Horror video games are more popular than ever, but the titles that defined the genre are often forgotten. Here are five early horror games.
Horror video games are more popular than ever, thanks in no small part to major titles like Resident Evil. However, the games that truly defined the horror genre and made it what it is today aren’t always as recognizable.
The five games below pushed the boundaries of video games — and horror itself — and established some of the cornerstones of the genre. Each one has left its mark on the industry. Here are five genre-defining horror games that don’t get nearly enough credit.
Haunting Ground, better known as Demento in Japan, is a survival horror game developed and produced by Capcom for the PlayStation 2 in 2005.
It follows protagonist Fiona, who wakes up in the dungeon of a mysterious castle with little understanding of how she got there. Fiona soon meets Hewie, a dog, and her only ally in trying to survive the maniacal inhabitants of the castle. Haunting Ground is still discussed regularly at the academic level for those studying game design. Panic is a key feature: When Fiona panics, players begin to lose control over the character.
F.E.A.R. is a first-person horror shooter developed by Monolith Productions and produced by Vivendi Universal Games and Warner Bros. Games, released on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC in 2005. Players are an elite member of a special forces combat squad with the express purpose of containing paranormal related events. The team is summoned to investigate the supernatural occurrences related to a little girl named Alma.
F.E.A.R. won players and critics over with its impressive gunplay and realistic features. What makes this game so influential, however, is its enemy AI. It won GameSpot’s 2005 “Best AI Award” and redefined what it felt like to fight dangerous, unpredictable foes.
Manhunt is a survival horror game with a stealthy twist. The game was developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games for the PlayStation 2 in 2003, then ported to PC and Xbox in 2004.
Players take the role of a death row prisoner set free by a deranged film producer, only to be forced into becoming the star killer in a series of snuff films. The unrelenting violence seen in the game caught many people’s attention. The player is rewarded based on how gruesome a murder they perpetrate in-game. While not banking on jump scares to frighten, this game did enough to make the player feel gross about the actions they committed on screen.
Silent Hill is a survival horror game developed by Team Silent and published by Konami for the PlayStation in 1999. Silent Hill follows the story of Harry Mason, who gets into a car accident while driving with his adopted daughter. When Harry awakens, he notices his daughter is missing and that he’s now alone in an ominous town with terrifying secrets.
Silent Hill excels at making players feel helpless. When aiming and shooting guns, it’s with the telltale wobble of an amateur. If the player finds and wants to consult a map, there better be enough light to do so; the same goes for navigating the dark alleyways and buildings. At every turn, players are reminded that this world does not bend to them, and they’ll have to adapt if they want a chance to survive in it.
Alone in the Dark is the first 3D survival horror game, developed and published by Infogrames for PC in 1992. Players take the role of one of two potential protagonists and must escape from a haunted mansion. Both Emily and Edward have their reasons for investigating the Derceto mansion and its owner’s death, but must now escape with their life. Only by solving puzzles and defeating monsters can they hope to survive.
Alone in the Dark has had a tremendous impact on video games. Set in a mansion against supernatural monsters, with exploration centered gameplay and very creaky doors, it’s obvious to see how Alone in the Dark influenced games like Resident Evil. Beyond the obvious, this game pioneered features later popularized in horror games, like fixed camera perspectives and weight-based inventory.
As players dive into their game collections this season and dig up scary selections for Halloween, chances are some of their favorites have been inspired by these titles. Though these genre-defining games have been lost in part to time, their legacy will always remain.
Jonathan LoChiatto is a writer, gamer, and podcaster based in Massachusetts, USA. A graduate of Salem State University’s Creative Writing Program, and a veteran trainer for major tech companies. Jonathan has written about a wide variety of topics, from game reviews to internal training documents. He’s been in a love affair with video games for as long as he could hold a controller. Along the way, Jonathan also developed a passion for comic books, board games, and movies, which he now covers regularly on his podcast, The DorkWeb.
Capcom, Resident Evil, PlayStation 4
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