31 Iconic Titles That Helped Shape the Horror Genre — Part 2

| |

By Juno Stump on October 20th, 2021


Horror games continued to thrive throughout the nineties. All those kids and teenagers from the seventies and eighties had a little more money to burn, which allowed for more mature and ambitious games. Developers were able to experiment more and push the limits of what was previously allowed as both technology and society continued to evolve.

Horrific NEw Perspectives

The creativity of developers was given even more space to roam as 3D technology and increased resolution allowed for more nuanced situations and storytelling. Games could reveal more details and that absolutely included the spooky titles too. That detail was just sometimes consumed by darkness — or something worse, something unrecognizable.

These are some more of the iconic titles within the horror genre that have helped shape the genre over the years:

Sweet Home (NES, 1989)

Sweet Home may very well be one of the first survival horror games. Based on the horror film of the same name, Sweet Home was released exclusively in Japan. Though the rest of the world was left out on the porch, everyone would later be welcomed inside with open, groaning arms.

Sweet Home is a landmark horror title for several reasons but being responsible for Resident Evil is at the top of the chimney. The game is also remarkable on its own too, despite some flaws in Sweet Home’s foundation.

It’s a mysterious and unnerving experience all throughout the game as the player moves a party of five playable characters through its many floors and halls. The party consists of a documentary film crew seeking to recover some valuables from an abandoned mansion. Each character has unique abilities that are necessary for progression and survival. This sounds exciting in theory but it’s actually what’s always stopped me (and likely others) from visiting Sweet Home.

Players are only able to have three characters in their party at a time, which means a lot of unnecessary backtracking and added difficulty. That being said, the role-playing game battles and mechanics keep things pretty interesting.

Sweet Home showed really early on how fear and hopelessness could be used against players to blend gameplay and story together. Sweet Home no doubt helped inspire tighter difficulty constraints and other shifting variables that make things harder on players in situations that are already scary, such as limited saves or items that can later lead to disastrous consequences.

Splatterhouse (Various, 1989)

Splatterhouse is a beat ’em up arcade game that was later ported to different home consoles. Though the console ports all vary in quality, the game remains largely the same outside of a few changes. Most of the differences were to accommodate different hardware but some outright altered the game, like how players receive more hearts at the end of levels in the TurboGrafx-16 version.

That being said, Splatterhouse is delightful, gooey, and gory wherever you play it — and you absolutely should if you haven’t yet. Splatterhouse features action-packed gameplay and smooth pacing throughout most of the game. And while it isn’t very scary, Splatterhouse has an undeniably fun atmosphere that’s just spooky and has a good vibe.

Fans of classic horror films and media will recognize references throughout the game. Some of the referenced media include Evil Dead II, the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Poltergeist, and, if youuuuuuu can believe it, Friday the 13th.

Splatterhouse received some pretty good advertising during the 1993 U.S. Senate hearings on violent video games that honestly just kind of feels like satire at this point. Despite the game’s violence though, it is worth highlighting that players only ever kill monsters and demonic creatures.

Splatterhouse can get pretty difficult after a while, at which point you’ll either want to start ‘save scumming’ or switch to a Let’s Play. It’s still an important and influential title though, even with its shortcomings, and it helped provide something less intense for the horror genre. Sometimes people wanna vibe without managing limited inventory space and multiple save slots, and that’s where games like Splatterhouse help remind us that horror games can also choose to focus on atmosphere and striking the right mood.

Monster Party (NES, 1989)

Monster Party is also more of a vibe than a scary time with wild visuals and busy movement. The game’s story follows a boy named Mark who’s transported to a faraway realm to help an alien named Bert rid their world of evil.

Bert uses his powers to fuse with Mark so they’re one being while fighting against the weird and bizarre enemies of Monster Party. Mark has a baseball bat, which can be used to hit projectiles back at enemies, as well as the limited use of Bert’s beams, which can be fired at enemies from a distance.

The game’s eight levels all feature different bosses and enemies that must be defeated before Mark can progress to the next area. It wouldn’t be an NES title without some silly and unnecessary frustration mixed in though, which Monster Party definitely has.

Set in a side-scroller format, Monster Party has different doorways that players need to unlock to find the bosses. Sometimes rooms are empty though without a boss and just contain a power-up, which can add to the game’s challenge. Still, the combat isn’t too difficult considering when Monster Party was released and the designs of enemies and environments make for a memorable trip.

Monster Party also features all kinds of variations and references to other horror media. This also extends to some of the game’s bosses, which include everything from a mummy to The Grim Reaper. Many of the game’s enemies were also inspired by Japanese folklore and urban legends, such as Jinmenken, which is especially interesting since the Japanese version of the game never extended past a prototype.

Friday the 13th (NES, 1989)

Friday the 13th deserves more recognition and attention. Developed by Atlus but only released in North America, Friday the 13th loosely translates the film’s plot in a way that works really well.

The game puts players against Jason Voorhees and asks if they can stay alive while also saving as many others as possible along the way. To survive and win the game, players need to find and defeat Jason three different times. While running through different locations at the camp, players will also encounter enemies, such as zombies and wolves.

Friday the 13th may feel a little basic when compared to newer horror titles but Atlus showed really early on that horror media can absolutely be properly translated into video games. And that trend has continued as technology continues to expand what’s possible through interactive media.

Midnight Mutants (Atari 7800, 1990)

Midnight Mutants is an action-adventure game that carries so much atmosphere across its different locations, which include a secret laboratory, a haunted forest, an old shipwreck, and even an old, haunted mansion.

Midnight Mutants follows Jimmy Harkman on their quest to rescue “Grampa” from the inside of a pumpkin. He was captured and placed there by a villain named Dr. Evil as retribution for being burned at the stake on Halloween in 1747.

Jimmy starts off incredibly weak but he can get more powerful as the game continues by locating more powerful weapons and securing power-ups that can aid him on his journey. Players will need Jimmy to be plenty powerful too if they hope to defeat the giant bosses found within Midnight Mutants. Some of the game’s bosses take up the majority of the screen, making them some of the most frightful sections of Midnight Mutants.

Uninvited (NES, 1991)

Uninvited was first released on other platforms, but the NES version brought a big change that makes the game so much more accessible. The point-and-click horror adventure game has a time limit on most of its versions, including the original 1986 Mac release, but the NES port removes it almost entirely. There’s still a cursed ruby that adds a timer but it stops if players remove the gemstone from their inventory.

Uninvited is dense with detail and filled with this weird, creepy energy, but that’s much harder to take in with a time limit above your head. No one should ever be rushed through a video game, especially something spooky.

Uninvited, NES

Horror is often wound so tightly around timing and pacing. And it would be an absolute shame if players missed the weird and bizarre details scattered throughout the halls and surrounding grounds of Uninvited’s large, inauspicious, and seemingly abandoned mansion.

Uninvited features supernatural monsters that are guarding different sections of the mansion. These creatures and entities include zombies, hellhounds, and a tiny, little demon with a secret key. Technology seems like the only limitation at odds with the ambitious ideas and storytelling of Uninvited but the game still manages to captivate nonetheless.

Uninvited, PC

The game’s story is focused on a sibling trying to rescue the other in a locked-down estate. This quest is the necessary motion needed to pull the player’s character through the mansion’s spiraling halls to explore it all.

Uninvited feels so ahead of its time. The game’s framing, ideas, and mechanics are at times reminiscent of titles like What Remains of Edith Finch and Tacoma, which were released decades later. I can only imagine the stories developer ICOM Simulations could craft with today’s technology.

Alone in the Dark (MS-DOS, 1992)

Alone in the Dark is one of the earliest survival horror games and certainly one of the most influential. Set in 1920s Louisiana, Alone in the Dark puts players in a haunted mansion filled with puzzles, ghosts, and monsters.

Players are also able to collect and use weapons while also managing a weight-based inventory system. Alone in the Dark features supernatural enemies and elements that will test the courage of players as they move through the haunted mansion. Perhaps more terrifying than the mansion itself are the creatures that pose a threat to players. Some of them can’t be killed or destroyed at all, meaning players are put into the intense position of needing to avoid the dangers to stay alive.

The scariest parts of the game are certainly the moments in between the action though, where players are fearfully searching for the next item or area as they do their damnedest to avoid descending into madness themselves.

Alone in the Dark went on to become a successful franchise with several other games but the original entry remains one of the most uncomfortable titles in the series.

Night Trap (Sega CD, 1992)

Night Trap is a lot but it wasn’t always going to be what it was. Originally imagined as a more straightforward scary story, Night Trap instead became something so much more bizarre as a result of weird censorship.

The short version of Night Trap’s development leaves out some of the weirdest details but those are best left for a detailed dive on another day. Plus the short version is still really weird. Night Trap began life as a few people trying to sell an interactive experience based around VHS technology to Hasbro. The concept and technology would allow the project to play four different video tracks simultaneously. This presented a good opportunity for storytelling and an excellent vehicle for horror. But that didn’t happen. Instead, we got something far different.

The prototype game was called Scene of the Crime and it was created to sell Hasbro on the concept. Scene of the Crime was short. It was a five-minute demo that allowed the player to track suspicious characters around a location in an attempt to discover who stole a stash of cash. Hasbro liked the idea and gave funding and support for something bigger.

The first real idea the team had was a plan for an interactive movie set within the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series (uh, can we get that? I want that.) but negotiations with the film industry fell through. The team began work on an original story. It was going to be cool. It was going to be normal. It wasn’t going to be weird. But Hasbro’s concerns and fears ultimately transformed the game into the horrific masterpiece known as NIGHT TRAP.

The team eventually settled on a concept surrounding a billionaire’s daughter being attacked by vampires during a sleepover. Yeah, so Hasbro thought that sounded too wild and that vampires had to go. By the time all of Hasbro’s requested changes were implemented the vampires were far more terrifying than like, a regular vampire.

The vampires became “Augers”, which are these vampiric beings that require blood to survive but uh, they removed it with physical equipment. Hasbro thought that vampires sucking the blood out of people with teeth was too much so they said it had to go. It’s pretty great. I know I’d rather just get taken out by a classic vampire than one of Hasbro’s Augers.

It’s easy to point fingers at Hasbro but things were also super wild at the time in terms of the politics surrounding video games. This was around the time of the infamous 1993 congressional hearings where U.S. Senators panicked over video games destroying the minds of children everywhere.

The Augers may not have helped but at least there was an incredibly ridiculous lightning rod out there. Night Trap showed the adults in the room and everyone listening that video games were harmless. Night Trap helped highlight that video games can be ridiculous, scary, and everything in between — like the rest of art.

Good job or whatever, Night Trap.

Escape from Monster Manor (3DO, 1993)

Escape from Monster Manor is a first-person shooter set inside a giant, haunted mansion. It’s basically Wolfenstein 3D: Spooky Edition, and it’s super rad. Leo Schwab, the game’s primary developer, has cited Wolfenstein 3D as an inspiration for the game but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t unique or cool. What game hasn’t been inspired by Wolfenstein 3D or Doom?

Players have a simple if sinister mission in Escape from Monster Manor: collect the pieces of a scared talisman in each of the twelve areas to escape and rid the house of all its evil. The enemies are genuinely creepy. There’s just something inherently disturbing about low-detail graphics period, but especially when a game is trying to be disturbing. And what’s scarier than a house without ceilings or floors?

Master of Darkness (Game Gear, 1993)

No system is safe from horror games, including the Sega Game Gear. Master of Darkness is an action-adventure platformer, much like the early Castlevania titles found on the NES, SNES, and Genesis. Master Darkness has a unique premise that feels so tied to the 90s, which only makes it cooler.

Master of Darkness follows Dr. Ferdinand Social on his journey to kill Count Dracula. The psychologist believes Dracula is responsible for the killings being attributed to Jack the Ripper and vows to destroy the vampire.

Master of Darkness features a spooky symphony of songs across its soundtrack and an impressive amount of detail across the game’s three stages. Players have to successfully complete five different rounds that take place within the game’s different areas, which include the Thames River, House of Wax, a cemetery that connects to a castle, a long and winding laboratory, and even a sprawling labyrinth set within Castle Dracula.

The energy and atmosphere alone make Master of Darkness a memorable monument within video game horror history.

Doom II (MS-DOS, 1994)

Doom II is a ridiculously good follow-up to the original Doom and better in nearly every single way. That’s not to suggest Doom isn’t good. It’s aged remarkably well thanks to the ingenuity, passion, and tight grasp of technology that can still be found within the walls of id Software decades later.

Doom II is just a more perfect sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. In both games though, players pump bullets and shells into what must be nearly every demon in hell. The Doom series may be a first-person shooter series but it’s also an incredibly important title in horror as well.

The Doom series has effortlessly and consistently shown that fear and horror can exist just fine alongside power, determination, and pushing past the monsters that lay in our path. It also showed the world that Super Shotguns are super effective against Cyberdemons.

Phantasmagoria (MS-DOS, 1995)

Hosted at Universal Videogame List www.uvlist.net

Phantasmagoria tells the story of a writer who moves to an isolated mansion, only to start being haunted by evil forces. It features the work of twenty-five actors that all performed their scenes in front of a blue screen. Later the footage was all thrown on top of the game, creating this surreal and spooky adventure.

Phantasmagoria is the video game equivalent of a classic horror novel. It’s hard to imagine the game even existing in any other kind of format outside of games. It was crammed onto seven discs after several delays but quickly became one of the best-selling games of 1995.

Roberta Williams was the designer and primary creative force behind Phantasmagoria. She had long planned to design a horror title but has said she had to wait for software technology to catch up for her idea to become a reality. After spending some time with Phantasmagoria, it’s easy to see why the eight-year wait from idea to the beginning of the game’s development was necessary.

Phantasmagoria remains interesting long after its release and also serves as a monument of sorts to what’s possible when studios invest in art over profits in a world often ruled by the latter. It may be difficult for some to play given that it’s an early graphic adventure but there are countless playthroughs online if that’s your preferred vehicle for old computer games.

D (3DO, 1995)

D is like nothing else. And the version released wasn’t even really supposed to be, which gives its existence kind of a weird feeling, doesn’t it? There were two versions of D and director Kenji Eno’s clever idea ensured his version would be the one released.

Eno added scenes of cannibalism and additional violence to D but then feared it would interfere with the game’s release. To get around this he created the censored version and submitted it for late approval, which allowed him to swap the versions at the manufacturer. The game was safe from being patched later because of the time period so Eno’s vision was preserved, for better or worse.

D was a success, both commercially and critically, with many critics labeling it one of the best games available for the 3DO. The game itself is bizarre and unlike anything else. The game has earned its place in horror history for a myriad of reasons but especially for its impact, development, and themes.

D begins with Laura Harris receiving a message from the Los Angeles police department concerning her father, Dr. Richter Harris. She learns the doctor went on a mass killing spree before barricading himself inside a hospital.

After rushing to the crime scene, Laura is shocked at the sight of the victims that were murdered by her father. She covers her eyes during the shock but finds herself in a mysterious medieval castle after uncovering her eyes. The game’s sprawling narrative unfolds through the use of full-motion video. D also can’t be paused or saved and automatically ends after two real-time hours. It’s at this point that Laura is pulled back into the real world, her journey to somewhere faraway severed.

The game is bizarre and features an assortment of oddities that feels like nothing else I’ve ever witnessed in video games. D is an ambitious horror title that pushed back against the limits imposed on both horror and interactive media. Kenji Eno tragically passed away in 2013 but there’s no denying the impact his imagination had on video games and horror media.

Clock Tower (SNES, 1995)

Clock Tower is pure terror. First released for the Super Nintendo in 1995 before later making its way to the PlayStation, Clock Tower features a simple premise that never ceases to strike fear.

Clock Tower features a unique blend between survival horror and the point-and-click adventure genres and what plays out is essentially a puzzle thriller. Players take control of Jennifer Simpson, an orphan that was recently brought home to a mansion known as Clock Tower. A murder occurs shortly after arriving and Jennifer is forced to flee for her life. Chasing her is a murderous character wielding a giant pair of scissors and don’t worry, their name is Scissorman. We do not deserve video games.

The game features bits of mystery spread throughout the mansion that Jennifer can discover while trying to stay alive. Clock Tower features a stamina meter so it’s not just about running in the opposite direction of Scissorman. Players also need to make note of their surroundings and carefully plan Jennifer’s movements. Things can take a sharp turn thanks to Scissorman if players aren’t careful to manage Jennifer’s position and stamina. Once it’s low enough, she’s more likely to trip, fall, move slower, and experience other effects that make Scissorman’s quest easier. You don’t want that because Scissorman will cut the game and Jennifer’s life short.

Clock Tower was never officially released outside of Japan but fan translations appeared everywhere nonetheless. Clock Tower helped highlight the possibilities when managing player terror on a sliding scale. It also served as a stark reminder of how dangerous scissors would be if they were real. I’m glad scissors aren’t real.

Resident Evil (PlayStation, 1996)

Resident Evil needs no introduction but is essential when chronicling the journey of interactive horror. Inspired by Sweet Home but filled with plenty of original ideas, Resident Evil follows a small team investigating an isolated mansion.

The undead make an appearance almost as soon as the game begins, which marks the start of Resident Evil and a new era for the survival horror genre. Resident Evil features camp and scares in equal doses, much like Evil Dead II. It’s a difficult game but that’s part of the experience for many.

Resident Evil may look like a third-person shooter but that would come a little later for the series. Instead, players are trapped within a mansion filled with mysteries, secrets, and locks. Lots and lots of locks.

Through careful inventory management and enough determination, players can uncover the horrors of Resident Evil and defeat the many threats lurking within the Spencer Mansion. It’s difficult to quickly cover the many contributions Resident Evil has made to the horror genre. The series has left a mark on the neck of games since the very first game.

Resident Evil is an immersive experience. Capcom created an absolutely chilling space, dropped in scary enemies, locked half the doors, and asks players if they can survive seconds after informing them they’re trapped inside the mansion. Capcom showed very early in the PlayStation’s life that blockbuster horror was here and in a very big way.

Nightmare Creatures (PlayStation, 1997)

Nightmare Creatures is such an underrated title. I went into great detail in a retro review so I’ll be brief here. Nightmare Creatures is more basic in its approach but perhaps more scary with its difficulty and presentation. Players are placed in the middle of an apocalyptic event that’s brought hellish creatures to the streets of 19th century London.

Players need to hack and slash their way through a variety of locations while the two playable characters work to stop the evil looming over London. Nightmare Creatures features a lot of different weapon choices, including pistols, magic, mines, and more, which players will need if they’re going to survive the monstrous threats that lie ahead.

System Shock 2 (Microsoft Windows, 1999)

System Shock 2 is the precursor to BioShock and so much more. It’s also one of the most interesting games in horror. Its story, themes, and sequencing changed games forever. The gameplay is a mixture between action role-playing games and survival horror, with players having the use of everything ranging from lock picks to cyber-modules on their mission.

System Shock 2 is a living breathing world and that includes the horrors inside. It’s an incredibly influential game that I wouldn’t dare spoil details on. It changed interactive media and horror forever with its utilization of isolation and multiple player paths.

Containing elements from countless genres, System Shock 2 is a timeless tale of horror neatly wrapped up into one of the greatest immersive sims in games.

Silent Hill (PlayStation, 1999)

Silent Hill is as unsettling as it is unnerving. Silent hill follows Harry Mason on a most bizarre journey through the titular town with his adopted daughter Cheryl. The pair are in a car crash on the edge of town after Harry swerves to miss a girl in the road.

He awakens alone surrounded by fog, physically and mentally, and with Cheryl nowhere in sight. Silent Hill takes nightmarish twists and turns while exploring complex and mature topics, especially for video games.

Silent Hill brought an increased Lynchian presence to video games and also revealed an audience hungry for more complex horror. The series continued down a path of unsettling horror, pulling back the curtain even further on what terrors could be translated through a TV. Though later sequels left many fans longing for the feelings stirred up by the original entries, those titles, including the original, stand timeless to await any and all wishing to experience their scares.

Galerians (PlayStation, 2000)

Galerians is a survival horror game starring a boy with psychic powers who’s suffering from amnesia. After discovering who he is, Rion also learns he’s the last hope humanity has against a genetically enhanced race of humans called ‘Galerians.’

The game has interesting combat that’s based around psychic powers, which mixes quite nicely with the survival horror elements. The game utilizes a variety of elements and tropes from different genres to tell a thought-provoking story. Galerians also features unique gameplay mechanics, such as scanning environments for help during puzzles.

The puzzles are often on the basic side but they add an interesting layer to the Galerians. Scanning environments during puzzle sequences will often flash an image onscreen that will either provide a visual clue or the general location of keys that will provide access to the next necessary area. Galerians is interesting for all it does and brings together, not for being complex. I could do with some more easy puzzles in horror games, Capcom.

Galerians pulled the horror genre to some unique places and explored themes and concepts not commonly seen in video games. It’s received some recognition for its influence in the years since but I fear it’ll never be enough.

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (PlayStation, 2001)

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is the fourth game in the long-running series but it’s also a reboot of the series. The New Nightmare is a great place for anyone new to the Lovecraftian horror series.

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare follows two different people stuck on a creepy island. Edward Carnby and Aline Cedrac take a plane to Shadow Island but their flight is interrupted by an unknown creature. They both survive the crash by jumping from the plane with parachutes but are both separated. Making matters far more frightening than they already were.

Carnby and Cedrac are investigating a murder and searching for three ancient tablets that hold a dangerous, otherworldly power. The two almost stood a chance when they were together but being separated complicates matters greatly. Carnby lands in a thick forest outside an old manor and Cedrac lands on its roof. Their stories and paths are largely separated through most of The New Nightmare, much like Resident Evil 2’s Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy.

Though Alone in the Dark features striking differences from the two characters’ campaigns; Carnby’s journey is more action-focused whereas Cedrac’s is centered around puzzles. Even the shared locations that both characters visit separately feature different gameplay. These two campaigns add replay value but also give players a choice on how they’d like to approach the game.

It almost feels like Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare was attempting to wield the puzzles of Silent Hill and the action of Resident Evil 2. That’s actually a good strategy. It provides fear and uneasiness to more people and in different ways. We all like to be scared differently. We’ve seen this strategy work well with newer titles as well, such as The Evil Within II and Resident Evil Village.

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is an earlier 3D title though, which means tank controls, camera issues, and voice acting that you’ll either love or hate. But its contributions to horror are undeniable. It’s still a delightfully campy and creepy title if you can push past its flaws.

Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, 2005)

Resident Evil 4 may very well be the reason you fell in love with horror games. It’s one of the best-selling games of all time too, which means the game publishing industry also fell in love.

Resident Evil 4 changed Capcom’s long-running zombie series, for better or worse, and that can largely depend on who you ask. The game itself though is a masterclass in game design. It would be easier to list the things it does wrong and take far less time but its contributions and influence on the horror genre are too important to gloss over.

The previous three Resident Evil titles (and Code Veronica) all contain a balance of horror, action, puzzles, and camp. Moving through complex areas while managing an inventory system, searching for keys, solving puzzles, and staying alive are all a big part of the Resident Evil series. And each one of those is found in every single one of the games, including the very first title in the series. But the enemies of the series had started to pile up as the action dial continued to turn, and they all landed on the scale so delicately handling the balancing act of the series.

Resident Evil 4 is a horror game through and through, but it’s a video game first. The total enemy count of Resident Evil 4 makes the combined enemy count of all the previous games look like nothing.

The fourth Resident Evil features some truly terrifying and intense moments, but it also possesses some of the best action sequences from video games at the time. Resident Evil 2 has its fair share of action but those were spooky explosions. Resident Evil 4 is all over the place but it remains intense all throughout regardless of the flavor at any given time.

Resident Evil 4 didn’t just change horror. It changed video games entirely. You may not have played Resident Evil 4. It’s nearly 20 years old as of writing, and there’s been a lot of games released in the years since, but if you’ve played even a single game, you’ve played something influenced by Resident Evil 4.

Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360, 2005)

Condemned: Criminal Origins pulled horror away from action almost completely, instead choosing to deploy dread and darkness to tell a sinister story. Condemned follows SCU agent Ethan Thomas through a spiraling crime thriller that’s filled with twists and turns. Taking inspiration from gritty horror films such as The Silence of the Lambs and Saw, Condemned took a different approach than many of its contemporaries, which ultimately led to a unique game, despite some issues.

The game begins with Ethan and his partner investigating a murder scene but things quickly take a turn after Ethan is framed for the murder of his partner. Players then take control of Ethan as he tries to clear his name and catch the killer, all while trying to avoid being arrested by his former employer.

Players will need to stay alive by juggling different blunt objects and firearms with limited ammo while moving through sweeping levels. Each level escalates the story, bringing more questions than answers, but things remain interesting all throughout thanks to detailed level design and an engaging combat system.

Condemned is not a beat ’em up or action game, regardless of what screenshots may show at a glance. Enemies can be cunning. Players will need to block, smack, duck, and move around environments to make it through levels. Players will also need to scramble for a new weapon when weapons break, and that will often happen during combat encounters.

Condemned: Criminal Origins isn’t perfect by any means but it’s special in its approach and how it brought fear to the beginning of the HD generation. The game was a launch title for the Xbox 360 and is still playable today on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S via backward compatibility.

Replaying it almost annually has kept it on my mind over the years. The flaws of Condemned are always more visible than ever with each and every replay but everything else is too. And that’s a common theme I’ve noticed while obsessing over horror throughout my life, especially as I’ve gone back to older titles for the first time for articles; horror stories and their surrounding themes are timeless.

Horror is often referred to as scary, which is obviously often true, but at its core horror explores and asks what it means to live and exist in a world that doesn’t usually feel right. And video games have been in the unique position to inject player agency and influence into something that was already captivating without.

Tracing the new possibilities across the horror genre as games technology over the medium’s life should give everyone excitement for the future. It’s impossible to even attempt to surmise what we may see in horror’s future. Developers somehow managed to start the scares with blocks and beeps in games like Haunted House on the Atari nearly forty years ago so who knows where things will be forty years after Silent Hill 2.

Juno really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but she also likes other stuff.


Where To Play: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Dark Fantasy RPG Disciples: Liberation Available Today