Zoetrope Interactive/Iceberg Interactive
Genre: Horror Adventure
Most horror fans of any medium have at least heard of H.P. Lovecraft in passing. If you haven’t read one of his stories, you’ve probably at least heard of “Call of Cthulhu” due to the tabletop gaming system or the number of video games that have been released with the name attached. Some others like “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “At the Mountains of Madness” have seen references in film and games, too. Of his tens of stories that he wrote, only a handful have gained mainstream popularity of any kind. His style, however, is reference constantly.
“At the Mountains of Madness” is of special note here. During his lifetime, Lovecraft had a preoccupation with the idea of an expedition to the Antarctic and what could be found there. While most of the works that come out referencing his works take place in small towns with strange and isolated inhabitants- The Sinking City, Call of Cthulhu, and Dark Corners of the Earth, as examples- only a couple that I’ve run into have examined this setting in any way aside from a passing mention. Conarium is the most recent that I’ve come across.
I picked up the game as one of the Epic Games Launcher’s free offerings and if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across it in any way shape or form on my own. I’d never heard of Conarium, but I knew I was looking for some horror games for the Halloween season and found it a stroke of luck that this would pop up in my notifications. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but as any hapless Lovecraft protagonist would, I steeled myself and prepared for a step into the unknown as I booted the game up for the first time. Continue reading
No Code/Devolver Digital
Genre: Text-Based Horror
Before all of the fancy graphical wonders and high-octane action sequences that developers have been crafting and hooking audiences onto in recent years, the wonders of the imagination ran free in a genre now referred to in most circles as “interactive fiction”. For anyone not familiar with these types of games, they tended to consist entirely of words describing the action and environment. From there, the player has to type out what they want to do with a series of commands or directions- want to go down that hallway to the north? “NORTH”. Think that desk might have something interesting? “LOOK AT DESK”. Everything was in your mind’s eye- for better or worse.
While the style has generally fallen out of fashion, there are plenty of folks who put together games akin to the old text-based adventures. One such group who has paid homage to the genre recently is No Code, the minds behind a moderately known game called Untold Stories. At first glance, it might look like the title card was swiped directly from an episode of Stranger Things. While it might seem derivative, though, it’s actually designed by Kyle Lambert, the artist who designed the posters for the show. Finding that out was step one to ending my hesitation about checking the game out.
Of course, amidst the ridiculous backlog hacking I’ve been doing recently, recommendations from trusted friends help pull certain titles forward. After a bit of praise from my buddy Brad over at Cheap Boss Attack (who you should totally check out, by the way), I decided to push up Untold Stories on my playlist since it seemed short and also seemed to have left quite the impression on my fellow horror gaming buff. I recently got to pop the game on and got ready to type my little frightened heart out. Continue reading
Warp / Panasonic / Acclaim
Genre: Horror Adventure
Gaming in the 1990s was living in an age of wonder and innovation. In no way is this meant to nullify the decades before that sealed the foundation of gaming technology, but in retrospect, the 90s feel like they were a turning point in the medium’s popularity. The majority of the people I talk about games with can remember systems like the Atari and Colecovision consoles, but their fondest memories always come back to systems like the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and later on, Sony’s Playstation console.
When I first got my Playstation, I rented two games. One of them was Final Fantasy VII which showed off just how much the new system could do graphically as well as content-wise. The other was a little game that I couldn’t remember much about after a few years called D. What I did remember was the protagonist and some scene involving a mirror… maybe? It was very fuzzy but I remember not spending much time with it for one reason or another.
Shocking, I’m sure, that when I had the chance to go back and play the game again recently, I took the chance gladly. D and its sequels have gained a solid cult following over the years. I’ve read up a bit on how bizarre and interesting the games are on a variety of levels for the sake of research but managed to avoid any major spoilers. Being able to head back into D semi-blind after nearly 20 years seemed like a task I’d be willing to take on, especially heading into the Halloween season.
Huntsman: The Orphanage – Halloween Edition
Genre: Alternative Horror
I have a strong love and hate outlook on media that comes packaged with the tagline “based on a true story”. When it comes to drama or biographies, obviously there’s a lot more authenticity to be had. It’s when it comes to my favorite genre- horror, in case you didn’t know that about me yet- that it becomes a strange mess of “facts” and embellishment. A Nightmare on Elm Street is technically based on a true story. No, none of what happens in that film is an actual part of the news clipping it was inspired by.
This is where “CreepyPasta” comes in. At its core, CreepyPasta makes up the urban legends of the current day including the now-familiar figures of Slender Man and the Rake. While it knows it’s not real from the get-go, there are some very convincing efforts to make them seem legitimate. The things you can do with technology these days make these efforts even tougher to poke holes in at times. There are some fascinating stories to take in and consequently lose sleep to.
Huntsman: The Orphanage – Halloween Edition is a game that, much like some other small indie games, capitalizes on creating its own story rather than building on an existing mythos. Shadowshifters, the developers of the game, seemed more intent on creating something like the Slender Man and Rake tales by creating an experience that was not graphic or violent in its telling but would leave the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps as to how the story plays out involving its victims. Stumbling across this game among others in one of the many Steam sales, I thought it would be neat to see how this was handled given the plethora of other modern urban legends being created in the gaming landscape. Continue reading
Fiction Factory Games/PQube
Genre: Romantic Comedy Visual Novel
In the early 1980s, the Atari was king of the home consoles for video gaming. As with anything that turns a profit and is fairly innovative, everybody wanted a piece of the new “home gaming” pie and between 1982 and 1983, the home console market became saturated with more systems and titles than anyone could truly afford or have space for at the time. Believe it or not, the stories of cartridges of E.T. for the Atari 2600 being buried in the desert because retailers couldn’t hold them on their shelves and the poor quality due to rushed manufacturing times are factual, if not a bit inflated, and they were just one piece of the puzzle that nearly stopped heavy hitters like the Nintendo Entertainment System from reaching US shores.
But what if that hadn’t happened? What if the industry had practiced a bit of moderation with their excitement or retailers had sufficiently embraced this cutting-edge technology and had met the demand for supply? What if game manufacturers had been more worried about crediting their programmers and putting out quality product rather than rushing to try for the highest sales they could?
Wow. A lot of this is starting to sound kind of familiar…
In any case, my first introduction to Arcade Spirits was an explanation that it took place in a world much like you may imagine those “what if” situations could have produced. While it’s clear that the game industry is flourishing and not in much immediate danger of history repeating itself, how would arcades, now a bit of a novelty rather than commonplace as they were in the 80s and 90s, have fared if there hadn’t been a video game crash at all?
Well, the chance to see one potential outcome awaits you right behind the neon and brick title screens of Arcade Spirits.
(As a quick note, if you’d like to read more about the gaming crash in 1983, the Wikipedia page here has a ton of information to start with!)