Nick has been talking a little bit about horror games recently, it’s made me think about my struggles with horror games, or even just mildly scary games.
It all goes back to 2004, twelve years ago and three different games. There are stories I could share about some games that have been released this decade, but I’ll leave you with these tales for now…
June 2004 – Thief: Deadly Shadows is released and has been on the receiving end of some positive press, though some media outlets think it takes away from the original two games. I hadn’t played the first two, so wasn’t aware of the horror elements Looking Glass worked into their masterpieces. Even if I had played the first two, I don’t think they would have prepared me for this.
I dived into the game headfirst, and thoroughly enjoyed the sneaking, the thieving and the black-jacking. There was so much atmosphere in every level, and I would spend hours on the edge of my seat, tentatively pressing the WASD keys while hoping to avoid being spotted. I was having a great time, was really invested in the story…but I knew something was lurking around the corner.
The corner turned out to be The Shalebridge Cradle. Kieron Gillen wrote a masterpiece of long-form games writing in PC Gamer in 2005 about this level, and that is as close as I will ever come to completing one of the most intense levels I’ve ever experienced in gaming. The haunted house vibe was one thing, but the stories you unearth as you worked your way through The Cradle were perhaps the most horrific of all.
I tried The Cradle normally at first and couldn’t hack it. I tried it with the sound muted, but that was somehow even worse as the oppressive silence made the tension even worse. I tried it while playing rock music in the background…but that just took me out of the zone entirely. It came to a point where I had to put the game to one side, and leave it well alone. My nerves were shot.
In the past, I’ve tried to return to Deadly Shadows, but looking back at it now, it is all so clunky with an awkward version of the Unreal 2 engine and some awful loading screens as you traverse around The City. Maybe I’ve never made much progress on my returns, because I know The Cradle is just waiting ahead…
August 2004 – Doom 3 lands to critical acclaim…but in similar fashion to Thief, the hardcore fans lambast it. I ignored it all and dived right in. I loved the action, I loved the atmosphere and the setting in UACs Mars base. It had a brilliant “things have really gone to shit” vibe and I was rocking and rolling…for a little while anyway.
Pretty soon, I was getting tired of the cheap jump scares when an Imp would magically appear in front of you in a dark corridor…with another one right behind you. The jump scares would get me and more often than not, the Imps would have slashed my health to the bare minimum before I regained my composure.
God Mode was in order. One simple cheat, and I was able to enjoy the game in my own way. I know some people will wonder why something like Doom 3 caused me to go down the cheating route, and others will lambast me for daring to use a cheat.
The way I see it, I was able to get the most out of the game by using God Mode. Without it, I doubt I would have finished the game and would never have enjoyed it as much as I did.
Would I have resorted to God Mode if it wasn’t for my experience a couple of months earlier in The Cradle? Who knows…
November 2004 – Everyone knows what launched in November 2004 right? It was Valve’s seminal (and in some ways, still un-finished) masterpiece, Half-Life 2. I love this game, and just writing about it know entices me to return to Valve’s world and play through from the original again.
Anyway…Ravenholm. I know there are people out there who refuse to enter Ravenholm, or will do something like I did with Doom, but relished the adventures with Father Grigori and the zombie-hunting. I don’t mind zombies generally, and in Ravenholm, they were there to be killed in as many ways possible. I think it all comes down to the Gravity Gun.
This is your first chance to use it in action, playing with D0g in Black Mesa East was fun…but launching saw blades into zombies is one of the best moments in that game. I loved it, and was able to play through Ravenholm without a care in the world.
Ravenholm doesn’t hold a candle to The Cradle for pure horror or Doom for jump scares, maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much?
I do have tales to tell from more recent games, Until Dawn and Alien: Isolation figure here, but I don’t think either have had such a cultural impact as the three I’ve talked about. Do you like horror games? Can you hack them, or do you pass over them?