Genre: Adventure Horror
Anyone who grew up in the 1990s playing video games or has a basic overall knowledge of games at the time knows about the notoriety that surrounds Night Trap. While that could take on a whole article itself- and very likely will in the future- the game still has other features that make it stand out in electronic gaming history. To many, outside of a cult following the game has cultivated through various means, the game is regarded as one of the worst games in Sega’s history.
That’s a little much. I mean, I can’t be that bad. Right?
Night Trap is, for all intents and purposes, an interactive horror movie. This is not like Until Dawn or Phantasmagoria, however, where you play one of the tormented. In this game, you play as a member of SCAT- Sega Control Attack Team (changed to “Special” on ports outside of Sega systems)- and you are tasked by the leader of your squad to help keep a group of teenage girls safe, along with an agent who has infiltrated the group, Kelli Meed (portrayed by the late Dana Plato).
When the girls are invited to a sleepover by a girl they met at the mall, Sarah Martin, they decide it would be fun to have a party and let loose. Strange things have been happening over at the Martin house, however, what with the last five girls who stayed there having disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Since no one questions this but the members of SCAT, it is up to you and Kelli to make sure that, using traps strewn throughout the house, you stop anything that might be threatening the girls. Before you can say “you better beware”, strange dark-clad “Augers” begin to pour into every crevice of the house.
With access to the eight main rooms of the house, you will constantly be cycling through environments to try to catch the Augers before they can disappear into the house. When all is said and done, this comes down to pressing the B button when a gauge on the screen is full, thus executing the trap and rendering the Augers in the correct place unable to stalk our hapless victims. On top of this, the traps are connected to the Martins’ security system. The traps will only go off if you have the correct corresponding color active. Let too many of the Augers pass undetected or let them catch the girls, and your boss will disconnect you, ending the game. There are other ways to lose, too, but we wouldn’t want to spoil too much of the game’s plot for you here, would we?
There really isn’t much to do in the game outside of making sure you catch the Augers that you can as the timer ticks away. You do have the ability to pause, which is the only way to slow the passage of time, and it is vital to do so if you want to catch as many of the intruders as you can. You do get two counters, as well, to show how many Augers have entered the house and how many you have captured, so that you can keep a comparison. While this is going on, the entire story plays out in other rooms of the house.
Yes, the unfortunate part of the whole game is that you will not see most of the actual plot- or even the introduction explaining the game mechanics- due to watching empty rooms trying to find Augers breaking into the house. More than likely, without any walkthrough or help, you will be struggling to juggle traps that need to be executed within seconds of each other, trying to see what’s going on with the mysteries of the Martin household, and catching the interspersed scenes where the family changes the security system color, which if you remember is incredibly important. It could certainly qualify as an exercise in futility. A quick search on YouTube, however, will let you watch all of the scenes from the game so you know what is going on with the plot.
Otherwise, the issue becomes that there is no way to know where or when the Augers will appear and be able to be trapped. Strange as it sounds with a game, if you aren’t taking notes, each playthrough is going to be uniquely frustrating. This means that there is plenty of replay value in Night Trap, but you may not find all of that value enjoyable. Clicking through empty rooms for what feels like hours becomes tedious, and without guidance, you’ll most likely move on after so many failures.
Beginning the chat on the presentation of the game, it is hard to stay away from the topic of the ‘movie’ part of it. Even by 1987 standards (which was when the footage was actually filmed), the script and acting are kitschy. Some of this, especially in the script itself, feels deliberate. The performances are so uneven, though, that it is painfully obvious in points that there was a time crunch. Given that the scenes were shot over three weeks, it isn’t hard to believe that squeezing out quality performances only went so far. Most of the acting, though stays in the realm of campy, with only a couple of the performers turning in legitimately awful shows.
This version- which is one of five versions at this time- is definitely the weakest visually. The drawback to being a pioneer of the FMV genre is that the technology had not caught up to the potential, and while everything is discernible, it is fuzzy and pixelated once characters are too far from the forefront of the set. There are some super cheesy visual effects that are used, too, and they drive home the fantastical horror feel of the game well, even if they are antiquated.
The sound is mixed well, and it doesn’t fall prey to some of the strange issues that other FMV games tended to where one scene might be blaring only for the next scene to be far too quiet. Everything is even, and like in movies, music is used to enhance scenes to some extent. There are two sounds you’ll become well acquainted with, however- the incredibly 80’s guitar riff that plays when Augers are on screen, and the song written for the game that appears twice- once during the credits and once during a scene with the girls partying. That aside, the sound is serviceable but not memorable.
Experiencing Night Trap was something I wanted to do to both see what the fuss was about back in the 1990s as well as to have a good, campy and horror filled time. What I found was staring at a bunch of empty rooms, occasionally broken up by half of a scene of exposition or a code change here or there. The game does feel more like an effort of love for the B-Horror movie than it does an effort of duty, and watching through the video laid out end to end, I don’t think one person has agreed with the ‘controversy’ behind the game and the trials (figurative and literal) that Night Trap went through. It’s not a great game on its own, but if you pull up a guide to get you through it and watch the scenes somehow elsewhere, you’ll see what a cool little project it was.
Oh, and definitely expect an article on the ‘controversy’ behind this game soon!