A Nightmare on Retro Street: Horror at Home

By Paul Monopoli

People love to be scared, and the forms of media we consume reflect that. From Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein to Capcom’s Resident Evil series, audiences have actively sought out fear in its various incarnations. It’s a little bit silly when you think about it…

Though games such as Codemaster’s Ghost Hunters provided 80s gamers with pixelated horror, hardware limitations meant that they were unable to provide a fully immersive experience. It was the 486 era that bought about a new age of PC gaming. Higher resolution graphics and quality CD audio brought about a new age of digital entertainment, and with better quality games came better quality scares!

1992 saw the release of the Lovecraft inspired Alone in the Dark (AITD) by Infogrames. Taking full advantage of the new hardware, this horror themed adventure created an immersive experience for the time. With the player taking the role of protagonists Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood, AITD entertained the notion of diversity in gaming years before it become a controversial talking point.

The game required a powerful CPU to move the polygons around as you scoured the mansion, searching for a piano. As you enter the mansion the door shuts and the monsters emerge from the shadows, doing their best to ensure your life does not meet its natural conclusion. Initially you are forced to resort to hand to hand combat, though weapons can be found scattered throughout the rooms.

The changing camera angles can take some getting used to. You have no control over them, but you learn what works in specific rooms very quickly. This can cause problems with the monster fights, though the puzzles are manageable. With that said, many of them are quite tricky and will take some thought before you can solve them.

AITD is not the fastest moving game around, moving at a relaxed, yet cautious pace. When confronted with enemies your heart races as you forget about the spooky mansion and focus on the action. It is only once you have despatched the monsters that you realise the potential horrors that lay ahead, leaving with a constant feeling of unease.

The opposite could be said for iD Software’s most famous game, Doom. Released a year after AITD, this first person shooter moves at a relatively fast pace, requiring you to shoot at and weave through hordes of monsters as you venture down to hell itself.

The plot is hazy and inconsistent depending on where the information is sourced from. One of the  generally accepted stories is that the main character is called Corporal William Blazkowicz III, though he is commonly referred to as “Doomguy”. This potentially ties the game into previous iD titles such as Wolfenstein 3D (in which the protagonist has the same surname) and Commander Keen (featuring Billy Blaze). Allegedly the manual does not name the protagonist at all, leaving him as a blank avatar for the player to inhabit.

From there, most reports state that Doomguy was stationed on Mars for assaulting a senior officer who ordered him to fire on civilians. During an experiment on inter dimensional travel a swarm of monsters from hell overrun the base, killing all they encounter or turning them to zombies. Help arrives but is shortly defeated, leaving Doomguy as the only survivor of the attack.

This highly advanced version of 3D Monster Maze will see surprises and shocks around every corner, from devoured corpses to some of the most horrific beasts you will ever see lying in wait for you. For those users still using 386 hardware the screen could be resized to speed up the action, allowing those who have yet to upgrade the opportunity be scared and horrified.

The monsters from hell vary in size and shape, from demon-like imps to spherical cacodemons. Pixelated blood sprays from them, and upon death they fall apart in gory fashion with accompanying death grunts. While it is not the scariest game in this feature it is definitely one that can force you to jump out of your chair in shock.

Doom was followed by Doom 2, Ultimate Doom and Final Doom in 1995. The latter was a misnomer as 10 years later Doom 3 was released by iD Software and the sequels keep on coming with Doom Eternal due for release in late 2019.

Even with these high definition sequels, the original games continue to be played in all their pixelated glory. The Doom modding community is as popular now as it has ever been, with fan creations being available on websites such as Doom World (www.doomworld.com). Many of these feature altered graphics and maps that can break all the rules. These mods cost nothing, allowing Doom fans a potential lifetime of free gameplay.

Two years after the release of Final Doom came ‘Blood’, another first person horror title from Monolith Productions. Using an enhanced version of the engine previously used for Duke Nukem 3D, Blood allowed players to explore a 2.5D maze. This provided the game with more scope than the aforementioned Doom, which was limited to a strictly 2D map.

The second game in the series acknowledges that the events of Blood take place in 1928. Like Doom, the backstory to Blood appears to be have been somewhat of an afterthought. Former cult leader, Caleb, finds himself mysteriously returned to life after an untimely demise. Naturally he is out for revenge and to find out why he was killed in the first place.

The enhanced engine used by Blood allows for more detail and additional gore. Like Mortal Kombat, the graphical violence is highly exaggerated in places, and ‘Blood’ certainly earns its name through the excessive use of the red substance. While the killing style of Doom is relatively simple and the animations the same each time you kill a cacodemon, for example, Blood allows you to be more creative when despatching your enemies.

Heads can be blasted off, bodies can be burned and holes appear in enemies that are shot. You can occasionally find an item that allows you to wield two weapons at the same time, allowing for additional carnage. When you do not completely destroy a monster you might see its body twitch upon death. It really is the little details that make all the difference.

As you progress through the game you can feel the layers of atmosphere that combine through the graphics, music and level design. The game feels more ‘3 dimensional’, with monsters popping out of the screen and causing varying levels of shock in gamers. The music is moody, rather appropriate for the horror themed levels. The sound effects have been upgraded from the grating, low-fi screams found in Doom. Monsters will roar to intimidate you and sound like they are in pain when shot. The atmosphere makes for some intense gameplay through the difficult levels. It should be noted that Blood is not an easy game to complete, so expect many deaths as you work through the levels.

With the enhanced game engine, Blood can allow portions of the map to overlap letting players venture to rooms that are on top of existing rooms. Levels can twist and turn in the most unpredictable manner. In an earlier 3D game like Doom you know where the walls are, and you know there is no way to go through them. With the extra dimension in map design Blood keeps the player guessing and makes hidden rooms much more difficult to pinpoint.

As well as first person shooters, the late 90s saw a boom in third person titles such as Mario 64 and Tomb Raider. Naturally horror themed games were coveted by fans of the genre, and Konami met the demand with Silent Hill.

The game sees exploits of Harry Mason, a man on holiday with his daughter. Their plans for some time away end up in disaster as the duo end up in a motor vehicle accident, leaving Harry unconscious. Upon waking up he finds his daughter missing, so he ventures into the nearby town of Silent Hill to see if she made her way there. Few people can be found, but monsters are plentiful. Harry must find a way to save his daughter and discover what has caused these demonic creatures to appear

Unlike Doom and Blood, Silent Hill focuses less on action and more on the fear factor. If you are looking for that ‘jump out of your seat’ scare then this is the game for you. Not bad for a game that has not aged particularly well graphically! Silent Hill contains a few elements of another Konami classic, Metal Gear. You can combat your enemies, but you are far better off sneaking up on them and doing them in without them even realising you are there. You are encouraged to use the darkness to your advantage, leaving the flashlight off and clobbering anything that is not human.

Solving puzzles is key to Silent Hill, and many of them will keep you guessing for a while. Well, that is those of you who do not just visit GameFAQS and find a play guide. Many of the puzzles feel like ‘Legend of Zelda-esque’ side quests, though most are required to progress through the game.

Silent Hill is brutal, both in terms of its content and gameplay. You need to keep your wits about you, as killing monsters may not be the best way forward. Resisting the urge to use your weapons means you have more equipment available to you when you reach the eventual boss. There is a frustration factor attached to the game, so if you are not a fan of multiple deaths then maybe give this a miss. You will die, and often!

Silent Hill has spawned two sequels, a remake and a tie-in motion picture. So if you enjoy the first game there is plenty more where that came from. Recognised as one of the greatest games of all time, this Konami classic is definitely worth a play through at least once in your life.

These four games feature varying degrees of horror, allowing retro gamers to pick their level of shock value when considering what to play over Halloween. Do you want the macabre horror of Silent Hill, or the ‘house of horrors’ feeling offered by Alone in the Dark?

Maybe you would prefer something with a bit more action like Doom, or some over that over the top horror that can be found in Blood.

Whether you choose one of these four titles or something else, we wish you the happiest of Halloweens and hope you don’t get too scared… unless you want to of course!

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