Monday 23 May 2011

Top 5 Survival Horror Games

Scary games. They have the power to terrify in a completely different way to movies and books. With an interactivity that's unrivalled by any other media, you *are* the person experiencing the horror. When a game is particularly well done, it creates a whole new level of scare. Here, then, are five of my personal favourites (though, to be fair, there are a number that could find their way onto that list without too much trouble, so much so that I may have to do another 5 later in the year.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is a third-person action game released for Nintendo GameCube. Developed by Silicon Knights, it was first released and published by Nintendo in 2002, it was the first video game published directly by Nintendo, rather than a third-party developer, to be rated M by the ESRB. The game's setting is centered around a mansion in Rhode Island, the home of the protagonist Alexandra Roivas' grandfather and the mysterious book known as 'The Tome of Eternal Darkness' that Alexandra finds there.

With elements of Cthulhu mythos, as well as nods to horror masters like Poe just from the introductory blurbs, it was clear from where Eternal Darkness drew its influences. Coming into it, I was nonplussed initially. Here was a girl who vaguely resembled Sarah Michelle Gellar running around an abandoned mansion looking for clues to take her into chapters where the player would then experience things from the point of view of other characters throughout history. It wasn't, in my eyes, doing anything particularly ground-breaking.

Then something out of the ordinary happened. The character I was playing as went insane. This, I thought, was more interesting, but the game wasn't finished. The screen went completely black and the little standby icon appeared in the corner of my TV. Swearing (probably), I searched for the remote, before realising it was across the room. How could I have touched any buttons from where I was? Then the screen re-lit, and I understood.

Eternal Darkness earns its place on this list because it was the first (and to this date only) game that I had played which played tricks on the player in such a way. Sure, I've had things happen in games which have turned out to be ruses and so on, but not once had I played a game where I had actually been under the impression that something had gone wrong with my TV, memory card etc. It was something new, and something fresh. Sure, the game played scare tricks on you in the usual ways, having stuff jump out at you and such, but the game's draw was the external stuff it did. Add to that the game playing well, and you had a classic that gets overlooked a fair bit in the annals of history.

Silent Hill

This one occupies a special place in my heart, as it is the first game that I played in the survival horror genre, and what a way to start! Silent Hill was another third-person game, this time released for the Playstation in 1999 (That's right, Silent Hill is coming up on 12 years old - terrifying eh?). The game placed you in the shoes of Harry Mason, who travels to the town with his daughter for holidays only for shit to go sideways within a very short space of time.

You guide Harry through the town, all the while meeting a colourful cast of characters (most of whom got brought back in for the movie). In fact, for the most part, the movie follows the game pretty reasonably. Sure, they brought in Pyramid Head, who wasn't in the games until the second of the series, and they brought the cult to the forefront and made them just bible-bashers, but the ultimate spirit of the game didn't change. Plus they added Sean Bean, which is awesome, because in my head he's Harry Mason anyway!

One incident stands out for me as the reason that this game makes its way into the list. I was exploring the town's school, and the iconic siren sounds turning the area into the 'Otherworld' responsible for most of the game's scares. I explore the 'other' school, and come across the locker room. In the normal world, the locker was banging and banging away, and when you open it a cat jumps out and escapes the room, only to get eaten outside the door. This is marked as the point in the game where you first meet monsters inside the school. In the 'Otherworld', the locker is banging and banging, and I went to open it. The sequence of events, which I will not spoil, made me pause the game for ten full minutes in order to get my heart rate down sufficiently that I felt I could carry on. That, E14ies, is why it's on this list.

What the game also did really well was dread, and this is in no small part down to the quality of the soundtrack, exhibited by the fact that Akira Yamaoka was brought in to do a large number of soundtracks after that by the studio. Also, the game came with multiple endings depending on how you played through the game, something that hadn't really been done so much at the time, also including a UFO ending which was pretty funny, if abrupt.

Sony, I've been very patient with you, but I really can't keep it in anymore. Make Silent Hill downloadable as a PS1 classic on the UK Playstation Network store, or I will flip my shit.

Resident Evil

One of the video game plots which has undergone the most additions and re-jiggings, the original Resident Evil saw a team of special law enforcement agents, including Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, investigating the disappearance of a team of operatives sent to Raccoon City to look into some bizarre murders. Along the way, you find yourself ambushed by craaaaaaazy zombie dogs, and are forced into a spooky old mansion. Exploring the mansion, you find yourself learning that all is by no means as it seems...

No Top 5 of this kind would be complete without the addition of Capcom's magnum opus, a stunning game for its time both visually and in terms of gameplay. The story, as well, was amazing for its time, even if the voice acting for the original version sucked balls. With characters appearing throughout suffering at the hands of beasties that you would go on to meet later on, all the way to betrayal and super-secret corporate experimentation, the game was chock full of storyline and intrigue, which gave the game a great sense of pace. This was a great thing, especially as the game's controls were pretty sluggish, although excellent for the time.

Players looking for a great version of this game would do well to check out the Nintendo Gamecube remake, which not only remade the visuals completely (making Jill Valentine an animated hottie as they did), but they also tweaked the gameplay without detracting from it. From defensive weapons like knives which allowed you a one-hit kill for emergencies to altering the appearance times of the iconic zombie dogs during the game, it was clear that they were fans of the original first and game developers second.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

Originally released as a Microsoft exclusive on Xbox 360 and PC, the Condemned series sees the player in the role of FBI agent Ethan Thomas, who becomes framed for a double murder while chasing a serial killer, named Serial Killer X in the 'Most Underwhelming Nickname' annals of history. Serial Killer X, however, is a really strong character, killing serials in Thomas' database by their own methods. However, as well as the serial killer plot, there is absolutely fucktons of supernatural stuff going on.

There are many things that rock the boobies about Condemned. The game's first-person, which immerses you right away. The character you play as is established early on as an FBI investigator of particularly high ability, and this is reflected in the investigation elements of the game. Most frustrating of all in games is when you hear all these things about characters, only to see none of it reflected in what you play, and so it's nice to see them say "He's a shit-hot CSI" and then find yourself being a shit-hot CSI. The game did tension really well as well, while at the same time not making the elements of supernatural stuff over the top and unbelievable.

Probably the best thing about this game is that the game is primarily a melee combat game, with guns in short supply. Now, this would be a complete failure if the melee combat sucked, or the guns were too freely available, but the game does a great job of balancing the gun availability as well as making the melee combat work effectively, and when you find yourself in a department store with crazies hidden amongst the mannequins, you'll be grateful for every weapon you've got.

Dead Space

No Top 5 would be complete without Dead Space. Playing as Isaac Clarke, the game sees you exploring the derelict wreckage of the Ishimura, a mining ship which has sent out a distress signal during an operation on planet Aegis VII. The atmosphere when you arrive is already tense, and you find yourself seeing a lot of quick flashes of movement while exploring the initial parts of the ship. All the while, you're having to re-establish power systems and so on, as the ship is in a decaying orbit around the planet.

What this game does really, really well is the atmosphere of dread. Much like the movie Event Horizon, which sets up a tremendous atmosphere through a plot which I like to refer to as "Alien without the Alien", the game does a great job of making the player go "fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck" as they're walking through simply through the effective tactics of making the enemies reasonably unpredictable as well as making weapons scarce enough that you find yourself having to conserve your ammo. As with Condemned, the weapon and ammo balancing is excellent in the game.

The use of "Strategic Dismemberment" in the game adds an element of strategy as well. Players have to make sure that they remove all the limbs from the monsters that they face (which draw heavy influences from movies such as The Thing) for fear that those monsters will later get back up after you've walked away and go back into the vents. Don't think, either, that you have that entirely figured out, as after a while this becomes only part of the method that you need to employ.

Also of note in this game is the effective use of audio and video notes, with just the right amount of information being given to get you through the game while at the same time giving you only just enough to get the info you need rather than knowing what's going on ultimately. And to round off, here's a picture of Isaac Clarke facing off against yours truly. Enjoy.


Bestselling romance editor Trisha Telep brings an exciting new element to the fast-growing sub-genre of steampunk, which bends and blends the old and the new in increasingly popular dark urban fantasies. Young heroes and heroines battle evil, in various forms with the help of super-technological or supernatural powers, while falling in and out of love.

The contributors include: Ann Aguirre a bestselling author who writes urban fantasy (the Corine Solomon series from Roc), romantic science fiction (the Jax series from Ace), apocalyptic paranormal romance (as Ellen Connor, writing with Carrie Lofty, from Penguin), paranormal romantic suspense (as Ava Gray from Berkley), and post-apocalyptic dystopian young adult fiction (Razorland and Wireville coming in 2011 from Feiwel & Friends). Tessa Gratton, her debut novel Blood Magic arrives in 2011 from Random House Children's Books, followed by the companion Crow Magic in 2012.

Jaclyn Dolamore is the debut author of Magic Under Glass from Bloomsbury USA. Lesley Livingston is the award-winning author of Wondrous Strange and Darklight, the first two books in the bestselling trilogy from HarperCollins. Frewin Jones is the bestselling author of the Faerie Path series and the Warrior Princess books, among many others.

Caitlin Kittredge is the author of the Iron Codex trilogy, a Lovecraftian steampunk adventure. Dru Pagliassotti's first novel Clockwork Heart was one of the first in the rising new genre of steampunk romance and was named by Library Journal as one of the five steampunk novels to read in 2009. Dia Reeves is the debut author of the critically acclaimed YA Bleeding Violet. Michael Scott is the Irish-born, New York Times bestselling author of the six part epic fantasy series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.

Maria V. Snyder is the New York Times bestselling author of the Study series (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study) about a young woman forced to become a poison taster. Tiffany Trent the author of the acclaimed dark fantasy series Hallowmere, which was an IndieBound Children's Pick and a New York Public Library Book of the Teen Age 2008. Kiersten White is the debut author of Paranormalacy, the first book in a new trilogy, which was published by HarperTeen in August of 2010.

Adrienne Kress, is the author of Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate.

Thanks to our friends at Constable and Robinson, we've got five copies of Corsets & Clockwork to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name to before midday on Monday 30th May, making sure to put "Corsets & Clockwork" as the subject. The first five entries out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a free copy!

Don't forget to put "Corsets & Clockwork" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

Corsets & Clockwork is available from Thursday 26th May, priced £6.99.

Entries limited to one per household. Offer open only to postal addresses in the UK and Ireland.

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