In the spirit of October come early this year, I’ve decided to take a look back on areas in games that nailed the atmosphere and spirit that one would find in a typical horror game, just without the horror part. With that said, keep in mind that I’ve not played every game ever released, and it is my own personal list, so before you make the obligatory “where the hell is location X from game Y?!” it is more than likely that I have not played this game. Also, horror can be a subjective term, so perhaps one or more of the following picks do fall under the genre for you, but as far as I’m concerned, I think these games have enough elements in them that are distinctly non-horror that they can make the cut. This is Part 1 and at the time of writing, I have yet to start a write-up on the other picks that I have planned, but I think I already have some games and locales in mind. With that intro out the way, let’s dive head first into From Software’s unforgiving Action/RPG PS3 classic, Demon’s Souls.
This inaugural pick is sure to give people a good idea of what this feature is all about. I’m sure more folks have shut off a Souls game out of spite and rage than being in sheer terror, but make no mistake; Demon’s Souls nailed a macabre, almost gothic-like dark fantasy setting, with a bit of Lovecraft sauce on top. Nowhere embodies the above statement quite the 3rd archstone (basically DeS’ terminology for “portal to different locations in the world”). You are first greeted with the sight of prison cells, some shut, some open, lining the walls up, down and across. You hear bell chimes, the rattling of steel doors, the exasperated grunts of a prisoner far below. You progress onwards to find the occupants of the cells, seemingly harmless dreglins, as they begin to surround your character with prayer and bowing like gestures. Perhaps you slay them because they are in your way, or you know the game has been too cruel in the past that this is some form of trap; either way, you continue along the narrow paths. Eventually, you’ll encounter what is known as a Mindflayer (which has my vote for coolest fucking elite mook name in all of everything ever). You now realize where those bell clanging sounds originated.
YOU DIED (most likely scenario to follow)
Turns out that bell is also the source of a nasty AOE magic blast that is likely to one shot our dear hero if they have not upped their vitality (health) enough. Time to go grab that soul pile (or go to another archstone, that’s fine too) and teach that squid faced fuck a lesson! Wait, what is it doing to my face?
YOU DIED (for sure this time, probably)
(“Have you heard about our lord and saviour, the Old One?”)
After much perseverance, you will pass this bastard, only to discover that he’s not alone. Meet the prison guards of this hell hole. Yeah-you thought that it might’ve been one that strayed away from some demonic pack from a faraway land and won’t respawn either? This is Demon’s Souls, not The Hungry Caterpillar. Eventually, you should be able to deal with Innsmouth’s long lost family to stumble across some lovely Iron Maidens (that’s the torture device, not the metal band, no matter how “metal” the aesthetic in the Souls games are). I imagine anyone who’s played/watched a Let’s Play behind the safety of a close window hotkey of Amnesia: The Dark Descent would know what to expect. One of these Iron Maidens happens to contain an unfortunate soul who, once released, feels the need to hug someone with his shanking device in hand. GG, Demon’s Souls, I didn’t think you’d be capable of a jump scare.
What follows is basically a hunt for different keys that unlock different doors in this wretched hive so that you may progress onwards to the boss of 3-1. Along the way, you’ll discover what can only be described as a ball of yarn, that is to say that people are the substitute material for yarn in this world. A lovely image has crept into your minds, I’m sure. Once you are whisked off to 3-2, the middle portion of this world, things take a turn for the worst. Gone are the confines of corridors lined with prison cells, now replaced by narrow pathways with no barriers in a game that is rife with falling to your death. I don’t think you need Columbo to tell you that this is going to be a bad time. Gargoyle type dudes are the main course of the day; they can fly, you can’t, do the math!
Once you figure out the tricky landscape, you’ll soon find a “pleasant” NPC who appears to be stuck in a makeshift cage elevator. Once you free him, he’ll offer you his thanks and be on his merry way, but this isn’t the place to be discussing what one Yurt the Silent Chief has in store for you later in the game. Once riding to the bottom in the elevator, you’ll be in a swamp like environment, instead it’s filled with blood instead of mud because, as I may have failed to mention at an earlier time, there’s a gigantic freaking heart in the middle of the stage obstructing your path. Residing in this swamp are what appear to be human centipedes, only it’s not 3 (or 12) unlucky souls sewn together by a mad bastard. No, the Souls games are far too classy to indulge in such things. Instead, they are black centipede like creatures with human faces on the front, sides and spine. See, what did I tell ya? Classy stuff only the Queen of England would bother waving to.
Once cutting down the beating heart, which promptly causes it to stop, you find out the source of those centipede creatures from earlier-inside the heart (yummy)……
("Guess you could say this place is not for the faint of heart-I’ll slap myself for that later, I promise")
The nightmare train is not over, however, for awaiting you before the boss of 3-2 (Satan’s acolytes incarnate) is a Black Phantom Mindflayer, one of which you have already fought near the murky blood swamp below. Instead, this guy chooses the dickish spot of a winding staircase, of which the right side has no guarding whatsoever. Oh, I should explain the Black Phantom part of the equation. The simplest and most widespread comparison I can think of is comparing a green shelled koopa and a red shelled koopa, except ratchet up the difficulty gap up 100 times and you’re good to go. Once you pass that red aura chump, one of the most difficult bosses of the game (and quite possibly of any game) greets you past the fog gate. This is where the terror subsides and the good old fashioned raging can begin anew.
Anyway, I’m tired and going to bed at early hours of the morning here, hoping I don’t have nightmares of a squid face skullfucking me. Part 2 will come when I muster up the energy or more importantly the enthusiasm to write a lengthy entry like this one, but I should have it out within a week or two, there’s no real set schedule here. Sweet dreams, everyone!
(From not-so abandoned prisons to not-so abandoned spaceships, the next part won't be heard because in space, no one can hear you waggle a Wiimote)