Scary videogames pack so much more visceral punch than scary movies. Instead of watching some poor schlep being run down by a bloodsucker in 30 Days of Night, it's you who's backing down the corridor, hoping the scalpel you found in the blood-soaked room is enough to hold off whatever-the-heck is shambling toward you, claws outstretched and twitching.
Recent Halloween gaming seasons have given us Resident Evil 4, a game I'm still afraid to reboot. But 2007's crop of gaming gore is a more mixed bag of scares — a few tasty Three Musketeers thrills jostling with some strips of black licorice.
You'd think by now that just about everyone would have learned to avoid the fog-enshrouded burgh of Silent Hill, home to faceless, homicidal nurses and shambling monstrosities that look like a Silly Putty experiment gone gruesomely wrong.
In Silent Hill: Origins (Konami, rated Mature), the long-running series (installment five's only a few months away), goes a couple of places it's never gone before: back to its roots and onto the PlayStation Portable.
This tale's about Travis, a trucker who, naturally, ends up in Silent Hill after saving one of the series' trademark creepy little girls from a burning house. In addition to that deserted and grainy vibe, Travis discovers that touching the mirrors inside will send him into a gore-drenched alternaverse where the game's secrets literally ooze to be revealed.
Silent Hill: Origins was originally supposed to be an action-focused Resident Evil knock-off, and while the rebooted version — with weapons that break all too easily along with a much creepier ambience — is a huge improvement over what it could have been, it can't overcome one of the scariest things in gaming: The PSP's confounded loading times.
Nothing — and I mean nothing — evaporates the chill of a scary moment faster than watching the screen hitch and hearing the deadly whir of the PSP's UMD drive.
How bad is it? Imagine Michael Myers ripping a fart in mid-slash.
Unlike Stephen King, in whose shadow he's always crouched, novelist Clive Barker actually gets the visceral possibilities of video games. The first couple hours of his Undying, a 2001 PC title that mixes magic, monsters, and genuine terror with Barker's storytelling, remains one of the best horror-game experiences ever. (We'll just forget about the game's lame second half.)
Can't quite slap that same label, though, on Barker's Jericho (Codemasters, Xbox 360, rated Mature), a squad-based shooter featuring, as one of the characters puts it early on, "witches with guns."
The set-up's certainly terrifying enough: An evil sect seeks to open up a temporal rift that will unleash The Firstborn, God's disastrous first attempt to create humankind. The Jericho squad, a team of occult-powered operatives featuring a priest weilding pistols he has named Faith and Destiny, gets dispatched on a containment mission.
Watching your squadmates unleash flame spirits and telekinetic bursts on the monsters that inhabit the city of Al Khali: It's enough to make you wish your own character could do more than shoot and resurrect fallen teammates. Then, about five missions in, your character is shredded by a horrific monster. His spirit lives on, though, and is able to bounce between the surviving squad member and access all their occult powers.
Given that the man who gave us Pinhead has his name perched atop the game's title, it's no surprise to learn that the monster design here — skeletal Crusaders, pike-wielding Egyptian priests, and teleporting Nazis — features a surfeit of seeping, stitched-up horrors.
Trouble is, the squad-based fire-fests overwhelm the gruesome vibe. Even the lamest horror hackers understand that terror comes from the sense of being alone, trapped, and overmatched in the face of a monstrous evil. As a shooter, Jericho's got chops; as a horror game, there's just not enough scare there.