battle weird creatures and large bosses. Unfortunately, the frantic action is marred by an overly-complex control scheme which is condusive to mindless button pushing. Nightmare Creatures is no classic, but it's a certainly good Halloween game.
Resident Evil (Capcom 1996) A
With apologies to Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil (RE) is the grandfather of survival horror games. Brilliantly conceived, this third-person adventure stands the test of time as one of the scariest games ever. The dark storyline of biological experimentation gone wrong takes place in a mysterious mansion crawling with mutated creatures that can jump out at any time. Crooked camera angles are used for dramatic effect, and beautifully-illustrated graphics boast amazing detail. Giant spiders scuttle convincingly and zombies stagger with amazing, motion-captured realism. The game is violent and gory by nature, with plenty of gratuitous blood and flying body parts. But what makes RE truly great is how it effectively builds atmosphere and tension. The scene with dogs bursting through the windows has got to rank up there as one of the greatest scares in video game history. Despite the high quality presentation however, RE's poorly-translated dialogue is laughable, and the stilted voice acting has a "so bad it's good" quality. Although deliberately paced, the gameplay is fun and engaging despite its stiff controls. Turning around is slow, and your limited carrying capacity is aggravating. RE also features a "live action" video intro which is largely an artifact of the early 90's gaming scene. It doesn't mesh with the game's polygon graphics at all, and looks completely out of place. Interestingly, this footage was censored to omit a shot of a severed arm (included in the Japanese version), much to the consternation of American gamers. Resident Evil remains a landmark game, and horror fans owe it to themselves to play through this at least once.
Resident Evil 2 (Capcom 1998) A
This second chapter of the Resident Evil saga expands the scope of the original in a number of ways. This time the entire town of Raccoon City is a burning disaster area overrun by zombies. Spread across two disks, Resident Evil 2 offers multiple missions and two playable characters. The graphics have been refined, and the ferocious new bosses include a giant alligator lurking in the sewers. While the premise might suggest a free-roaming game experience, in fact your movements through the streets are heavily constrained by cars and burning wreckage. Most of the action actually takes place inside of public buildings including a large police station. There's one particularly startling sequence in the station involving a mirror that scared the living hell out of me! Despite being a bigger adventure, the gameplay follows the same winning formula as the original, with thoughtful puzzles and intense monster encounters. As a terrific sequel that remains true to the original formula, many fans consider Resident Evil 2 to be the pinnacle of the series.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (Capcom 1999) B+
The first Resident Evil (RE) set the standard for survivor horror, and RE2 expanded its scope from a single mansion to an entire town. In some ways, this third chapter feels like Resident Evil 2.5, since it takes place in the same burning city and even reuses some locations (notably the police station). Despite a strong sense of deja vu, it's hard to beat the tried-and-true Resident Evil gameplay, with its awesome pre-rendered scenery, interesting puzzles, and jump-out-of-your-seat scares. The main character, Jill Valentine, looks seriously hot running around in her boots and miniskirt. But the real star of the game is a hulking boss named "Nemesis" who keeps coming back much like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies. He's pretty scary, especially when you're limping around with that ugly bastard hot on your heels. Since Nemesis loves to sneak up on you and can crash the party at any moment, the intensity level is always high. The improved control scheme offers a quick turn-around move, a dodge, and a nice auto-aim mechanism. Other new features include the ability to manufacture different types of ammo (about as fun as "mixing plants"), and new "decision points" that can slightly alter the branch of the story. Resident Evil 3 feels awfully familiar, but those who can't get enough of the series will appreciate this well-designed third chapter.
Resident Evil Survivor (Capcom 2000) F
Survivor is such a monumental disappointment, it probably doesn't even deserve to bear the Resident Evil name. Previously Resident Evil (RE) games had always been played from a third-person perspective, but over the years rumors were swirling about a first-person version. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but this piece of garbage feels like a low-budget throw-away project. Survivor's 3D-rendered graphics are extremely blocky and pixelated, and the scenery is marred by unsightly seams and glitches. The audio is completely recycled from past RE games, but it's the control that really drags Survivor down. You can't strafe, and turning is painfully slow. Targeting zombies involves moving a clumsy crosshair around the screen, and you can't even tilt down far enough to hit creatures chomping on your legs! The need to explore is eliminated by the "quick search" button which automatically zooms in on any useful objects in a room. Likewise, objects in your possession are automatically used when needed, eliminating the need to think. Survivor is a linear experience with a lot of "find the key, open the door" puzzles. All that's left is constant shooting at monsters, which is surprisingly lame. Adding insult to injury, the load screens are frequent and you can't even save your progress! Clearly, Survivor was ill-advised and should have never seen the light of day.
Silent Hill (Konami 2000) A
Silent Hill begins by flashing a disclaimer about the game's graphic violence and disturbing scenes. It's certainly warranted, because this survival horror classic sends chills down my spine and makes my blood run cold. If Resident Evil is the Night of the Living Dead of video games, then Silent Hill is the Exorcist. The opening cinematic depicts a car crash, followed by a father's desperate search for his daughter in a nearby deserted town. With moody lighting and amazing audio, Silent Hill creates the most intense atmosphere I've ever experienced in a video game. You view your character from behind (like Tomb Raider), and the camera swings around to capture the most dramatic viewing angles. The creatures you encounter are weird and unsettling, and the line between fantasy and reality is constantly blurred as you navigate a surreal, ever-changing world. For much of the game you explore pitch-dark rooms with the help of a flashlight, and your limited visibility really adds to the tension. But the scariest aspect of Silent Hill is its eerie sound effects that increase in volume as danger approaches, heightening your sense of paranoia. The tension can reach unbearable proportions, making it difficult to play the game alone or with the lights out. There are plenty of "find the key" puzzles, but they tend to be more thought-provoking than frustrating. I found myself slowly drawn into the game even as I became more and more anxious. Silent Hill is a legitimate classic, and perhaps the most terrifying video game ever made.
Resident Evil 2 (Capcom 1998) A
After missing out on the first Resident Evil, Nintendo 64 fans were thrilled to hear the sequel was headed for their console. It arrived late but fully intact. Resident Evil 2 is a horror spectacle that has aged like wine. Don't believe the critics who deride the stiff controls and fixed camera angles. These antiquated elements actually help make the game so effective! The pre-rendered scenery conveys a level of grungy detail rarely seen in today's games, and fixed camera angles add suspense. You never know what's around the next corner. The stiff, deliberate character movements demand the player be precise with the controls. The save system adds tension as well, as you only have a limited number of save opportunities. It's quite the relief when you find a typewriter (save point) after a lengthy stretch. I have to admit that the inventory system is annoying (you can't drop items), but thanks to the ubiquitous storage chests your stash is never more than a few rooms away. Resident Evil 2 takes place in the area surrounding the Raccoon City police station, and you'll assume the role of multiple characters. The slow, ambling zombies aren't too hard to contend with (usually) but there are plenty of other twisted creatures to worry about. The police station has an elegant, aged quality that makes it fascinating to explore. The understated audio track blends echoing footsteps with ominous music. The forboding atmosphere created by the game is so thick you can cut it with a knife. The slow, deliberate pacing makes it all the more jarring when something bursts through a window or the floor collapses beneath you. The game is thoughtfully constructed, gradually revealing new items and areas. The difference between this and the original Playstation version is negligible. The opening cinematic is more pixelated, but otherwise I did not notice any difference. Using the analog stick makes it hard to run straight, but you always have the option of using the digital pad instead. To appease concerned parents the options menu let you tone down the "level of violence", and even change the color of the blood. You save your process to several "slots" on the cartridge. Resident Evil 2 is true survival horror at its best, and if you think this game has aged poorly, you need to go back and take another look.
Castlevania (Konami 1999) B-
Castlevania's transition to 3D was a little bumpy, but it's still a very respectable game (despite what most critics say). In the proud tradition of the series, the game features a vampire hunter storyline, better-than-average graphics, and haunting orchestrated music. You'll battle monsters with your whip, hit torches to reveal items, and make death-defying leaps. Castlevania gets off to a rip-roaring start in a forest outside of Dracula's Castle, where a violent thunderstorm knocks down giant trees in your path. Skeletons crawl out of the ground, and it's crazy fun to snap their heads off with your whip. The first boss appears unexpectedly behind the first gate, and his appearance is startling. He looks like the skeleton of King Kong, running around like a giant ape! It's pretty scary. Castlevania's gameplay drew me in immediately, but my enthusiasm waned as I was forced to deal with poor camera angles, deadly water, and control problems (especially around ledges). Your enemies are the usual suspects of skeletons and werewolves, but there are some bizarre surprises like skeletons on motorcycles. There's a lot of game packed into this cartridge, and Castlevania fans should at least give it a chance.
The Ring: Terror's Realm (Infogrames 2000) D-
After being freaked out by the movie "The Ring", I was psyched to play this video game adaptation. Terror's Realm has never received much media attention in the past, and after playing it, I can see why. If you thought the movie was far-fetched, it's downright plausible compared to this game's incomprehensible storyline. The Ring gets off to a decent start, holding my interest for the first hour or so. You play Meg Rainman, a shapely businesswoman (nice polygons!) investigating her co-worker's mysterious death. Meg finds herself quarantined inside of an office building with only a few other people. As she begins snooping around and gathering clues, she's constantly harassed by her boss and a security guard, who are obviously trying to cover something up. Like the movie, part of the story involves a disturbed girl who projects her thoughts onto a videotape. Unfortunately, that takes a back seat to a bizarre subplot about a virtual-reality computer program that sucks its users into a hellish alternate world. Even if you manage to buy into that nonsense, you'll still need to contend with some truly abysmal gameplay. Once you enter the ill-conceived "virtual reality" sequences, you're forced to aimlessly wander dark basements while shooting at creatures that resemble lizards and apes. The Ring's stiff controls are clearly modeled after the first Resident Evil (Playstation 1996), and the game even includes RE-style "chests" to store items in. Clunky and slow, the controls would be absolutely unbearable without that handy "run" button. Making matter worse are horrendous camera angles and atrocious aiming controls. The laughable creature encounters usually unfold as follows: You shoot the thing in the head, it slaps you in the face, you shoot it again, it slaps you again, you shoot it again, it slaps you again, you shoot it again, it falls over. It's unintentionally comical. There are obvious flaws in the stage designs as well. Sometimes you'll attempt to climb a ladder, only to have you Meg say something like, "I can't go here". Why the [expletive] not, [expletive]!? In terms of graphics and sound, the Ring isn't so bad. The people models are smoothly animated, and the excellent music gets pretty intense at times. The dialogue is conveyed almost entirely through scrolling text, but I didn't mind because it was so easy to read. Hardcore Ring fans can bump up the grade by a letter (at their own discretion), but everyone else should pass up this survival horror debacle.
Rating: Mature (animated violence, animated blood and gore)
Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare (Infogrames 2001) D
The original Alone in the Dark (PC) was arguably the very first "survival horror" game, preceding the original Resident Evil (Playstation) by two years. Unfortunately, several sequels later it still lags far behind RE in terms of horror and play value. In the familiar premise, you're stuck in a huge old mansion full of monsters, puzzles, underground corridors, and secret rooms. Ironically, for a game called "Alone in the Dark", you never really feel alone OR in the dark. With so many characters to encounter or overhear, the game often feels more like a murder mystery than a horror movie. And unlike other games that feature pitch-dark rooms (Silent Hill, Fatal Frame), there's more than enough light in these rooms to see all but the most obscure objects. The analog control is used to point your flashlight, and the shadowing is superb. The scenery is pre-rendered, and as a result, it's highly detailed yet surprisingly grainy in certain areas. As you walk around a room, there are multiple pauses as the game loads each new camera angle, and some of the views leave much to be desired. The house itself really doesn't possess the foreboding atmosphere I was hoping for, but the game's biggest blunder is its idiotic monsters. I'm all for being imaginative, but I couldn't tell the head from the tail for some of these ridiculous creatures. Most aren't as frightening as they are annoying. Finally, there are the puzzles, which tend to make no sense at all. Throw in some invisible portals, and the game becomes a confusing mess. There are even some curse words thrown in for good measure. Alone In The Dark The New Nightmare is a generic adventure that fails to scare or intrigue.
House of the Dead 2 (Sega 1999) A
I don't tend to be very opinionated (HA!), but I firmly believe House of the Dead 2 (HOTD2) is the greatest light gun game ever conceived. It's pure adrenaline as you blast the limbs off hideous undead while exploring a gothic-looking city inspired by Venice. You can't control your movement directly, but your path branches based on the innocent civilians you save (or don't save). The shooting action is nonstop mayhem. Depending on where you shoot a zombie, an arm may fly off, a huge hole could be blown in his chest, or his head could be blown clean off. HOTD2 exudes all the cheesiness of a low budget horror flick, complete with pathetic cardboard acting and hilarious dialogue. I absolutely relish lines like "Don't come! Don't come!" "James, go and stop the confusion in the city", and of course the classic "Suffer like G did?" Power-ups and bonus items are revealed by destroying barrels and other containers, so keep an eye out. I play HOTD2 with friends every Halloween, and we're still discovering new areas and hidden goodies. Grotesque bosses include a headless knight, a hydra, and a "bleeding heart" lizard. The ultimate boss is a white guy decked out in a suit and tie. Yes, he's your worst nightmare - a Republican! In addition to the arcade mode, there's an "original" mode that lets you employ items you've collected in previous missions. An extensive option menu allows you adjust the number of continues, difficulty, and controller configuration. A normal controller can be used, but I'd highly recommend a light gun. Two people can play cooperatively, or better yet, one player can go solo holding two guns! Quirky, action-packed, and loaded with unintentional humor, House of the Dead 2 provides the most satisfying light gun shooting action I've experienced. NOTE: Dreamcast light guns don't tend to be very accurate, but it helps to crank up the contrast and brightness of your TV.
Rating: Mature 1-2 players
Nightmare Creatures II (Konami 2000) C+
Halloween is my favorite holiday, so I tend to enjoy scary games even when the gameplay is a little weak. If you enjoyed the first Nightmare Creatures (Playstation), you'll be happy to know that this edition provides plenty more frantic action, weird monsters, and creepy locales. For those new to the series, Nightmare Creatures is part exploration and a whole lot of fighting. You wander around dilapidated old buildings and dark streets, picking up objects and power-ups between battles with monsters. Like the first game, the atmosphere is extremely dark and foreboding, and the Dreamcast's graphic power makes the locations look even more eerie. The buildings are nicely detailed, and each room has its own distinctive look. Bloodcurdling sound effects like crashing thunder, rain, creaking doors, and rattling chains add to the experience. The cover of the game boasts music by Rob Zombie, but thankfully that's limited to the title screen. The in-game music is sparse but effectively bone-chilling. Exploring the linear levels is fun, but the fighting system is weak. It lacks technique and gets pretty repetitive. Most of the combat is of the button-mashing variety, and you are forced to perform fatalities whether you want to or not. The rumble pack is supported, but it tends to be either off or running at full rattle. It got so annoying I turned it off. There's another problem that I've also encountered in other games: When given the choice of Continue or Quit, you can't tell which color is the "select" color. Despite its flaws, Nightmare Creatures still delivers its share of creepy arcade action.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica (Capcom 2000) A
This two-disk game puts you right smack in the middle of a horror film, and the tension will have keep on the edge of your seat. Anyone who's played a Resident Evil game knows exactly what I'm talking about. This episode takes place in a prison in a remote island, where you control the beautiful Claire Redfield, who's searching for her brother Chris. As the game progresses, Claire has several run-ins with a Leonardo Dicaprio look-alike named Steve. Code Veronica delivers classic Resident Evil action with dramatically improved graphics over the Playstation versions - and these graphic improvements really do make a difference. Extremely realistic cinematic videos blend in smoothly with the gameplay, and these unsettling sequences look so real that at times I thought I was watching actual video footage. Nice graphical touches include scurrying cockroaches and moths buzzing around lampposts. After you get over the incredible graphics, you soon settle into an experience that is classic Resident Evil. That's mostly a good thing, but there are a few annoyances. As usual, you can only drop or exchange items in chests, which is a real hassle. The control could be better, although there is a turn-around move and a useful auto-aiming mechanism. Although the aiming system works great with eye-level creatures like zombies, aiming at high or low creatures (dogs or bats) can be frustratingly difficult, and sometimes it's better to just run. The camera angles are fixed, so you can't look around freely. The sound and music are easily the best in the series. Zombie groans will send chills down your spine, and the ominous music really adds to the creepy atmosphere. I liked how your health is displayed on the VMU, so there are no meters cluttering up the screen. The rumble pack is also used to good effect. Horror fans, it doesn't get much better than this.
D2 (Sega 2001) C
D2 is the massive, four-disk sequel to the spooky, puzzle-oriented game 'D' that came out in the mid-90s for the 3DO, Saturn, and other systems. As a haunted house mystery game, 'D' was slow-moving but conveyed an eerie sense of isolation. D2 takes place in an unusual setting: a snowy mountain. The story begins as the main character, a blonde woman named Laura, is sitting on a plane that's taken over by hijackers belonging to some bizarre cult. The plane is then struck by a meteor (!) and crashes into a mountain. Laura awakes in a snow-covered cabin 10 days after the crash, with no recollection of what happened since. The snowy environment provides a surprising sense of terror and isolation. As Laura trudges around the snow in her skirt and high heels, she'll investigate deserted places and collect items. The windy sound effects and snow-covered wilderness create a chilling ambiance. Although most of the time Laura is alone, she occasionally has run-ins with mysterious characters that never stick around too long. As Laura hikes through the snow, she is periodically accosted by bizarre monsters that appear to be humans with huge plants growing out of them. They look a LOT like the creatures from Sword of the Berserker Guts Rage. You'll hear the Dreamcast drive spin-up before the monsters appear, ruining the surprise every time. These encounters take you into a first person "battle mode", where you blow away the creeps with your semi automatic weapon. It's an abrupt change of pace, but at least it incorporates some much-needed action into the game. Shooting the monsters is satisfying, but you'll have to deal with clumsy controls and slowdown. D2 does have some genuinely creepy moments, especially when you return to the plane wreckage. Some of the bosses are terrifying, but others are bizarre to the point of being comical. The storyline is played out in a series of lengthy cut scenes. D2 is interesting for a while, but it really takes a turn for the worse when you enter the mineshaft labyrinth, which is a confusing maze with an endless parade of monsters that all look the same. Although the graphics are decent overall, the people in D2 don't look so hot up close, and their voices aren't synchronized with their mouths. In terms of audio, excellent sound effects and a creepy piano adds mystery and tension, but the dialogue is pretty bad. You can save your place at any time. D2 is wildly uneven, but the compelling storyline and spooky atmosphere should be enough to keep most people's attention.
Rating: Mature - Adult language and subject matter
Zombie Revenge (Sega 1999) C+
Zombie Revenge plays like a third-person House of the Dead, with one or two players fighting zombies and plant monsters in factories and sewers. The generic name is fitting, because Sega clearly didn't put a lot of thought or effort into this title. Still, I like its arcade-style mayhem, which combines fast-paced action with well-defined visuals and crisp controls. In addition to shotguns and machine guns, your weapon selection includes a devastating flamethrower and massive drill. When you run out of ammo (a rare occasion, trust me), don't lose heart because your punches deal as much damage as bullets! The shambling zombies look pretty standard, but I have to give some of these bosses props for being so morbidly grotesque. At its best, Zombie Revenge feels like a 3D Streets of Rage, especially with two players fighting side-by-side. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the ride is short and very linear. There may be a few hidden rooms to discover, but the main route is always the same. Extra modes include "boss battle" and "training", but the only one I found worthwhile was the "original" mode, which offers a remix of the standard arcade mode. Two VMU games are also included (Zombie Fishing and a memory game), but these won't hold your attention for long. Sega should have added more meat to the main game, but Zombie Revenge is still good for some quick, lightweight fun.
Rating: Mature (17+) Animated blood, gore, violence
Evil Dead: Hail to the King (THQ 2000) D
I've been an Evil Dead fan for many years, often citing Evil Dead 2 as one of the greatest movies of all time. No other film has so effectively combined action, horror, and humor. And just for this game, actor Bruce Campbell has returned to lend his voice to the main character, Ash. So as you can imagine, I was pretty disappointed when I realized how mediocre this game is. The gameplay is almost exactly like Resident Evil, right down to storing items in chests. One difference is that all relevant items shine like beacons, eliminating the element of exploration. I enjoyed the audio track, with sound effects ("I'll swallow your soul!") and music taken directly from the film. The background graphics are outstanding and a feast for the eyes. I love being about to walk around that old cabin and explore the surrounding areas. The pre-rendered rooms and outdoor areas capture the spirit of the movie very well. If only the monsters looked so good. But no, the ghosts, zombies, and skeletons are so incredibly blocky that it's almost comical. And the control is a nightmare too. Ash is slow at turning and constantly getting stuck in the scenery. And if you thought battling monsters with a chainsaw would be fun, think again. Fighting is nothing but button mashing, and it gets so tiresome that you'll soon try to avoid confrontation altogether. Unfortunately, the creatures regenerate constantly and love to block your path. It's especially painful when you get lost in the endless maze behind the cabin. Hail to the King fails to capture the edginess or humor of the movie, and poor control and repetitive action are like nails in the coffin.
Illbleed (AIA 2000) B
Over the past few years, there's been a steady flow of survival horror games, most of which mimic the Resident Evil formula. But Illbleed is a different animal altogether, with truly innovative gameplay and unabashed B-movie storylines. Each of the six stages plays like a low budget horror flick, with names like "The Home Run of Death" and "Revenge of the Worm Queen". The graphics are only average, but the audio really steals the show, with blood-chilling sound effects and remarkably intense music. Illbleed has enough atmosphere to give you nightmares. I must admit however that Illbleed has a steep learning curve. While aggressive play is rewarded in most survival games, it won't get you far here. No, you need to progress cautiously in order to detect traps and maintain your health. Staying healthy means moderating your pulse, bleeding, and stamina. An on-screen "horror monitor" helps you detect possible traps or items. While this type of slow exploration might seem tedious, that is anything but the case. The game feeds on your sense of paranoia. The tension mounts as you turn each corner or enter a new room. The monster battles are pretty intense, and the gore is way over the top, and every hit produces a fountain of blood. The battles reveal the main weakness of the game, which is poor control. The "dodge" move, which is critical to surviving battles, is less than responsive than it should be, and you sometimes walk when you're trying to run. Problems like these aren't as apparent when you're sneaking around, but they can lead to some serious frustration when things really heat up. The game has its frustrating moments, but like the bosses, I kept coming back for more long after I thought I was through. Illbleed is original, disturbing, and occasionally terrifying. It's a remarkable game that's worth checking out.
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