On the 13th of June I turned 30, I’m not dealing with this so instead I decided to both ignore and celebrate me lasting so long by writing a whole bunch of top 30 countdown lists.
No fucking about, straight into part 2 before All Hallow's Eve gets here and I'm still writing the intro paragraph.
15. Alice: The Madness Returns
Spicy Horse, 2011, Sony PlayStation 3 / Microsoft Xbox 360 / Microsoft Windows
Wha’appen? While in the real world Alice is trapped lost in Victorian London trying to remember what happened to her father, Alice returns to a Wonderland corrupted by the Infernal Train and sets out to find out what’s going on.
Why? Alice in Wonderland reimagined as a horror-goth nightmare world that mixes platforming and hack ‘n’ slash gameplay, that’s why. I have a bit of a thing for the two Lewis Carroll books and pretty much anything based on them, so twisting them into the style and genres that I personally prefer pretty much guaranteed that I’d like the games enough to list ‘em on something like this. I actually prefer Madness Returns despite it being a sequel with half the challenge; the inclusion of the mental health elements and repressed memories, the improved platforming and the utterly gorgeous new weapons and costumes and many classic locations have that nice derelict feel to them but I wasn’t going to choose between the two and make this a tie. I have a huge amount of nostalgia and warm feelings for the original American McGee’s Alice and it has much bigger and better boss fights, more prominent roles for the bigger Alice characters (Hatter, Hare, Queen of Hearts, The Jabberwock etc) and is just a good game as well. Then I remembered that Alice: The Madness Returns INCLUDES American McGee’s Alice as standard so by just choosing Madness Returns I actually choose both!
14. Zombies Ate My Neighbours
LucasArts, 1993, Sega Mega Drive / Super Nintendo
Wha’appen? Dr Tongue unleashes his army of monsters onto a nearby suburb, teenagers Zeke and Julie set out to save their oblivious neighbours.
Why? Is the top-down shooter/arena shooter/isometric shooter still a thing? I’m sure it is, I’m sure Steam and PlayStation Network are filled with them I just don’t care enough to find out, I hope so because they’re bloody good fun to play. Sure you’re never going to top Robotron: 2084 but you can do fun things with them, like turn them in a wonderfully cartoony homage to every horror and b-movie possible. Under the fun of the b-movie pastiche though there is actually a game with a lot more skill than many top-down run ‘n’ gunners, going around blasting anything is a good idea when you’re surrounded by zombies, angry robot dolls and masked serial killers but you’ll do a lot better taking your time, dodging and aiming. So why is this good – it’s a wonderful mixture of fun and skill for anyone who likes shitty horror films. And boy do I like shitty horror films.
13. House of the Dead Overkill: Extended Cut
Sega, 2011, Sony PlayStation 3
Wha’appen? AMS Special Agent G (on his first mission) and local cop Isaac Washington team up while both investigating Papa Caesar. They set out to stop the
zombies mutants who have overtaken a
Louisiana town with the help of Varla Guns and Candi Stryper, the sister and
girlfriend (respectively) of the scientist Papa Caesar and his boss, a local
prison warden, have kidnapped.
Why? Because it’s motherfuckin’ Grindhouse the motherfuckin’ video game motherfucker, that’s fuckin’ why. It’s a motherfucking 70’s exploitation film turned into a motherfuckin’ rail shooter turning every motherfuckin’ cliché and fuckin’ trope up to motherfuckin’ 11 and then throwing in Motherfuckin’ G from the whole motherfuckin’ House of the Fuckin’ Dead series and Isaac Motherfuckin’ Washington, one of the greatest motherfuckers in video games. As for why it’s the motherfuckin’ Director’s Cut and not the fuckin’ controversial as fuck Wii original – that’s fucking simple motherfucker: the motherfuckin’ Director’s Cut keeps everything from that motherfucker but adds a whole bunch of extra motherfuckin’ things including the utterly fuckin’ loveable Candi Stryper who should not have fucking died and should have totally fucking came back at the end with a motherfuckin’ mini-gun strapped to the top of that fuckin’ ice cream truck and saved the motherfuckin’ day. This is literally the only fuckin’ reason to own a motherfuckin’ PlayStation Move.
12. The Suffering
Surreal Software, 2002, PlayStation 2 / Microsoft Xbox / Microsoft Windows
Wha’appen? An earthquake rocks Abbot State Penitentiary on Carnate Island and strange supernatural creatures swarm the prison and island that has a horrendous history including slave trade and burning innocents at the stake. Amongst this chaos Torque and other prisoners are trying to escape, Torque is on death row for the murders of his wife and children but did he do it, and is he insane?
Why? It’s funny how things happen, half way through writing this I went to a friend’s house and she was half-way through playing this for the first time. She didn’t find it that scary (in fact she finds Dino Crisis scarier, I can see her point) and it IS more action-orientated than many Survival Horror games, with the player being able to hulk out and bash the fuck out of the monsters (Who are all supremely well designed and very creepy, even if the most common enemy does look like Voldo from Soul Calibur, mind you he’s creepy anyway). I find it the whole thing quite unnerving though, you run through a prison filled with the recently (and brutally) deceased fighting Silent Hill 2 style twisted symbolic monsters and three villains who each have taken on the form of a different kind of method of execution. A lot is done with the history of this terrible prison and the flashes the main character is experiencing are all very scary. I do absolutely agree that the higher quantity of weapons and ammunition and the hulking out feature do take some of the terror out of things, it’s simply less scary to be somewhere when you know you can kick everything’s arse (obviously you could negate this by playing on a higher difficulty but you shouldn’t have to). Despite that everything else is well done and well creepy, making it kind of the Survival Horror game you can play when you want the qualities of both Silent Hill and Streets of Rage II.
11. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Tecmo, 2003, Sony PlayStation 2
Wha’appen? Twin sisters Mio and Mayu Amakura are visiting their favourite childhood play spot before it’s lost to dam construction in the area and come across the Minakami Village, once the location of the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual. Mayu goes missing, leaving Mio to search the abandoned town for her; it only gets worse from there.
Why? Because it is utterly terrifying – play this game, it is amazing, but play with the lights on and at least three people in the house and then watch Frozen afterwards, twice.
10. The Last of Us
Naughty Dog, 2013, Sony PlayStation 3
Wha’appen? In an America ravaged by a mutant Cordyceps fungus that has made people into The Infected, survivor Joel agrees to smuggle Ellie to Boston for a rebel group called the Fireflies, Ellie, a young teenage girl, is immune to the fungus.
Why? Objectively this should probably be in the top 3; it’s an amazing video game experience from the start and just looking at the box gives me a better play experience than any sports game EA has released since 1993 so why isn’t it? Personal preference when it comes to horror sub-genres, pretty much anyway – I prefer ghosts, werewolves, slashers and kaiju to vampires, post-apocalypse and zombies – I probably should have rated Fatal Frame 2 and the Suffering above this really but I couldn’t leave it out of the top 10, it’s just such a good fucking game. If you think this game has been overhyped, it hasn’t, everything about it top of the line, from story and dialogue to gameplay and level design, Ellie is one of my favourite video game characters, now I’m overhyping it aren’t I? Goddammit.
9. 3D Monster Maze
J. K. Greye Software, 1982, Sinclair ZX81
Why? Here is what you do in this game, a game made for a computer with less memory than a jpg file, you have to walk around a maze for a long as possible trying to find the exit before a T-Rex turns up and eats your arse. It is so tense, so tense I didn’t believe it when I was told (by magazine Retro Gamer) but then I played and yes, yes this game is genuinely unnerving, this is more unnerving than any post-PlayStation 2 Silent Hill game. I can’t believe I’m saying it, you can’t believe I’m saying it (if you existed) but trust the fuckhead here and play it, you will suck at it at first because it’s an early 1980s video game, an era of video games that epitomised ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ but you will play it, and play it, and play it and it will tighten your damn sphincter. Will it tighten it as much as Fatal Frame 2? Probably not. Will it tighten it way more than a game where you can see the 1s and 0’s has a right to? Oh yes.
8. Devil’s Crush
NEC, 1990, NEC TurboGrafx-16
Why? I genuinely love pinball video games; I like them better than IRL pinball, I’m actually better at them than IRL pinball – I suck at IRL pinball but I’m sufficiently adequate at digital pinball and on that I’d like to give a shout out to Digital Pinball: Lost Gladiators and Digital Pinball: Necronomicon on the Saturn because they’re some of the finest of the genre I’ve played and no one ever mentions them. This is my favourite pinball game (in fact every game from 9 downwards is taken from a Top 30 Video Games list I made), all NAXAT Soft really did was take a basic scrolling pinball game and cover it in the sort of imagery you see airbrushed on the side of monster trucks, that’s all you need to do - pinball is fun by itself but it’s much better when you’re bouncing off of spider skulls and medieval nightmares.
7. Night Trap
Digital Pictures, 1992, Sega Mega CD
Wha’appen? The Sega Control Attack Team have sent undercover agent Kelly Medd into the Martin House as part of a slumber party, five girls have already gone missing and SCAT (really) want to know what’s going on – well the girls are being drained of their blood to keep the Martin family, who are of course vampires, fed.
Why? Oh no, not an FMV game! Yes a fucking FMV game, if FMV had a place anywhere it’s replicating a cheesy horror movie surely? Even though this came out in the 1990s it was made in the 1980s (it’s release was delayed by the cancellation of the VHS based console it was made for, Nemo) and as such it has every 1980’s horror movie cliché possible and that is wonderful – it even has its own theme tune that is performed in-game by the most obnoxiously 80’s member of the cast – this is mostly why I love the game so much, the concept called for everything including the kitchen sink from shitty horror movie tropes, if you’re going to make a horror movie I can control I want the ultimate experience and by god Night Trap delivers. It’s cheesy, it’s tacky, it has acting issues, it has one quite famous person (Dana Plato, who looks great), it has a couple of moments of creepiness, it’s glorious, it’s the 1980s b-movie you can control. Also I really need to get this off my chest; the Augers really look like The Gentlemen’s mooks from the Buffy episode Hush.
6. Rule of Rose
Punchline, 2002, Sony PlayStation 2
Wha’appen? In 1930 Jennifer is lead back to an abandoned orphanage by a small boy only to wake in an airship ruled by the Red Crayon Aristocrats, a group of children, beyond that…well things are a little confusing but Jennifer finds her memories of her own childhood as she tries to appease the Red Crayon Aristocrats.
Why? The game utterly fascinates me, it draws me into its strange ambiguous lore and doesn’t let me go and I hope it does the same for you because the combat is not exactly perfect (the best way to experience it with an Action Replay I find) so if you aren’t taken in by the rest of the game you may think I’m talking bullshit for putting this in the top 10 - if you aren’t already convinced I’m full of crap after the FMV game. It’s beguiling, it’s chilling I don’t have any more to say about it, experience it, if you don’t see what I (and other fans of the game) see that’s ok but if you do, well…
5. Maniac Mansion
Lucasfilm Games, 1987, Commodore-64
Wha’appen? Under the thrall of a sentient meteor who fell into his mansion 30 years ago, Dr Fred Edison has kidnapped Sandy Pantz (yes) and now her boyfriend David Miller and his group of friends (I can’t remember their names because Razor outshines them all, she is the best) break into his home to face his family, their two tentacles, the meteor and worst of all, Chuck the Plant, and them without fuel for the chainsaw.
Why? Ah, from two games I’ve felt the need to defend to one that needs no defence, all of the SCUMM Engine games rocked and it seems that everyone knows this and accepts it as the gospel it absolutely is. Objectively I think we can all agree that the first two Monkey Island games are the best of the SCUMM titles but even though they do feature an undead pirate they’re not horror games by my definition and anyway this isn’t an objective list this is my list and I like horror movies, b-movies and punk girls. Maniac Mansion is just gold from start to finish, even if you don’t get all the nods and references (and they’re not as heavy as in some games, I think Zombies’ is more reference heavy myself) it’s a great fun game that never takes itself too serious and uses a great set of stereotypes to tell a story’s 1 part Return of the Living Dead, 1 part Rocco’s Modern Life and 2 parts Gary Larson. SCUMM also has a lovely interface that means you can play it with just about anything from a joystick to a keyboard so there’s that, god Lucasarts were great back when weren’t they?
Namco, 1988, Arcade
Wha’appen? After sheltering in the West Mansion, college student Rick Taylor combines with sentient Mayan artefact The Terror Mask to rescue his missing girlfriend Jennifer from the so-called ‘splatterhouse’, which may be alive.
Why? Fuck me everything in this game is so well designed, everything, every enemy, every boss, every background tile, you could make action figures of all the sprites and they’d look badass, which is nice when you consider how derivative Splatterhosue is at its core. Anyway my favourite way for describing this game is that it’s like watching a horror movie through a letterbox it’s that authentic feeling but that’s actually incorrect, it’s like watching the events of a horror movie through a letterbox. That is the events are real and happening and you are in a pillbox or something to avoid being personally attacked by a giant skinless man with chainsaws for arms. Oh Biggy Man, Biggy Man is probably my second-favourite boss of all time (sorry Biggy but the Green Hill Zone boss is just…well…it’s The Green Zone boss, please don’t chainsaw me to death), Cross Boss is more controversial (and removed in the inferior TG16 version) but Biggy Man is pretty much exactly what I just described – a huge skinless man with chainsaws for arms and a bag over his head – and you get to use a shotgun against him in a setting from Friday the 13th – it’s just shit hot.
3. Five Nights At Freddy’s
Scott Crawthorn, 2014, Microsoft Windows
Wha’appen? Mike Schmidt has a new job as a security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a restaurant with a tragic and murderous past that’s closing down after complaints of poor hygiene surrounding their free-roaming animatronic mascots. So what’s the problem? Well those animatronics roam the restaurant at night to keep them ‘in shape’ and they will think you’re one of them and…stuff you in an animatronic, which will kill you.
Why? The criticism for ‘Freddy’s that I am most unhappy with is ‘it’s just a jump scare generator’: the main focus of the game is, yes, avoiding jump scares (which I’d like to remind people are in fact scary, sure they’re easy scares but scares nonetheless) but ‘just a jump scare generator’ it ain’t. Just a jump scare generators are those gag games that made the rounds years ago where you played a simple maze and then a picture from The Exorcist jumped up, because there is nothing to them but producing (or avoiding) a jump scare. Freddy’s isn’t like that, a huge amount of design work has gone into it, it feels like a real restaurant chain that has been open for many years, everything has been put together with a good knowledge of its inspiration (particularly Showtime Pizza), the animatronics have character and personality and more so it’s a complete game. Those fucking mazes aren’t complete games, FNAF is, I think people have gotten so used to games that do lots of things they forget that classics of the industry just did one thing – shooting something, steering something, playing sort-of table tennis ripped off from Ralph Baer. Anyway aside from scratching that particular itch (and thank you for indulging me) Scott Crawthon should be proud of himself, to give so many scares with so little, because FNAF might not be ‘just a jumps care generator’ but it is a simple point and clicker, perhaps the simplest kind of point and clicker, but Crowther’s skills with design and atmosphere (and humour) make it something so much more, well done Scott. Also I am seriously bothered by these sort of rudimentary animatronics, when I was a kid our local bowling alley – the Roller Bowl – had a life size lion band playing in its kid’s party room, I spent all that party just watching them nervously, waiting for them to strike and looking for places to hide/escape when they did, one of our gardens centres wheels out a polar bear band for their Christmas Wonderland every year and I treat them with the same weariness, why do kids find these things charming? They’re juddering, shuddering demon robots.
2. Luigi’s Mansion
Nintendo, 2001, Nintendo GameCube
Wha’appen? Luigi wins a mansion in a competition he didn’t enter, and upon meeting his brother there finds Mario is missing and vows, despite his terror, to find his beloved sibling with the help of Professor E. Gadd and his Poltergust 3000.
Why? WHAAAAT? Hear me out – now I’ve said before that I’m a Mario fan so obviously I like it because it mixes Mario with Survival Horror and does so seamlessly, it’s also a top notch game in terms of regular things like coding, level design, gameplay and so on but then it’s a major Mario title and they generally are good all-rounders, a lot of very talented people do some very good things with them, if you want to excuse Mario Sunshine from that I’ll accept this. No, no, the reason this is here is because it is the perfect gateway drug for Survival Horror – anyone can play this, it’s difficulty curve and Mario theme is perfect to convince people – kids, your mum, your wussy girlfriend/boyfriend, your mate who hates Silent Hill (I have one of these and he fucking LOVES Luigi’s Mansion) – to sit down and play it and that’s it, they’ve got the bug. This is the one ecstasy pill on holiday of horror video games, get them to play this – completely great – game and soon they will be shooting up with Silent Hill 1-3 and Haunting Ground once a day.
1. Silent Hill 2
Konami, 2004, Sony PlayStation 2
Wha’appen? James Sunderland comes to Silent Hill because his wife has written him a letter from the town – bit of a problem, she’s dead. Things only get worse from there.
Why? There’s no other choice, yes some of the voice acting is…sub-par but my god everything else about this is so, so, so, so fucking great. I’m overhyping again aren’t I? In fact if you don’t like/haven’t played Silent Hill 2 I can totally understand why you’d sneer at another prick on the internet singing the praises of this bloody game. Sorry but this game is Survival Horror done at its best, this is how you do it (though obviously it’s best to do it with actual voice actors and not three people you found down the 7-11), the symbolism, the atmosphere, the inexplicable weirdness, it’s all done so well and, oh god I hate that I can never write more for my number 1 picks but that’s because all I can ever get out is ‘THIS IS SO GOOOOD’ because this is so good, Crimson Butterfly is scarier but Silent Hill 2 is just…it’s just so fucking good and I know that everyone’s said everything that can be said about it and whole papers have been written analysing it and just fuck it, I’m finished, I’m gonna go play it and repeat ‘haters gonna hate’ under my breath over and over completely unironically.
And with that all I have left to say is: Happy Halloween! And thanks for reading.