The Video Game Critic's
Halloween Review Special
The Critic's "Fright Factor" ratings:Ain't no thing but a chicken wing.
Marginally scary... what was that noise? Did you hear something out back?
Creepy as hell, but you'll survive. Probably. Maybe.
Yikes, this is intense. Could somebody hit the lights?
This will absolutely scare the living [expletive] out of you.
Unbearable. Why am I doing this to myself?!
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.
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.
Silent Hill 2 (Konami 2001) B+
In this chilling sequel to the Playstation classic, you assume the role of a man stuck in a foggy, deserted town, searching for your lost wife while fending off a host of gruesome creatures. With the exception of improved fog and shadowing, the grainy graphics are not a huge step up from the original game, and the gameplay is virtually identical. Fortunately, Silent Hill 2 successfully recreates the same intense, spine-tingling atmosphere that gave me nightmares the first time around. Mainly set in an apartment complex, you'll hold your breath as you explore each new room. Most are pitch dark, and your weak flashlight provides precious little visibility, adding to the tension and uncertainty. A suspenseful but confusing storyline is conveyed via high-quality, frightening cut-scenes. The camera angles are dramatic but often disorienting, forcing you to constantly refer to the map. Thankfully, the helpful map automatically marks locked doors and other items of interest. Like the first game, Silent Hill 2's audio effects are effectively unnerving and occasionally alarming. Control is decent but feels sluggish when it comes to bludgeoning creatures. The worst aspect of the game is the fact that it's very easy to get stuck and not know what to do next. Otherwise Silent Hill 2 is a seriously creepy game that lives up to the lofty standards set by the original.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Silent Hill 3 (Konami 2003) B
Silent Hill 3 kicks off with a stylish music video showing brief glimpses of hellish beasts and a teenage girl in distress. It's a nice preview, and the edgy music is so good that the soundtrack is actually included on a separate CD! It's a terrific bonus, loaded with depressing melodies and freaky, otherworldly beats. Silent Hill 3 plays much like previous Silent Hills, but this time you play a young girl whose trip to a shopping mall turns into a surreal nightmare. The empty shopping mall is creepy in a Dawn of the Dead sort of way, and the haunted amusement park is also fascinating. Other locations like the subway, sewers, and office building are less compelling but still eerie. The graphics look less grainy than Silent Hill 2, making it easy to see details in the scenery. As par for the series, there's not a clean toilet in sight. Like the previous chapters, most doors are locked, and thankfully the map marks them appropriately. Silent Hill 3's gameplay is quite stressful and frightening. Deformed creatures patrol dark hallways, although you can usually dash by them if you know where you're going. In terms of creature design, Konami went a little overboard this time. Most of these shambling freaks look like misshapen hunks of raw meat, although their ear-splitting screams do make them more frightening. The human models are nicely rendered with amazing lifelike faces. On the downside, the dialogue is uneven in quality and the voice acting often sounds stilted. But my main issue with Silent Hill 3 is the clumsy camera. Not only is it hard to see where you're heading, but it's often hard to keep the monsters you fight in view. A shoulder button lets you center the camera behind you, but the transition is slow and disorienting. Regardless, Silent Hill 3 is a great looking game that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Silent Hill Origins (Konami 2008) B+
The original Silent Hill (Playstation, 2000) was a terrifying horror classic that spawned a series of compelling sequels. But as with movies, when a franchise runs low on ideas they fall back on a prequel. Silent Hill Origins rewinds the timeline of the series and harkens back to the feel of the original game. In fact, the opening hospital stage (with psychotic nurses) could have been lifted directly from the first game. Thankfully the action soon moves to more original locations including a theater, butcher shop, motel, and sprawling sanitarium. You can freely roam the streets of town which are shrouded with fog and crawling with freakish monsters. Origins creates an intense atmosphere using the same devices that made previous Silent Hills so unnerving. The graphics are so purposely grainy that I thought there was a problem with my TV! Limited (and sometimes disorienting) camera angles convey a sense of paranoia, and the bizarre creatures move in a jerky, unnatural manner. But the most potent aspect of the game is its audio. I don't know where they came up with these spine-chilling sound effects, but they are genuinely alarming. A selection of freaky new creatures includes giant frozen chickens, shadows with floating head harnesses, and puppets on strings. Yes, puppets are inherently creepy, but these are positively terrifying! You can move between alternate realities via mirrors, but both worlds are pretty dark and twisted. The combat is straightforward, but some of the puzzles are too hard - especially in the early stages. Sometimes a very simple action is required (like flushing a toilet) in order to progress. I also dislike how your character can't run very far without becoming winded and slowing down. It's absolutely critical to obtain a map for each new area, because while there are hundreds of doors, about 90 percent of them are locked! The handy map marks everything for you, and you can bring it up at the touch of a button. Better yet, you can hold an unlimited supply of items, which is good considering you'll need to haul drip stands, typewriters, toasters, and even file cabinets! I didn't find Silent Hill Origins quite as scary as some of the previous games, but that may be because the formula has become so familiar. Even so, this dark adventure is definitely a thrill and the price is right.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, suggestive themes, violence)
Fatal Frame (Tecmo 2001) B+
Unlike most survival horror games, which tend to focus on blowing heads off zombies with shotguns, Fatal Frame takes a more traditional approach, featuring an authentic haunted house with real ghosts. There are no giant alligators, no huge demonic monsters, and no insane lab experiments gone awry. I made it a point to play this game alone with the lights out, and let me tell you, it effectively scared the hell out of me. You control an Asian woman searching for her brother in an old, decrepit Japanese mansion. The rooms are pitch black, strewn with antiques and odd contraptions, and the walls and floors are in various stages of decay. Like any good horror movie, Fatal Frame uses odd camera angles, minimal lighting, and jarring sound effects to maximize the paranoia level. The ghosts are transparent apparitions, and are truly frightening to behold. Your only defense is a special camera that lets you neutralize the ghouls by taking pictures of them. Looking through the viewfinder gives you a grainy, first person perspective of things, giving the game a "Blair Witch Project" quality (the game even claims to be "based on a true story", believe it or not). "Shooting" the ghosts can be pretty intense, as they slowly approach as you snap away. The camera can also be used to reveal clues not visible to the naked eye. The storyline is also propelled by audio tapes you find lying around the mansion. I found listening to these tapes to be far more effective than reading pages of text like you do in most survival horror games. Beyond the incredible scare factor, Fatal Frame follows a pretty standard formula of collecting items and solving puzzles, and the control takes some getting used to. The woman's movements are stiff, and the constantly changing camera angles make you disoriented, which is especially stressful when a ghost is bearing down on you. In addition, there could be more save points. At times I found myself frantically searching for the next save spot after playing for an hour straight! Now that's scary! Fatal Frame is an ideal Halloween game. The cool camera feature and terrifying visuals make for an unforgettable gaming experience.
Rating: Teen (blood, gore, violence)
Clock Tower 3 (Capcom 2003) B
The first two Clock Tower games, released for the Playstation, were surprisingly effective at conveying suspense and terror despite their limited graphics. Clock Tower 3 (CT3) uses the same techniques that made the first two work so well: isolated environments, creepy monsters, dramatic camera angles, and downright alarming sound effects. You control a schoolgirl searching for her missing mother while fleeing terrifying ghosts and monsters. Of course there's a background story, but it never makes much sense, and it gets more and more bizarre and convoluted as you progress. The game plays somewhat like Resident Evil, thanks to a familiar-looking mansion, "find-the-key" puzzles, and the awkward control scheme. Some of the outdoor sequences feel more like Silent Hill, particularly the one with the falling snowflakes. Clock Tower 3 transports you to numerous locations, including dark city streets, a concert hall, the sewers, and a graveyard. But while it certainly feels derivative at times, the unique "panic meter" gives the game a unique flavor. As frightening things happen around you, your panic meter gradually fills. Once it's full, you movements become frantic and you become susceptible to instant death. Although I've seen far better graphics in other survival horror games, the animation here is fantastic. When the girl stumbles around in fear, she looks truly lifelike. Clock Tower 3 effectively builds drama and suspense thanks to chilling sound effects (including one from the movie Psycho) and music that will make your skin crawl. Sometimes you can hide in places like lockers and phone booths, and it's absolutely nerve-racking to watch your stalker snoop around just outside. Your attackers are slow and dumb but relentless once they get a bead on you. Grabbing a flashing item during a chase will sometimes result in a cut-scene showing the girl temporarily subduing the monster, although it always comes back a few times (in true slasher-movie style). At first, I found Clock Tower 3's gameplay to be pretty intense and genuinely frightening, but as the game wore on the bosses became less scary and the puzzles less interesting. It's definitely not as good as Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but Clock Tower 3 does deliver its share of thrills and excitement.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Castlevania Lament of Innocence (Konami 2003) D
I find it amusing how certain video game magazines are forced to give this mediocre game a high score after shamelessly hyping it for months (serves them right). The Castlevania series has a long, proud 2D tradition, but it has yet to excel in the 3D realm, and Lament continues its descent into mediocrity. Sure, the two Nintendo 64 Castlevania games were in 3D, but those failed to convey the gorgeous visuals and polish that the series was known for. Lament of Innocence looks terrific, but there are more fundamental issues with this long-anticipated game. Let's start with the lengthy, overwrought introduction, along with its awful exposition. I don't know why Konami bothered with the pages and pages of background text, when in fact this is just your standard "rescue the girl" scenario. Of the two main characters, one looks like a chick and the other looks like Michael Jackson! What's up with that? Once the action begins, you'll see a lot of familiar monsters, including puking zombies, lizard men, sword-wielding skeletons, winged demons, and floating eyeballs. The scenery is attractive enough, but no more impressive than anything we've seen in the Devil May Cry games (Capcom). All the traditional moves are at your disposal (including the double-jump), and the auto-aim keeps you locked onto enemies. There's even a portal room that lets you move between different stages. It may sound good on paper, but in terms of fun, Lament doesn't hold a candle to its 2D relatives. For one thing, the camera is completely out of your control. You'll struggle to see certain areas and often find yourself blindsided by off-screen foes. It was easy to strike candles to reveal items in the 2D games, but in this case the candles are scattered around each room, and it's hardly worth the effort to run around to each one. Monsters simply drop out of the ceilings, and then regenerate when you re-enter rooms. In the 2D games, you had no choice but to battle them since they blocked your way, but here you can mostly just run around the whole mob and avoid the aggravation. In addition, the game has a lot of tedious backtracking, and you're forced to use an ill conceived "real time window" to select items in the heat of battle. On a positive note, there are some devastating weapons, and the beautifully-orchestrated, pulse-pounding musical score is extraordinary. But despite its polished presentation, Lament of Innocence's gameplay does not live up to the Castlevania legacy.
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
Devil May Cry (Capcom 2001) B+
From the creators of Resident Evil, this third-person action-adventure offers a nice combination of exploration, puzzle-solving, and hack-n-slash mayhem. A demon warrior named Dante, you will explore an amazing castle, collecting artifacts and battling evil minions featuring wooden puppets and screaming wraiths. The marionettes look especially creepy (where are those strings coming from?). In addition to slashing with your sword, you have a shotgun to pump lead into enemies from a distance. Although Devil May Cry's basic gameplay is straightforward, figuring out where to go next can be frustrating, especially since it's possible to wander back into older areas you don't need to be in. The game's main strength lies in its tremendous visual presentation. The monsters are very imaginative, and the castle scenery is beautiful and sometimes breathtaking. Each room is painstakingly detailed, and some of the outside areas can induce vertigo. The background music is a strange cacophony of sounds, including screams and organ music, creating a surreal atmosphere. As polished as the game looks, the control scheme could use some work. Unlike Resident Evil or Tomb Raider where pushing up always moves you forward, Dante will move on the screen exactly the direction you move the joystick. This wouldn't be a problem if the camera remained in place, but it's constantly changing! Parents should note that this game contains a LOT of gore. Heck, Dante gets impaled even before the game begins - and it won't be the last time! Devil May Cry is a far cry from the Resident Evil games, but the constant action and stellar graphics will captivate most gamers.
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
Devil May Cry 2 (Capcom 2003) B-
Devil May Cry 2 (DMC2) was considered a disappointment by most critics. Apparently the first game set the bar too high, especially in terms of graphics. Instead of a magnificent palace, this sequel is set in a dreary town with towering skyscrapers and uninteresting warehouses. DMC2 ambitiously attempts to broaden the scope of the series, but not without paying a price. The game looks unpolished, and many of the monsters and locations look positively rough. The water in the "harbor" section looks particularly heinous. Still, there are some cool creature designs, like skeletons encased in metal cages, giant orangutans, and a mammoth flaming Minotaur. DMC2 is definitely less cerebral that the first, with more emphasis on action. Heck, you can even hack your way through most of the puzzles! Still, you have to love the combination of sword fighting and shooting. The unlimited ammo and auto-aim makes picking off enemies from a distance quite satisfying. Pressing the "Devil Trigger" (L1) turns you into a flaming demon with a host of power-ups. Besides Dante the "devil slayer", you can play though the game as a hot chick named Lucia (via the second disk). The game is generally fun, but there are a few obvious flaws. Certain areas contain creeps that re-spawn indefinitely, which is bad design in my book. Sometimes a red force field will box you in with a bunch of enemies, and won't disappear until you vanquish them all. Dante is definitely more agile this time, but the new Matrix-inspired moves aren't very useful. In fact, some of the cinematics are such blatant Matrix rip-offs that it made me nauseous. The control problems from the first game are back in full force, although by now I'm practically used to them. Certain parts of the story make no sense, and the concept of demonically possessed tanks and helicopters is downright idiotic. Despite these issues, Devil May Cry 2 has a fun, arcade quality that I enjoy. The constant button mashing eventually caused my hand to cramp, but I still found the game hard to put down.
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening Special Edition (Capcom 2005) B+
After a lukewarm sequel, Devil May Cry (DMC) returns with a vengeance in this surprisingly fresh third chapter. Many fans regard DMC3 as the best of the series, and they have a good argument. An action-packed adventure that never lets up, Devil May Cry 3 offers excellent control, ferocious monsters, awe-inspiring locations, and even a sense of humor. The combat is a nice combination of frenetic slashing, strategic shooting, and evasive maneuvers. There are plenty of puzzles, but nothing too taxing. Even when things get crazy, the control feels crisp and the camera does a remarkable job of providing the tightest possible shot of the action. Many of the demons you battle are the standard grim reaper types, but there are also a few imaginative ghouls that really caught me off-guard. I love how they disintegrate into dust as you strike them down. The action takes place in a modern city, and you'll actually battle in a bar and nightclub before entering the huge stone tower that suddenly arises from the center of town. Unlike similar games that recycle the same locations, each room feels unique and is meticulously detailed in a distinctive gothic style. You begin the game armed with a sword and pistols, but later collect additional weapons including a shotgun and nun-chucks made of ice. DMC3 maintains a torrid pace with stages broken up into bite-sized chunks. A frenetic techno mix kicks in whenever the action heats up, and it really gets you pumped up. The original version of Devil May Cry 3 was infamous for its steep difficulty, but this special edition offers an easy mode that should minimize the frustration. While it's an impressive game, the main character is a bit of a jerk. Impervious to death and cocky beyond belief, Dante gleefully surfs on missiles and spouts wisecracks as he's being impaled. After a while, you almost wish he would die. Also, the cringe-worthy use of outdated expressions like "let's party" and "dope!" makes you wonder if the dialogue was written in 1988. Still, Devil May Cry 3 avoids the traps of many sequels and offers an engaging adventure every bit as fun as the original.
Rating: Mature (blood, suggestive themes, violence)
Resident Evil Outbreak (Capcom 2003) D
This on-line enabled Resident Evil title places the emphasis on teamwork as you attempt to escape zombies in a series of harrowing scenarios. Outbreak's on-line play was panned by critics, but this review covers the solo experience, which I can assure you is equally shabby. Outbreak does have a few things going for it. The separate chapters offer diverse environments like a bar, hospital, hotel, and underground lab facility. Like the original Resident Evil titles, Outbreak uses pre-rendered scenery which offers a terrific degree of detail. Unfortunately, the camera angles change abruptly as you walk, which is disconcerting and mucks with the directional controls. The characters appear extremely lifelike, especially the shapely females (including Jill, described as a "master of unlocking things"). The game generates a genuine sense of desperation as characters become injured and hobble around - just like a real horror movie! Characters have the ability to heal each other, provide cover, or exchange items. The CPU controls your partners in the one-player mode, and while they tend to wander around directionless most of the time, they magically reappear at critical junctures in the story. Outbreak's promise is dashed by a number of serious issues. I found the controls to be unintuitive and often unresponsive. Just like watching a slasher film, you'll be yelling, "run [expletive] run!" as your character meanders around in a daze, totally out of your control. The item management screens are awkward to navigate, which is especially problematic since the zombies keep coming when you're fiddling with your inventory! The collision detection is lousy (see people walk through each other!), and there's a lot of random, inappropriate dialogue like "What a fool!" and "I don't think so!" A few of the puzzles make no sense to me. Why is it necessary to thaw out a frozen wrench before you can use it? But by far the worst aspect of Outbreak is its excruciating loading screens that kick in whenever you enter a new room. These screens don't even give you anything to look at! Recognizing this glaring flaw, Capcom gives you the option of installing this game to the PS2 hard disk, in case you're one of the three people who own that thing. Last but not least, Outbreak is also prone to lock-up. I can appreciate Capcom wanting to take the Resident Evil series in a new direction, but this is one chapter in the saga you can safely bypass.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
Resident Evil Outbreak File 2 (Capcom 2004) C-
Resident Evil Outbreak File 2 is more interesting that the original, but since it's saddled with the same underlying engine, it suffers from the same technical flaws. The best part of the game is how its scenarios are all unlocked from the start, making it feel like you're getting four Resident Evil games for the price of one! The scenarios are far more imaginative this time around, including one that takes place in a zoo full of zombie animals. Wait until you see the rampaging zombie elephant - that thing is like a T-Rex! Exploring the zoo is fun, but you're often hounded by annoying insects and zombie pelicans (now there's something you don't see everyday!). Another interesting chapter features a dilapidated abandoned hospital in the middle of a spooky forest, and another takes place in a subway infested with giant vermin. It's possible to play through several of these in parallel. Otherwise the gameplay is the same, which means you'll need to contend with some seriously atrocious loading times. I generally have a high tolerance for load screens, but I've never seen them this long and frequent. It's really unacceptable. Like the first game, Outbreak 2 allows you to play cooperatively on-line with a bunch of racist 14-year olds. I opted for the solo mode, and I couldn't believe how dumb the CPU-controlled characters are! At one point me and two cohorts safely swam across a pond containing a large crocodile. But while I'm heading for the gate on the other side, what are they doing? Heading back into the water! I also find it amusing how these guys seem to forget they have weapons until everybody's almost dead. The collision detection is lousy, and once you sustain injury, it's hard to escape from the relentless animals. Fortunately there are a good number of typewriters to save your progress. Resident Evil Outbreak 2 has its moments, but sloppy programming and horrible load times make this one hard to enjoy.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Resident Evil Dead Aim (Capcom 2003) B+
The last time Capcom attempted a first-person Resident Evil game (Survivor, PS1), it was a complete disaster. What seemed like a cool concept was marred by poor graphics, shallow gameplay, and no light gun support. Well, apparently Capcom learned a few lessons from Survivor, because Dead Aim is a huge improvement. It's an exciting, highly visceral shooter that's hard to put down. The flimsy backstory is an unlikely tale about someone stealing Umbrella's T-Virus and then hijacking a cruise ship. Having the worst luck in the world, you find yourself onboard this Love Boat of the Dead. Dead Aim is best played with Namco's incredibly accurate Guncon 2 light gun. The control scheme is reasonable, although the directional pad on the back of the gun isn't particularly comfortable. As you wander through the ship, you view the action from behind your character, but once you pull the trigger, the first-person view kicks in. It's great fun blowing away the shambling zombies, which fall back against blood-smeared walls. The zombies look fairly gruesome and move in a very freaky manner. In time, you'll even battle a shapely metallic "terminatrix"-style boss. Dead Aim has its share of scary moments, especially when you get blindsided, or worse, mobbed by zombies. The game made me feel like a character in a George Romero film, although the cruise ship is hardly an appropriate setting. The 3D graphics are rendered on the fly, and while they hardly compare to the pre-rendered GameCube RE graphics, they serve their purpose well. The sparse, low-budget-movie audio effects are chilling, but moments of eerie silence are equally unnerving. You control multiple characters as you play through the game, including a Paul Walker wannabe and a hot Asian chick. Unlike other Resident Evil games, you don't get the "door opening" animations between rooms, and the save points are few and far between. Dead Aim is a nice mix of arcade and adventure, and while not particularly scary, the first person view puts you in the game like no other Resident Evil game can.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Evil Dead Regeneration (THQ 2005) C
This bargain bin title is pretty much what I expected - not great but still worthwhile. As long as you keep your expectations in check, Evil Dead Regeneration will satisfy your craving for a bloody, irreverent beat-em-up. It's perfect for the Halloween season. Of course, it helps if you're a big fan of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies (as I am). Unlike the ill-advised Evil Dead: Fist Full of Boomstick (Xbox, 2003), which placed our hero Ash in a boring little town, Regeneration features a bevy of dark locations, including an asylum, cabin, cemetery, and catacombs. The action is fairly standard as you slice up ghouls with your chainsaw and blast them with your shotgun. A new aiming system makes it very easy to get a bead on moving targets. The finishing moves (initiated by a single button) are mildly amusing, but man, I wish you didn't have finish off every freakin' enemy! A notable new addition is Sam, Ash's diminutive (and butt ugly) sidekick. Since Sam is technically a zombie, you can abuse him in any number of humorous ways, like tossing him into burning oven or kicking him into giant fans. After the gory mess that ensues, Sam reappears no worse for wear (except for his attitude). Regeneration's visuals are fair, but the camera is clumsy and the collision detection could be better. The cut-scenes are fairly elaborate, and many are rendered using the same distinct visual style as the films. The audio track is the highlight of the game, with Bruce Campbell once again lending his voice to supply Ash's clever wisecracks. Evil Dead Regeneration is pretty easy in terms of difficulty, thanks to a generous number of save points. The game doesn't really break new ground, but it's easily the best Evil Dead video game I've played.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Atari 2009) B-
This looks a lot like the Wii edition of Ghostbusters, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The cartoonish characters are likeable caricatures of the memorable Ghostbusters squad featuring Egon (Harold Ramis), Ray (Dan Aykroyd), Peter (Bill Murray), and the black guy (Ernie Hudson). The original actors lend their voices to the game, and while the dialogue is far from great, it does maintain the lighthearted tone of the films. The stages include some old stomping grounds like the New York public library and the Sedgewick hotel. These environments are not spectacular by any means, but it's great how you can blast nearly every piece of furniture to bits. Ghostbusters is fun on the PS2, but it's not quite up to Wii standards. It's hard to target ghosts with that touchy right joystick, so you'll probably need to adjust the sensitivity via the options menu. When wrangling a ghost, you're prompted to flick the right stick in various directions to "slam" the ghost, and this is quite satisfying. Unfortunately, the PS2 hardware sometimes struggles to keep up with the mayhem, so you'll have to contend with an inconsistent frame-rate. The stages are short and sweet, but the load times border on the extreme. Just to give you an idea, imagine how long eternity is, and then knock off about 10 minutes. Got it? This PS2 edition also has the dubious distinction of locking up on me not once, but twice. Quality control issues aside, the game is very enjoyable. In one bizarre stage you battle pixelated video game characters spawned from arcade machines! Unlike the PS3 version, there are fewer small "minions" to clear out, so you can focus your efforts on the big boys. There are no multiplayer modes. You can find better versions of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, but this PS2 version certainly gets its point across.
Luigi's Mansion (Nintendo 2001) B
This title fell under intense (and perhaps unfair) scrutiny as one of the GameCube's "launch" titles, with critics focusing more on its technical prowess than actual gameplay. Personally, I like how Luigi's Mansion takes an occult theme and turns it into a light-hearted family affair. Armed with a flashlight and vacuum cleaner, Luigi's objective is to find his brother Mario in an expansive haunted house. By shining the flashlight on ghosts at critical moments, Luigi can stun them, making them vulnerable to being vacuumed up. Reminiscent of Ghostbusters, vacuuming is done by holding the joystick in the opposite direction as the ghost struggles to escape. Sucking up ghosts is fun, and controls have a certain fishing game quality. Lushly decorated with interactive furniture, each room becomes a little puzzle as you try to determine how its ghost(s) can be drawn out. Eventually you acquire the ability to unleash elements like fire, providing additional possibilities for puzzle solving. Luigi's Mansion is an entertaining little game, but there's a learning curve involved, and aiming your vacuum with the C stick is awkward. Some of the puzzles are tough, and even in the early going some gamers are bound to become stuck. Even so, there are a lot of little things about the game that will make you smile, like hearing the Super Mario Bros. theme in the music room, or discovering a hidden switch only visible from a mirror on the far wall. The graphics are good but unspectacular, although there are some slick lighting and fog effects. The clammy brick walls in the basement really caught my eye. The audio contains a number of catchy tunes in the minor key, and rich digitized sound effects are interspersed with old-school style sound cues. Luigi's Mansion tends to be under-appreciated, but GameCube fans will definitely want this one in their collection.
Scooby Doo: Unmasked (THQ 2005) C
I got a real kick out of Night of 100 Frights (Xbox, 2003), and expected this newer older Scooby Doo game to deliver the same brand of wacky ghost-chasing mayhem. But Unmasked isn't as good, party because it looks like doggy-doo. These graphics are butt-ugly. Everything looks totally dull, poorly defined, and plain. The hub of the game is a monster museum with creatures fabricated from a magical substance called Mubber. You'll also spend a good amount of time in China Town and its sewers in a sequence of stages that resemble a bad Tomb Raider knock-off. Here you'll witness every platform clichˇ under the sun, including rising platforms, conveyer belts, trampolines, and gas that shoots out of pipes at regular intervals. You control Scooby throughout the game, only interacting with the other characters to provide them with key items. Scooby is well animated, and he looks really funny when he slides on his butt or climbs hand-over-hand. He can perform Crash Bandicoot-style jumps and spins as he breaks crates and bashes rats and spiders. Occasionally he'll dress up like a Kung Fu fighter, a bat, or Robin Hood, giving him a whole new set of moves. Though not terribly interesting, Unmasked is still quite playable thanks to its responsive controls, forgiving gameplay, and fine camera system. Even when faced with a harrowing set of obstacles, you'll usually whiz right through them without breaking a sweat. Occasionally you're treated to a special stage, including a wild ride down an underground river. The game's voice acting is very good, and pleasant jazzy tunes play in the background. You can save your progress at any time from the pause menu. Scooby Doo Unmasked doesn't do a lot, but if you're looking for a light-hearted, easy platform game, this should do the trick.
Eternal Darkness (Nintendo 2002) A-
Mixing elements of Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, this dark adventure offers some a number of original features including multiple playable characters, spell-casting, finishing moves, and an inventive "sanity meter" that's bound to freak you out. Eternal Darkness unofficially marks the Gamecube's transition to the "mature" demographic. That's right, this is a mature-rated (17+) title from the company who brought you Yoshi. Initially, the game feels like Resident Evil as you guide a woman around her grandfather's mansion to investigate his gruesome death. Her subtle facial expressions are amazing, but her hair looks chunky. While collecting items and solving puzzles, the calm is occasionally shattered by a startling event that will scare the living hell out of you. As it soon becomes apparent, this mansion serves as the "hub" of the game. Certain books and transcripts send you back in time where you play out ancient stories as a Roman soldier, a servant woman, a swashbuckling swordsman, and a colonial American doctor. These stages feel a lot like Tomb Raider, offering a nice blend of traps, puzzles, and hand-to-hand combat. The animated monsters look incredible, and I love how they writhe on the floor after being mortally injured. Characters don't show external injuries, but they do slow down and limp as their life depletes. The audio effects in Eternal Darkness are outstanding. From water trickling in a fountain, to mysterious whispers, to the shambling sound of rotting flesh, a number of effects really caught my ear. The game's unique control scheme lets you target specific body parts, so you can hack off the limbs of approaching creeps. I love it how the skeletons feel for their heads after being decapitated. Finishing moves are also available - very unusual for an adventure game. Unlike many survival horror games, the bosses in Eternal Darkness are few and far between, thank goodness. The spell casting aspect might have been a good idea had it not been so ridiculously complicated. Not only do you need to collect the necessary spells, artifacts, runes, and tablets to create a spell, but then you need to combine everything correctly! The most interesting feature of the game is its bizarre sanity meter which triggers events that blur the line between fantasy and reality. Your character will grow larger, the camera will sway, the title screen will appear, or a message will tell you you're controller isn't connected! While these don't really affect the gameplay, they usually catch you off guard and sometimes freak you out. Scary, quirky, and fun, Eternal Darkness is a good choice for those looking for an original horror title for the GameCube.
Rating: Mature (17+) (Blood and gore, violence)
BloodRayne (Majesco 2002) B
The star of this dark action-adventure is a half-human, half-vampire chick by the name of Rayne who battles mutants, swamp creatures, and - you guessed it - Nazis! Bloodrayne's third-person gameplay consists of seeking out enemies and slicing them up with the huge knives attached to you arms. I enjoyed the dark theme, but technically the game could be better. The graphics are only average, the collision detection is spotty, and the camerawork stinks at times. Still, there are a lot of very cool elements that make Bloodrayne worth checking out. For one thing, the lead character is a hottie of the highest magnitude. With her short red hair, bouncy breasts, and skin-tight leather outfit, she looks more like a dominatrix than a vampire! Better yet, she has a sexy voice and a serious attitude. Upon slicing off a soldier's arm, she'll casually mention "you dropped something" before sauntering away. Oh yeah - that's another thing about this game - the excessive gore. Rayne enjoys hacking her foes into meaty chunks, and the blood flies far and wide. Making the violence even more gratuitous is the ultra-gory "blood rage" mode and the slow-motion "dilated perception" mode. The language is pretty rough too - I think this is the first game I've ever heard the "F" word pronounced so boldly. The first stage is set in the swamps of Louisiana, and these creepy areas incorporate some blood-curdling audio effects. I found the Nazi fortress stages to be fairly "blah" by comparison. In addition to her blades, Rayne has other weapons at her disposal including shotguns and a harpoon to "reel in" bad guys (Scorpion style). The auto-aiming mechanism not only makes it easy to target enemies, but alerts you to their presence. When Rayne's health meter gets low, she can suck blood to regain life - but you already knew that. BloodRayne is has style to burn and enough originality to suck in casual gamers with an appetite for blood. It's a good time, but definitely for mature gamers only.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)
Resident Evil (Capcom 2002) A-
The granddaddy of survival horror has returned to reclaim its crown! The original Resident Evil, released in 1996 for the Playstation, was the first genuinely frightening video game. Trapped in a house full of zombies, traps, and puzzles, you had to brace yourself for each new room. Several sequels expanded the scope of the original, but rarely matched the level of hair-raising thrills. In light of that, remaking the first Resident Evil makes a lot of sense. Even those who played through it the first time around shouldn't hesitate to pick this up. With dramatically improved graphics, a new room layout, relocated monsters, and better puzzles, it's practically a whole new game. For horror movie buffs, it's like the difference between Evil Dead I and II. The cheesy live-action scenes from the first game have been replaced with some jaw-dropping CGI work. The mansion interior is spectacularly detailed and magnificently gothic and ornate. Lightning flashes and shadows from trees reflect realistically on the walls. New areas include a decrepit old graveyard. All the scenery is pre-rendered, which is both good and bad. On the positive side, pre-positioned camera angles allow for some downright creepy cinematography. For example, at the end of one long hallway you may see the faint image of a mysterious figure. On the other hand, you can't adjust your view, and it's occasionally frustrating to obtain a decent camera angle. The music effectively builds tension, and improved voice acting makes the awkward dialog sound halfway credible. Shrill screams and ominous groans will send tingles down your spine. While the graphics and audio are stellar, you still have to deal with a rather clumsy control scheme that really hasn't changed much since 1996. A targeting system makes it easy to locate monsters, but aiming at close range can be maddeningly difficult. As in past Resident Evil games, you'll need to juggle a lot of items, and you're carrying capacity is very limited. It seems like whenever I find a new item I need, I don't have any place to put it! One clever new gameplay element is the "defensive weapon". These special weapons (including a dagger) let you subdue your enemies after they've gotten a hold of you. Just don't confuse the dagger with the knife like I did. Another major change is the ability for some monsters to follow you from room to room. The first time this happens, you'll feel like you've lost what little sense of security you had. And the monsters don't go down as easy as they did in past games. Remember, they aren't dead until the music stops! Resident Evil is an all-time classic, and you're sure to be terrified by this slick, updated two-disk edition.
Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Violence)
Resident Evil Zero (Capcom 2002) B+
Gamecube owners are fortunate that these excellent Resident Evil titles are exclusively available on their system. Resident Evil Zero and the original Resident Evil remake released last year (2002) are two of the very best Gamecube titles. Although I didn't find this chapter as terrifying as most, Zero still delivers it share of thrills and is quite enjoyable. Zero is actually a prequel, revealing the backstory of the first Resident Evil. While the narrative is somewhat interesting, the main draw here is the classic gameplay we've come to know and love. Zero features fixed-camera angles and pre-rendered scenery. The level of detail is absolutely stunning, but a major drawback is how you can't adjust the view. These graphics surpass anything I've seen in a survival horror game, with driving rain, aged wood furniture, and subtle lighting effects that are nothing short of spectacular. Even the characters move with a certain grace rarely observed in a video game. The story begins with Star Team member Rebecca Chambers (very cute by the way) in a train full of dead people - an intriguing setting to say the least. Walking down aisles of dead passengers, you know it's just a matter of time before they get up and start shambling around. After the train moves and eventually derails, the action moves to more familiar surroundings - a research center which resembles an old mansion (oh no - not again!). Zero may tread on familiar territory, but at least its puzzles go beyond the standard "find the key and unlock the next door" variety. You often have to examine and combine items, as well as work together with a partner. That's right - Rebecca must join forces with an escaped convict. Having a partner backing you up is comforting, but it reduces the scare factor being isolated. Often your partner fights right along side of you, but occasionally he'll just stand there like an idiot. You can switch between characters on the fly and even exchange items. The helpful map feature not only displays the room layout, but also tracks objects you've found or dropped. One new innovation is how you can now drop an item anywhere - you no longer have to search for a chest. As an unwanted side effect, it's easy to pick up the wrong item when too many are lying around. I don't like how each character only has six item slots, with some weapons taking up two of them! You'll need to do a lot of item juggling to stay well-equipped. Like past RE games, you'll use ribbons and typewriters to save you place, which always provides a feeling of relief. Control is a bit clumsy, and this time there's no auto-aim - you'll need to turn slowly towards your target. But these are minor issues. Resident Evil Zero is like a good book - it's absorbing and hard to put down. I have to confess I didn't feel the same degree of fear as I've felt in past games, perhaps because I've become too familiar with the series. I've seen dogs jump through windows and zombies burst out of closets before - you almost come to expect that kind of thing. Newcomers are in for some surprises however, and long time fans will feel right at home with this well-designed game.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Resident Evil 4 (Capcom 2005) A+
No game is perfect, but Resident Evil 4 (RE4) comes about as close as you can get. I'm starting to think this could be the best video game I've ever played. A masterpiece of great length and substance, RE4 is such a huge leap forward for the series that it doesn't even feel like a Resident Evil game. Perfectly conceived with originality to burn, the game is madly addictive and supremely satisfying. What makes it so compelling? First of all, the rural mountainside setting is pure genius, bringing to mind films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blair Witch, and Night of the Living Dead. The desolate forest is so fully-realized that it's practically a character in and of itself. Although your movements are limited to a predetermined path, you'd never know by the natural-looking surroundings. The dilapidated old houses you stumble upon look authentic and foreboding. You even explore an old church on a hill surrounded by a graveyard - it doesn't get much better than that. The adventure begins on a dark cloudy day, and only gets scarier as night falls and a thunderstorm rages. Resident Evil 4's audio adds to the sense of urgency with harrowing sound effects that seamlessly meld with the haunting musical score. The perfectly balanced gameplay features brisk pacing, extraordinary variety, and a very reasonable difficulty level. The puzzles are interesting but mercifully easy. Don't rest during the cut-scenes, because "quick action events" prompt you to hit certain buttons at critical moments to escape injury. The game constantly keeps you on guard, but you never feel hopelessly stuck. When you die, you always continue close to where you left off. The storyline involves rescuing the President's daughter from a cult, and you'll spend a large portion of the game escorting her to safety. Instead of conventional zombies, RE4 features chanting monks and brainwashed townsfolk armed with pitchforks, torches, and axes. The violence is unflinching, and when a farmwoman freaks out after being shot in the face, it's actually quite disturbing. But nothing strikes more fear in this game than the sound of a chainsaw - it's downright alarming. RE4's control scheme may seem awkward at first due to the lack of a strafe button, but the limited mobility just adds to the tension. The over-the-shoulder view is a nice compromise between a first-person shooter and third-person adventure, and the jumping controls are practically automatic. Your firepower is astounding, and a powered-up shotgun can blow several attackers across a room with a single blast. The game incorporates a surprising amount of sniping action, so before you enter a new area you'll want to weed out as many creatures as you can from a distance. Unlike previous RE games, item management is not tedious at all, and a mysterious cloaked figure appears every so often to buy and sell goods, or upgrade weapons. A testament to RE4's greatness is how many memorable moments are packed into this single game, including a battle with a giant "troll" monster, a wild encounter on a ski lift, a crazy mine cart ride, and a row-boat sequence as thrilling as the movie Jaws. It should be noted that the game is definitely intended for mature audiences, due to excessive violence and gore, along with use of the "S" word. Although it never takes itself too seriously, there are some genuinely intense moments and gruesome images. Resident Evil 4 is one for the ages. The bar for survival horror has now been set very, very high.
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
Return to The Video Game Critic's Main Page.