Night At The Gates of Hell Review – Giallo Jordan Strikes Again!
Developer: Black Eyed Priest, Henry Hoare
Publisher: Torture Star Video
Available on: PC
I’ve covered Jordan King (Black Eyed Priest Games) a lot. You might even say I’m a fan. After covering his early retro outings, and his jump to first-person 3D with Bloodwash, it’s an unending joy to get to sit down and check out a new Jordan King jam. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that King’s frequent collaborator, Henry Hoare, has recently been hired at DreadXP as an Assistant Producer. His work at DreadXP has no bearing on how much I enjoyed Night at the Gates of Hell.
Night at the Gates of Hell is, at its heart, a first-person shooter. It would be reductive to shoehorn it into such a simple classification though. Night at the Gates of Hell is actually a lot of things. It’s a love letter to the Italian Giallo films of the 70s and 80s. It’s a blood-soaked nostalgic throwback to zombie media of the 70s and 80s. It just drips 70s and 80s. It’s chock full of little nods to the scanlines and scariness of an era that was experimenting with this whole “zombie” thing. If you’re familiar with the films of Lucio Fulci and his contemporaries in the Giallo scene, then this game will certainly be a rare treat for you.
You play as David, a widower hanging out in his apartment with his only company being the body of his wife. The world has gone to hell outside, and zombies have seemingly taken over everything. Fed up with wallowing in his own pity, David decides to get to the bottom of the nonsense going on outside. What follows is a romp that will take you from the grimy, rundown apartments David lives in, to a haunted hamlet, a broken-down fishing boat, a dense jungle, and more. The sheer scale of Night at the Gates of Hell is impressive. King has never been known for a long experience. His early games were 15-20 minute affairs, satisfying as a snack but not a full course.
Bloodwash; his first foray into first-person horror, was a smidge longer, and while fun, didn’t feel like a complete meal. Analogies about meals aside, he made short games, is what I’m getting at. Night at the Gates of Hell is the longest game King has ever done. I don’t generally judge a game on its length. I just want to point out that King has upped his game once again. In Bloodwash, combat was reserved for the very end of the game. Night at the Gates of Hell seems to have been built from the ground up with combat in mind. At first, you’ll only have a revolver, which can honestly carry you through the whole game. Zombies go down in one well-placed headshot, meaning no matter which weapon you choose to use, you’ll still have to be accurate.
In true Giallo fashion, shooting a zombie will cause a huge spray of neon red blood to paint the walls, floor, ceiling, and even the zombie you shot. Night at the Gates of Hell doesn’t shy away from violence. It actually shies away from nothing, if I’m being honest. If the first 5 minutes of a game sets the tone moving forward, then Night at the Gates of Hell wants you to know right off the bat that 1.) Nothing is sacred and 2.) Shit is about to get zany. I don’t want to ruin any of the absolutely bonkers story beats, but I will say the game features an adult masquerading as a creepy child, zombie wildlife, a graphic eye removal straight out of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi, cultists, a prison break, and haphazardly-modeled male genitals.
The combat is satisfying and bloody. Zombies are of the Romero persuasion, and thus don’t run around squealing and thrashing. They’re slow idiots who only catch you if they get lucky. They do have that Romero quality where they’re insidious without meaning to be. I can’t count the number of times I got comfortable dealing with a zombie only to back into a zombie that had silently snuck up on me. Thankfully, Night at the Gates of Hell has a forgiving checkpoint system that is oddly refreshing in a modern horror game. The world persists even if you die, meaning that zombies you’ve killed stay dead. It isn’t possible to get into a situation where you’re trapped by zombies and dying over and over.
Fair is fair, and since you can kill the zombies in one hit, they also kill you in one hit. It didn’t happen very often, maybe twice in my entire playthrough, I’d die, go back, kill one or two zombies, die, come back kill another, etc. until I’d cleared out an area. It was a vanishingly small amount of times that happened, but the checkpoint system made it feel more fun than frustrating. I’ve talked about how expansive Night at the Gates of Hell is, and on top of 3-4 hours of 80’s schlock zombie mayhem, there are also two whole other games that unlock after completing the game. I won’t spoil what games they are, but for fans of King, or horror in general, they’re an absolute treat.
In a world where horror can feel too self-serious, Night at the Gates of Hell is a salve. It doesn’t ask you to examine interpersonal relationships between complex and nuanced characters. It cares more about fun. Every area is built in such a way that you can’t go more than a couple of minutes without something insane happening. It doesn’t want you to catch your breath. You’ll have just arrived in a jungle prison, listening to your compatriots asking you to help them escape. As soon as the dialog ends and you’re getting your bearings, you turn a corner and see the most haphazardly-modeled dong you’ve ever seen.
Night at the Gates of Hell doesn’t want you to get your feet under you. It keeps you on your toes throughout. Whatever you expect to happen doesn’t happen. It never lets up and stays fresh, engaging, gory, scary, and hilarious until the credits roll, and even after. In a world of serious, prestige horror, Night at the Gates of Hell is a shrieking, blood-covered maniac demanding your time instead. Give it your time.