Worst Horror Games #2 – Siren

worsthorrorlogohalloweensiren

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Sony
Published: 2003

Summary – Siren follows a large cast of characters who find themselves trapped in the remote, strange village of Hanuda, Japan, which has come under a mysterious curse causing it to be enveloped in darkness. The villagers, mutated and corrupted by the curse, have all become hostile zombies.

Overall Thoughts
Again, I want to point out that this list is not objective, but sorted by my personal preference. (It’s also leaked far past Halloween, sorry about that!) Some members of the team behind Silent Hill created Siren, so for that reason alone I hate to place it near the top of the “Worst”, but I really hated this game. It’s like they took the worst qualities that Silent Hill had and amplified them – weird controls, a hard-to-follow plot, invincible and incredibly annoying enemies, etc. If I had to summarize this game in two words, I would call it “mercilessly confusing”.

Siren feels hostile, and not in a good way like horror is supposed to, but more like it’s actively punishing you for not being psychic and already having figured out what to do. I got a similar feeling with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, if you’ve ever played that. Unlike this game, though, Majora’s Mask made up for its frustrating parts by being otherwise engaging and rewarding. You don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything playing Siren, but dug yourself deeper into frustration. There’s not any one part that I can use as an example, because it’s a lot of moments spread throughout.

The one thing I truly did like is Siren‘s concept and design, which uses themes of Japanese occultism and seems to be inspired by the works of Junji Ito, notably “Village of the Sirens”, one of his best short stories. The shibito, a village of cursed humans that serve as the main enemies, are incredibly creepy looking, and the fact that they relentlessly chase you down can be scary, at least until it becomes annoying. A unique mechanic is used to where you can peek through the eyes of the shibito in order to avoid them, which I thought was creative and bizarre. It’s not often you get to see through the eyes of the zombie that’s after you in games like these!

As good and creative as the design is, especially in regards to body horror, I hate to say that the game itself remains unfair, cruel and often incomprehensible. Silent Hill had its obscure moments, but there was a sense of logic and a natural path to its dreaminess that doesn’t exist here. Siren does have a fanbase who insist there’s something special about it, and maybe there is, but I don’t appreciate having my patience threshold constantly tested to find it. Will I give it another chance? Someday, maybe, but truthfully it is more interesting to read about than play.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
I honestly want to say “no”, but I suppose there’s potential. The themes of the story can be quite fascinating when dissected outside of the game, and do remind me a lot of Junji Ito or H.P. Lovecraft.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 2.5
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1
Fear Factor – 2.5
Music and Sound – 3
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

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Worst Horror Games #3 – Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within

worsthorrorlogohalloweenctgh

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Puzzle
Platform: PlayStation
Publisher: Human Entertainment / Agetec
Published: 1998

SummaryAlso known as Clock Tower: Ghost Head, Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within follows a student named Alyssa Hale, who grapples with her split personality, an evil, murderous man named Bates. After Bates kills three of her classmates, Alyssa tries to uncover the reason why Bates exists in the first place, leading her deeper into the dark history of her biological family, whom she never knew.

Overall Thoughts
I have a soft spot for this game, despite its many blatant, glaring flaws. It is objectively poorly planned-out, unfair and confounding with its puzzles, and many things about the central plot make no sense. All three fans of the Clock Tower series agree that it’s the weakest entry, though it does have a few positive things to offer.

The “Jekyll and Hyde” mechanic switching between the good Alyssa and the evil Bates is extremely creative. Bates will commit necessary crimes that Alyssa won’t to move the plot along, while Alyssa is better at problem solving. The soundtrack is a surprising electro-horror gem, with several fun and tense tracks – particularly the villain themes, like “Shiver Zombie”. The voice acting is actually phenomenal, which surprised me even more. Older horror games, well… they aren’t known for their stellar voice acting.

Sadly, these are the two main draws of Clock Tower II. The plot is interesting, but dotted with holes and useless characters. The graphics are passable. Horror elements often come across as silly because of the blocky textures, but this is true of most 90s horror games. The puzzles literally require you to be psychic, or ridiculously persistent with trial-and-error, and you will die often, mostly due to unforeseen, seemingly random events that no one in their right mind could have predicted would happen. An infamous example is the samurai suit, an innocuous piece of furniture that if you make Alyssa examine, will trap your game in an early bad ending. The game does not hint to this whatsoever. There are multiple instances like this. Having Bates kick the crap out of a possessed little girl is pretty funny, though.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/clocktower/images/6/6f/BatesSparta.gif/revision/latest?cb=20160327011636

My nostalgia with Clock Tower II goes way back, so I can’t help but like it, even though it is pretty terrible. The American version of the cover has always fascinated me, for some reason. There’s something that drew me into this image as a kid, and I always wondered what it was about.

CT2 art

Clock Tower II does not know what it wants to be, and tried to mash up the subtle, occult tension of Clock Tower with the sci-fi horror of Resident Evil in the poorest, weirdest way it could have. I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you’re a collector.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
If the faults and holes in its plot were patched, then sure. The Clock Tower series as a whole has a lot of potential as a series of novels, especially as they remind me so much of the style of horror novels that was popular in the late 80s and early 90s, with female protagonists having to outwit a villain or stalker of some sort.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 3
Art and Design – 3
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1
Fear Factor – 1
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

Thanks to the Clock Tower Wiki for the animation.
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Best Horror Games #5 – Haunting Ground

besthorrorlogohalloweenhground

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Survival Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Capcom
Published: 2006

SummaryHaunting Ground follows Fiona Belli, a young woman who finds herself locked in a sprawling castle after a car wreck which kills both of her parents. The castle has very few inhabitants, but they all seem to know her already. She soon learns that they are the last of her father’s estranged and deranged family members. Worse yet, they seem to have their own sinister intentions for her. With the help of the White Shepherd, Hewie, whom she rescues from the abuse of the groundskeeper, Fiona sets out to escape the castle.

Overall Thoughts
Haunting Ground deserved better than it got. There was essentially no publicity or critical love for this beauty of a game when it came out, leading to copies of it being rather rare. Oh, sure, you can get reproductions if you want to play it, but a real copy is hard to come by, despite there being a pretty big cult fandom for it (or perhaps because there is a fandom…)

I like that Fiona’s outcome becomes karmic by how well you treat her dog, Hewie. If you choose to be mean to him, you’re likely to receive a horrible ending, but if you treat him nicely, he’ll help you out. But like a real dog, Hewie is often stubborn and easily distracted, so it’s better not to rely on him too much. The gameplay is similar to Clock Tower, its spiritual successor, in which you are trying to avoid a series of “stalkers” who pursue you as you navigate a huge castle. It’s pretty simple and functional, so let’s talk about the design and characters, which is where Haunting Ground really shines.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/clocktower/images/d/dc/FioHew1.gif/revision/latest?cb=20150828133511

The design is intricate and savory to the eye all around. Though it does show the graphical flukes common of PS2 games, you won’t notice them unless they’re pointed out. The disconcerting soundtrack by Seiko Kobuchi adds a lot of tension to the atmosphere. I don’t know what genre you would label Haunting Ground’s soundtrack, as it’s like no music I’ve ever heard, exactly. The soundtrack is an unsettling hybrid of classical music, electronic dissonance and hellish horror noises, such as guttural groaning and inhuman voices. It is on YouTube, if you want to take a listen for yourself.

I want to talk about the story in detailed analysis at some point, because who doesn’t love a good analysis? But I’ll make it brief for now. If anyone ever questions whether video games in the traditional action-and-goal style can be considered “art”, you should show them Haunting Ground. Actually, you could show them any of the good ones I’ve discussed, but this one in particular is breathtaking, and the story is outright disturbing.

I feel like Haunting Ground is one of the few video games that requires a trigger warning for its take on sexuality. It’s not explicit, per se, or even a very violent game, but the themes of abuse, birth, stalking and image issues could be really unsettling, and there’s a creepy, erotic vibe to most of the characters. This is not a “scary” horror game, but it does its damnedest to make you uncomfortable. Depending on your personal sensitivities, this could actually make it scarier than your average horror game. Continue reading “Best Horror Games #5 – Haunting Ground”

Worst Horror Games #4 – Alone in the Dark 2008

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★★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii, PC
Publisher: Atari
Published: 2008

SummaryAlone in the Dark (2008) follows paranormal investigator Edward Carnby, who awakens suffering from amnesia in a building that is gradually collapsing. After escaping the building, he finds that the entire city is in a destroyed, apocalyptic state due to strange, supernatural fissures forming through it.

Overall Thoughts
I’m going to make this brief, because to be honest, Alone in the Dark 2008 isn’t a godawful game. It has a significant fanbase, and I understand why, but I don’t personally enjoy it even remotely. This list is pretty subjective, so it only made the “Worst” list, like Silent Hill Homecoming, because it’s one of my least favourite horror games. I specifically only put mainstream console games on this list, because if I hadn’t, 99% of the “Worst” would be Steam or PC horror games, which are often made by tiny teams with no budget. I don’t feel it’s fair to count those.

Love it or hate it, Alone in the Dark 2008 was always destined to be plagued. It was a loose tie-in with a film that’s often called one of the worst movies ever, with a whopping 2.4 out of 10 on IMDB, which in turn was a loose adaptation of an early 90s cult classic horror game.
Now, I don’t have a vicious opinion of either the movie or this game. I don’t especially like either, but I don’t think they’re deserving of the sheer, seething, foaming-at-the-mouth hatred that’s thrown at both of them. At their worst, I think they hit at just below the threshold of “tolerable”.

Alone in the Dark 2008 did see an improved re-release, but as far as the original, I found it extraordinarily frustrating. For positives, the graphical design, soundtrack and puzzles are quite well-made and there are some great anxious, scary moments. I like the Lovecraftian themes and apocalyptic settings. Oh, and the monsters! The monsters are supremely creepy!

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/aloneinthedark/images/e/e0/Subway_Monster.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20180108035747

There’s a real sense of mass destruction and impending danger that could’ve made for a great experience, but the story wasn’t enough of a draw for me to force myself through the rapidly shifting, disorienting, and sometimes glitchy gameplay though. There was a function to skip chapters, which I found myself doing often enough that I completely lost track of what the plot was supposed to be.
In short, I wouldn’t call Alone in the Dark unbearable, but it is difficult and annoying to the point of not being fun. What differentiates a video game from a film or a book (and apparently this shouldn’t have been a film, either) is the interactivity, and if that’s no good, the positive qualities it might have all fall apart.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe..? The Alone in the Dark series was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos, so I suppose it could.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 2.5
Art and Design – 3.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1.5
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

Worst Horror Games #5 – Silent Hill Homecoming

worsthorrorlogohalloweenshhco

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Konami
Published: 2008

Summary – Silent Hill Homecoming follows Alex Shepherd, a soldier who returns to his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen to discover his little brother has gone missing. Following a sinister link between his family and a religious cult, Alex goes to the town of Silent Hill to look for him.

Overall Thoughts
“In here is a tragedy. Art thou player, or audience?”

Truth be told, maybe it isn’t fair to put this game on the “Worst” list at all. I think Homecoming gets picked on a little too much. The circumstances behind this game are incredibly unlucky and fraught with poor and dubious decisions. A lot of its issues can be traced back, surprise surprise, to the publisher, Konami. A European development team was thrown the task of this title with little experience with the series and an unrealistic deadline, so it honestly surprises me that anything good was able to be eked out of the project at all. I won’t be too hard on it, but I will say that when compared with most other Silent Hill entries, this one leaves quite a lot to be desired. It’s essentially a watered-down Silent Hill 2 with more out-of-place fighting sequences.

There are good ideas present, including the melancholy soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka, and I think if you prefer action horror and enjoyed the Silent Hill film, you probably wouldn’t hate it. I don’t dislike it, but it is objectively bad. The controls and gameplay when you’re not exploring are pretty awful, and the weird focus on combat in a series that’s… never been known for that… erases the impact of much of the otherwise creepy and often rather pretty imagery in this game. I can understand why there are ardent fans of this game because it can be beautiful, visually disturbing and macabre, but there is no real threat or depth to back it up.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/silent/images/c/cd/The_Church_of_the_Holy_Way.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20141214091441

Alex Shepherd and his dysfunctional family had a lot of potential, and some parts of the story are cool, but it doesn’t jibe with the established story of the series, and the psychological aspect could have been handled so much better. They basically drill into your head that Alex was “in the army”, when in reality… (spoiler) no, he never was. It’s kind of obvious. He’s just insane, I guess.

The characters are passable, for the most part. I love the designs of the monsters, but none of the human characters besides the protagonist stood out to me, and that’s the true shame. Silent Hill was never about the monsters of dreams, but the monsters within human nature. This is a common misunderstanding when people try to adapt the series, and I’ve never gotten it. How do you miss the point so much?
That’s basically all I have to say about it. If the developers had been given an inkling of time to develop Homecoming properly, it could’ve been fantastic, but as is, it’s just okay.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe. There’s a lot of unexplored potential that could be toyed around with to make a decent book, if you were a skilled enough writer.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 3
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

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Worst Horror Games #6 – Rule of Rose

worsthorrorlogohalloweenror

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Atlus
Published: 2006

SummaryRule of Rose, set in the remote countryside of 1930s England, follows a teenager named Jennifer, who becomes trapped in an orphanage, ruled by a cruel and ruthless group of young girls who call themselves the “Red Crayon Aristocrats”. She must appease them in order to escape, all the while forced to confront her own childhood at the orphanage.

Overall Thoughts
It physically pains me to start off the “Worst” list with Rule of Rose. The story and cast are so, so well-written. The setting, which even though it’s set in the 30s, still retains a sort of late Edwardian, melancholic feel to it, is phenomenal, and it borrows heavily from the dark tones of Grimm’s Fairytales. Story-wise, it is tragic, haunting and beautiful, and reminds me heavily of Lord of the Flies, but with mostly female characters.

I wish that this had been a movie or a book instead of a game, because the medium, in this case, does not do Rule of Rose any favours. The gameplay part just sucks. There’s no way around it. The developers weren’t given nearly enough time to perfect it, and it ends up ruining what is otherwise a great experience.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/ruleofrose/images/6/60/Wenjen.png/revision/latest?cb=20110927101628

From a technical standpoint, the graphics and design are nice. The soundtrack is spectacular – a romantic, gothic blend of 1930s swing and classical music of the Victorian era that’s addictive to listen to. You’d be better off listening to the soundtrack and watching the story segments on YouTube than you would be trying to find a copy of this game. Seriously. Take a listen to this.
Rule of Rose is exceedingly rare due to poor marketing, bad press and poor sales, and now goes for a whopping… $80-$200 USD, at the least, and that’s for a garbage used copy. You can buy reproductions, though, if you’re that curious, but the gameplay portion is honestly, very bad and unfinished. The difficulty is unfair, the controls are clunky, and there are long sections of hunting items with Jennifer’s dog that quickly become tedious.

Rule of Rose was met with controversy in Italy and England due to a false rumor that the game was about “murdering children”, part of the reason why it did not sell. Spoiler – it isn’t. Rule of Rose is a psychological exploration of childhood trauma, the differing and sometimes troubled relationships between girls and bullying. The entire plot occurs in Jennifer’s mind, and is her twisted memories of being forced to stand up to her peers, at the cost of more than one best friend. Like I said, it would be a stunningly beautiful experience if it had been anything other than a video game.
In short, if those idiots in Hollywood want to make an all-girl Lord of the Flies, they ought to just adapt Rule of Rose, and actually do this plot some justice.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Hell yes, it would! This could possibly be the best novel of the psychological horror genre. It also makes me think of the novel John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins, which has a vaguely similar premise.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 5
Art and Design – 4.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

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Best Horror Games #10 – Clock Tower

besthorrorlogohalloweenctower

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Mystery
Platform: SNES, Super Famicom
Publisher: Human Entertainment
Published: 1995

Summary – Clock Tower follows an orphaned teenager, Jennifer Simpson, after her adoption by the Barrows family, along with several other girls. The Barrows’ enormous, labyrinthine mansion is terrorized by a killer, known as Scissorman, who starts to target the girls one by one, forcing Jennifer and the others to try to escape.

Overall Thoughts
Clock Tower is far from perfect, but it’s an innovator in the survival horror genre, and deserves respect for that. The series was inspired by the Italian horror film Phenomena, with the protagonist and plot bearing strong resemblances to those from the movie. To have what is essentially a video game version of a Dario Argento film is really cool in its own right, but Clock Tower also made extremely clever, disturbing and creative use of pixel art and storytelling choices.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/clocktower/images/2/25/Run.gif/revision/latest?cb=20150107101054

There are multiple endings one can get in the story, depending on the small decisions you make in the Barrows house, while all the while being stalked by a boy wielding a massive pair of scissors, and the deranged Barrows family themselves. If you like retro horror, you’ll love it. It’s not a difficult game, and is point-and-click, which takes some of the stress out of the action parts, if that’s not something you care for. The soundtrack is sparse, but pretty good whenever it’s there, especially for an older game.

This series, sadly, has been condemned to relative obscurity, and flopped outside of Japan. The upside is, you can get a fan-translated English version of this game made for the SNES, if you want. Despite never being “officially” published in English, the first and arguably best Clock Tower is surprisingly less rare than the parts of the series that were.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Definitely! Clock Tower has obvious shades of vintage horror novels from the late 80s and early 90s, when the “final girl” trope was at its peak popularity. This game reminds me so much of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street. It has the same sort of atmosphere, that’s creepy and entertaining without taking itself too seriously.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 4.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 3.5
General Score – 4 out of 5

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