The Halloween List Pt. 6: Horror-Themed PC Games (2001)

This is a continuation of the multi-part Halloween List series that covered 1986 to 2000. There have been so many horror or Halloween-themed games over the years that only a multi-part article can encompass their sheer volume. In fact, horror-themed PC gaming has been going on for some time, beginning with text adventures and continuing with the action-adventures that we play today, although I must admit that 2001 looked a little quiet compared to other years for the genre…

Today is part six- 2001…

Visit part one here: The Halloween List Pt. 1: Horror-Themed PC Games (1986-1990)

Alone in the Dark 4: The New Nightmare (Infogrames, 2001). Edward Carnby returns with updated graphics and a new mystery to solve. This is a good adventure game, but not a great one. As with all games in the series, there are the appropriate level of things of ghoulish nature, with the ability to play Carnby or his female partner, Aline Cedrac.
Clive Barker’s Undying (Electronic Arts, 2001). Anytime a writer of horror fiction and a director of one of the classic horror movies of all time (Hellraiser) lends his name and talents to a PC game, chances are good that the result will include some uncomfortable or downright frightening moments of gameplay. The Covenant family have unleashed a curse that threatens to bring forth the Undying King, and it’s up to the player (as Patrick Galloway) to prevent the cursed family from destroying us all.
Evil Dead: Hail to the King (THQ, Inc., 2001). Ash is back, and this time on the PC! It seems the Book of the Dead has once again brought forth the demonic and undead hordes, and it’s up to Ash to save the world. The thought of playing Ash was awesome, especially with Bruce Campbell provided his voice to the game, but poor graphics, bad gameplay, and little imagination made this game a bargain-bin-at-best stinker.
Jekyll and Hyde (DreamCatcher Interactive, 2001). Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a Victorian era study of the duality of human nature, fraught with nuance and psychological terror. This game is an action-adventure game which requires you to assume the role of Mr.Hyde, to rescue Dr. Jekyll’s kidnapped daughter. There are zombies, but I wonder if the zombie is really the game itself, as it seems to lurch along at an unfinished pace.
KISS Pinball (Gathering of Developers, 2001). You know the list is weak when you have to include a pinball game to bulk it out a little. All the KISS members are here: the Starchild, the Beast, the Demon, and the Celestial, as you use a pinball table to fight the Dark Lord. It’s hard to mess up a pinball game, so you have to give the developers credit for making both pinball and KISS dull simultaneously.
The House of The Dead 2 (Activision, Inc., 2001). The popular Dreamcast game by Sega comes to the PC, two years after its original release. It’s pretty much the same game, with hordes of zombies to eliminate, as well as an autocamera that sometimes drives you mad. Even at the time, this game seemed dated.
Throne of Darkness (Sierra On-Line, 2001). Set in Japan during the Middle Ages, you play one of the Seven Samurai ( the Leader, the Archer, the Brick, the Ninja, the Wizard, the Swordsman, and the Berserker) tasked with killing a demon overlord whose minions include hordes of the undead. This is a RPG that has a strong Diablo II influence (which is not a surprise considering how many developers worked on both games).

That’s it for now. See you next year!


The Halloween List Pt. 3: Horror-Themed PC Games (1994-1995)

Horror-themed PC gaming has been going on for some time, beginning with text adventures and continuing with the action-adventures that we play today.  Some games use psychological suspense with a foreboding atmosphere, while others go for a gruesome gorefest.  It’s no surprise that there are as many variations of horror-themed games as there are in horror movies.  This series looks at those games (sorted by their release dates), and made before 2000, because after all, this is a blog about retrogaming!

Today is Part Three – 1994 though 1995…

Visit Part One here: The Halloween List Pt. 1: Horror-Themed Games PC Games (1986-1990)

Visit Part Two here: The Halloween List Pt. 2: Horror-Themed Games PC Games (1991-1993)

Alone in the Dark 3 (Infogrames, 1994). Edward Carnby is called to find out what happened to a film crew missing in an Old West ghost town built over an Indian burial ground that was once renowned for the murderers living there. Maybe not the best place to
place a movie set, but maybe the producers were strapped for budget space. Unfortunately, Carnby’s old friend, Emily, was part of the crew, and he must rescue her or discover her fate!
Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse (Viacom New Media, 1994).  Based on and using the same actors from the cheesy Nickelodeon television series, this game uses Full Motion Video to tell a tale of a haunted theatre, the Mad Magician Orpheo, and the mystery that surrounds them both.  If you were a fan of the show, you’ll love the game.  If you thought the show blew chunks, the game won’t impress you, either.
Doom II (id Software, 1994).  The unnamed Marine has cleaned up Mars, but after returning to Earth discovers that the demon hordes have already arrived.  It’s time to clean up another mess before Hell on Earth becomes a reality.  Similar in gameplay to the first game with a few new nasty surprises around darkened corners.
Night Trap (Digital Pictures, Inc., 1994).  Five girls disappeared without a trace after attending a party, and now the owners of the house have invited five more! This was a Full Motion Video (FMV) game that originated on the Sega CD, with the player stuck trying to save the lovely young ladies while staving off the vampires that want to drink their blood. Oh yeah, the house is basically one big trap, too.  Run, bad actresses, run!
Noctropolis (Electronic Arts, 1994).  The Batmanesque Darksheer fights crime and worse in the city where the sun never shines, except he’s missing in action, your character is dressed up like him with no idea how they got there, and his five worst enemies have joined forces to hunt him down and kill him.  The Succubus is the reason for inclusion in this list, as she represents exactly what her name suggests she does.
Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession (Strategic Simulations, Inc., 1994).  Create a party of adventurers to travel the evil-infested lands of Ravenloft, ultimately facing Count Strahd von Barovich himself.  A first-person perspective RPG, this was one of the best SSI AD&D adventures, and one of two horror-themed ones to use the AD&D license.
System Shock (Origin Systems, Inc., 1994).  An adventure game mixed with a shooter and set in an abandoned (yeah, right) space station controlled by SHODAN, a rogue computer with a disdain for human life.  A true classic and an amazing game in its day, with reviewers making statements like, “Doom who?”.
Call of Cthulhu: Prisoner of Ice (Infogrames, 1995).  Another H.P. Lovecraft based adventure game, this time taking place in the confinement of a British submarine.  The crew has visited Antarctica on a rescue mission, taking aboard to mysterious crates during the excitement.  What was in the crates, and how does it relate to the crew’s horrific fate?
“D” (Acclaim Entertainment, 1995).  What could make a respected hospital director slaughter his patients and staff in one bloodstained Los Angeles evening?  His daughter, Laura, enters the hospital to find out, even as the voice of her father begs her to stay away. What really happened that night drives the plot of this moody puzzle-based adventure game.
Darkseed II (Cyberdreams, Inc., 1995).  Another H.R. Giger influenced adventure game, with Mike, last seen defeating the Ancients who implanted the dark seed in his mind, attending his high school reunion.  Unfortunately, during the night his high school sweetheart is brutally murdered, with Mike having no memory of the event and being the prime suspect.  What really happened that night, and how can Mike prove he’s innocent?
Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster (Interplay Productions, 1995).  You wake up in a laboratory to realize two things: you are Frankenstein, reanimated, and Tim Curry is the Doctor hamming it up in front of you.  Why were you brought back and how can you escape? The answer is found in the puzzles throughout the castle, and all the action is done by live actors on a digitized background. What’s a Halloween tale without Tim Curry?  

Ravenloft: Stone Prophet (Strategic Simulations, Inc., 1995).  Return to the dreaded lands of Ravenloft, with this adventure set in the shifting sands of Har’Akir.  The ancient mummy Anhktepot rises from his eternal sleep, and your party of adventurers needs to help him back into his grave.  A first-person RPG with great graphics and some tough puzzles to solve.  

Roberta Williams’ Phantasmagoria (Sierra On-Line, 1995). Who would have thought the Queen of all-ages adventure gaming could produce a grisly horror masterpiece? Well, she did!  In shades of The Shining, Adrienne moves into an old mansion which begins to turn her husband into a raving lunatic whose murderous rampage she must escape.  Perhaps this was really a marriage therapy session for Ken and Roberta Williams in disguise?
Shivers (Sierra On-Line, 1995).  Accepting the challenge to spend a night in a reputedly haunted museum, the player’s character soon finds themselves on a mission to capture the source of the haunting, the evil Ixupi (South American ghosts).  A bit of an oddity for a Sierra title, this game plays more like a cross between The 7th Guest and Myst.  The puzzles can be difficult to solve, and the creepy atmosphere of a museum in the middle of the night make this a great game to play.
Terror T.R.A.X.: Track of the Vampire (Grolier Electronic Publishing, Ltd., 1995).  Hard to see why this game got a sequel, but it did.  Players get “A” or “B” choices as they play the game, and whatever they choose is reflected in the characters’ actions. Yes, there’s vampires to kill, and the game can have some grisly scenes, but, come on…it’s more like an interactive book than a game.
The 11th Hour (Trilobyte & Virgin Interactive, 1995).  Old Man Stauf is back in the sequel to The 7th Guest.  This time around, an investigative reporter goes missing within Stauf’s mansion, and it’s up to her boyfriend, Carl, to either rescue her or learn her ultimate fate. The game is still a series of puzzles with Full Motion Video clips as the reward, although the production quality is better than its predecessor due to better video compression technology.
The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery (Sierra On-Line, 1995).  The Schattenjaeger returns to supernatural action, this time in Bavaria where the villagers are being harassed by a wolf-like creature.  This was the second game in the series, and was shot with live actors yet played as a standard adventure game.  Once again written by Jane Jensen, this game set the gold bar standard for horror games! For a deeper review of the game, click Retro Game of the Week: The Beast Within – A Gabriel Knight Mystery.
The Dark Eye (Inscape, 1995).  This adventure game is based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and typical of a Poe tale, follows the cast of characters’ gradual descent into madness from an innocuous beginning.  If you’re looking for a new source of nightmares, this game is for you.  A true horror classic.
The Residents: Bad Day on the Midway (Inscape, 1995).  To escape the depression of an unlucky day, little Timmy decides to head to the Midway for a little fun.  Unfortunately for Timmy, the Midway is filled with unhappy people with dark secrets, and to escape, Timmy must jump into the mind of each character, living their life and learning their secrets – which takes more than one playthrough of the game to do.  Is this really a game or an elaborate piece of performance art?
Zeddas: Servant of Sheol (Caravan Interactive, 1995). Yet another adventure game set in a haunted castle, this time with a demon as the source of the troubles.  The castle was invaded by the demon and its army, and then removed from this reality. Finding your way inside, your character must defeat Zeddas and its minions to bring the castle back.  Some disturbing, horrific scenes make this first-person game “not for the kiddies!”.  Incidentally, this game was designed by Haruhiko Shono, an award-winning Japanese game designer.

Retro Game of the Week – Alone in the Dark (1992)

Way back when the graphic adventure genre was relatively new and ruled by games such as the King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry series, the concept of a survival horror game was an untouched subject area.  There were games using a haunted house motif, such as Poltergeist, released in 1982 for the Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer or Uninvited, Infocom’s graphical text adventure released in 1986, but the game that set the gold bar standard and helped to inspire the flourishing of the entire subgenre was Infogrames’ 1992 classic PC game, Alone in the Dark.


Box front for Alone in the Dark (1992)


Alone in the Dark was set in the late 1920’s, with gamers assuming the role of either private detective Edward Carnby or young heiress Emily Hartwood, who enter the sprawling Louisiana mansion, “Delcarto” in search of a piano supposedly stored in the attic.  The house is reputed to be haunted, and it’s last owner, Ms. Hartwood’s uncle Jeremy, committed suicide in highly unusual circumstances.  If that’s not creepy enough, after the player enters the mansion, the front doors slam shut without any help from mortal hands.  Like any good actor in a teenage slasher flick, Edward (or Emily, depending on who the player chose), heads up the stairs to find the attic.  And once they reach the attic, the game begins.


Alone in the Dark for Panasonic 3D0


Alone in the Dark is a game that dabbles in the  Cthulhu mythos.  The horrific situations found within the game display their Cthulhulian influence, and even the mansion is discovered to be actually named after Shub-Niggurath, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.  However, the creatures that Edward and Emily encounter are more standard fare (and are a mixed bag when it comes to frightening appearance), and do not possess the mind and world-shattering power of Lovecraftian monsters.


Cthulhu references in Alone in the Dark (1992)


The atmosphere is aided by both creepy sound effects and a well-thought out musical score.  For example floorboards creak as they’re walked on, and the character’s footsteps echo through the room as an eerie reminder that you’re the only human in the house.  The music switches to a more aggressive melody when creatures appear, and returns to a sombre melody when they’ve been dispatched.  I still have great gaming memories of hearing the strains of Strauss’ The Beautiful Blue Danube in the ballroom (you could put records in the phonograph there and see what happens).


Exploring the attic in Alone in the Dark


Some people say that Alone in the Dark was the very first PC survival horror PC game using the Cthulhu Mythos as a theme, but most forget that there was another game published within the same time period that can also lay claim to that title.  MicroProse published Magnetic Scrolls’ The Legacy: Realm of Terror in 1992, a game that was set in a haunted mansion, with bizarre Cthulhulian creatures to overcome.  The two had similar concepts, but of the two, Alone in the Dark was the better game, so usually gets all the credit.


Box front for The Legacy: Realm of Terror


The game used a different style of graphic engine than gamers were used to.  2-D polygons (colored, not textured) were used to render 3-D objects in real-time, with very quick responses to whatever action the player attempted.  These 3-D objects were then placed against standard pre-rendered backgrounds.  The result was an impressive illusion that the entire game world was being rendered in three-dimensions.  It also permitted unusual camera angles that could be quickly switched from one perspective to another on the fly, which is what Alone in the Dark is usually remembered for by those who played it.


Under attack in Alone in the Dark


Alone in the Dark did very well for Infogrames, and was released on multiple platforms, including MS-DOS in 1992, the NEC -PC9801 system in 1993, and the Panasonic 3D0 and Apple Macintosh systems in 1994. (It was also scheduled to be ported over to the Atari Jaguar system, but, alas, that project was canceled.)  Its success resulted in a number of sequels, including Alone in the Dark 2 (released in 1993, and featuring another haunted mansion), and Alone in the Dark 3 (released in 1994 and sending the player to the Old West).  The franchise was rebooted in 2001 with Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, where the player got to explore an entire island, and again in 2008, with Alone in the Dark, taking the series to the modern age.


Inventory management in Alone in the Dark


The success of the original Alone in the Dark franchise gave the entire survival horror graphic adventure genre its birth. In fact, every time you start up a game of Left4 Dead 2, give thanks to the developers of the granddaddy of them all, Alone in the Dark!