Look on My Works, ye Mighty: Five Great Forgotten Console Exclusive Horror Games
No piece of media can ultimately last forever. Time takes its toll on everything, but video games are virtually unique as a means of creative expression in how susceptible they are to this problem. As pieces of software, they rely on extraordinarily complex supporting digital and physical infrastructure just to be experienced, infrastructure that is continually being discontinued or replaced at an aggressively fast pace. The most obvious victims of this process are the console exclusives; games released solely for specific gaming hardware without the option to play them on PC. Sadly, as with all other game genres, the horror sphere has had its share of casualties from this process. So, in this article, we’re lighting a candle for five such horror titles before the mists of time swallow them completely.
For a horror game to get on this list, it doesn’t just have to be a console exclusive. It must also meet two further criteria. Firstly, it has to be a game that’s faded from public memory, or never made that much of a splash in the first place. Secondly, it needs to have something about it that makes it worth remembering, such as a unique gameplay mechanic or some other trend-bucking feature. With that out of the way, let’s crack on.
1. Hellnight (PlayStation)
Released in 1998 and developed as a collaboration between Konami and Dennou Eizou Seisakusho (yeah, I have no idea who that is either), Hellnight – known as Dark Messiah in Japan – was a first-person survival horror game set in the sewers and subways of modern-day Tokyo. In it, you played as a survivor running from a mysterious cult and being chased down a constantly mutating lifeform. Along with avoiding the monster, the game primarily consisted of solving puzzles and interacting with a cast of characters who all found themselves in Tokyo’s underground for one reason or another. Although it suffered polarizing reviews upon its limited release inside Japan, Hellnight is worth remembering for its innovative cast-driven gameplay system. Any character could be killed off at any time, and how you interacted with them and which ones survived would determine which ending the player got.
2. Koudelka (PlayStation)
Developed by Sacnoth, Koudelka was a 1999 game that followed many of the survival horror tropes laid down by the original Resident Evil. The game was set in a creepy gothic location (an old monastery in Wales, to be specific), used pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles, and had a limited inventory system that encouraged careful management. The main twist here is that it was also a turn-based RPG, with random encounters and an XP-based levelling up system. As well as having some pretty decent voice acting (compared to the competition at the time, anyway), Koudelka gets a place on this list for being one of the exceedingly few games to mix these two genres together.
3. Geist (GameCube)
The second ever game published by Nintendo to receive an M-rating (the first being the similarly console-exclusive Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem), Geist was a 2005 action-adventure FPS that put you in the spectral shoes of a disembodied spirit trapped in a secret laboratory complex. The game’s unique feature was its possession mechanic; in order to progress, you’d need to take control of various living beings in the facility, from soldiers and engineers down to dogs and mice. The problem was that to do so, you’d need to scare your victim sufficiently to be able to possess them. This led to a lot of interesting puzzle scenarios, where you’d need to interact with inanimate objects in the environment to set off a chain of jump scares in true Poltergeist style. It was a unique and surprisingly well-executed mechanic in an otherwise pretty straightforward shooter, and one that earns Geist a spot on this list.
4. Extermination (PlayStation 2)
Originally something of a showcase game for the PS2’s release, Extermination was a 2001 survival horror game developed by Deep Space and published by Sony. Sticking fairly rigidly to the tropes of classic survival horror, it’s easy to brush Extermination aside as yet another early noughties Resident Evil clone. Mutated science experiments, secret facilities, bad voice acting; it’s all there. Yet Extermination did a number of things sufficiently differently to make it worth preserving. Mechanically, it was something of a precursor to the action horror genre, placing a greater emphasis on precision aiming and moving away from aggressively limited ammo. Instead, ammo could be replenished indefinitely at refill stations, while the game’s only weapon was a highly customizable assault rifle that could be outfitted with a staggering array of attachments, from burst-fire selectors all the way up to underbarrel rocket launchers. If you’ve still got a PS2 knocking around, Extermination may be worth looking at if you want your campy survival horror with a side of tacti-cool.
5. Condemned 2: Bloodshot (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
This one’s a bit of a cheat as it was released on two consoles, but it’s still worth mentioning. Made by the creators of the iconic F.E.A.R series, the original Condemned game – Condemned: Criminal Origins – was a first-person survival horror game released as a launch title for the Xbox 360 in 2005. Putting you in the gumshoes of FBI special agent Ethan Thomas, the game tasked you with tracking down a serial killer in a city plagued by a mysterious epidemic of violent crime. Set eleven months after the first game, the sequel was released in 2008 for the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Unlike its predecessor, however, it never received a Windows port. This is a crying shame, although anyone who played Condemned 2 will have a hard time denying that it was certainly a mixed bag. The story went a bit crazy at the end, and some levels strayed away from the series’ signature frantic melee combat into outright FPS territory. In what was nearly certainly a case of upper management meddling, there was also a completely unnecessary multiplayer mode that was practically DOA even at launch. But for all that, parts of Condemned 2’s campaign were pure survival horror gold. When you were creeping through a decrepit tenement building with nothing but an old 2×4 to protect you from prowling psychotics, you could see a game that could have been an all-time horror masterpiece had things turned out differently. Plus, that freakin’ bear, man…
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