And so the horror/terror countdown kicks off. Before reading this article I’m going to state 3 things.
2. No recipe this week. This is 15 pages long people! And I have 28 more games to go through.
3. There’s a nice discussion started in the fan forums. I suggest taking part in it.
#30. Still Life
Publisher: Microids (Europe)/The Adventure Company (USA)
Systems Released On: PC/Xbox
Release Date: 05/04/05 (US PC & Xbox), 06/03/05 (European PC & Xbox)
Still Life is probably an unusual choice to start off my countdown, as there is no monster in the game. There is no vampire. Nor are there werewolves or zombies. The only monster appears to be human in nature, but as one plays the game, they see just how dark and sinister a human soul can be.
Still Life is actually the second game in a trilogy. The first game is called Post Mortem and is for the PC only. It features Gus MacPherson, an American detective living in Paris and the crimes he encountered there. The third game alas, appears likely never to be made, as Microids went out of business and Ubisoft absorbed the Canadian bits of the company. The French bits? We’ll get into that a little later.
Within the game of Still Life are two stories. The first is that of Victoria McPherson, an FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer in modern-day Chicago. The second is the continuing adventures of Gus McPherson in Prague 75 years ago. Although both seem very separate from each other, as the game continues on, you learn that both cases are eerily connected.
Still Life is an amazing game for so many reasons. The first is that it really gave the Adventure genre (aka Point N’ Click) a much needed shot in the arm. Sure, Adventure video games have existed on the PC with a great deal of success over the years (Grim Fandango, Syberia, and several other games we’ll be seeing on this countdown), but it’s rather died on consoles since the days of the NES.
The second great thing about this game is that it’s the one of the few games with the “M” label that earned it due to themes instead of excessive gore and violence for the sake of having it. Both Still Life and the Grand Theft Auto series have gore and hookers, but where GTA has both for shock value and little else, Still Life brings both into a video game with amazing levels of realism. Not just in terms of graphics, but actual storyline, dialogue, and the dealings of concepts such as prostitution, BDSM clubs, serial killing, and detective work. Very few games stick to this level of realism, which makes the game’s big plot twist (which 99% of gamers miss)all the more noticeable only by the truly observant or anal retentive.
As I said in the above paragraph, the graphics in Still Life are amazing. Which is both good and bad. If you’d like to see a realistic battered and vivisected woman in your video games, you’ll get it here. You’ll see some pretty depraved acts of violence shown. But not in a gratuitous “we want controversy” way. You’ll see it in a very realistic “this is the hard reality of the mind and behavior of a serial killer fashion.” This game is one of the few “M” rated games designed for an actually mature mind, encouraging intellectualism and careful deduction.
The Puzzles in Still Life are amazing. Often times in adventure or horror/terror games, the puzzles add little to the story and have no relevance to the game. Not so with Still Life. It’s one of the few games where the puzzles are all important to the story. Not just in terms of advancing into the next bit of gameplay, but most of the puzzles hold clues about the actual plot as well. The puzzles also vary in difficulty. Some are quite easy. While one of the puzzles is the hardest I’ve had in an adventure/horror/terror game. I don’t know a single person that doesn’t swear his head off about the laser maze towards the end. Trust me, it SOUNDS weird, but it makes sense when you finally get to its hellish torment. Heck, there’s even a cooking puzzle! Every puzzle in the game builds on the story rather than detracting from it. And that’s such a huge stand out for the genre, it needs to be commended.
The scripting is very well done. People talk as they would in real life. There’s no stilted conversations or bizarre speech patterns. People laugh, joke, curse, and discuss just the same way real people would. Again, this is actually rare for video games, especially in the Horror or Terror genres. Still Life is pretty much the standard bearer for the level of quality M rated games should have when it comes to the scripting, if not the plot.
Speaking of plot, this is going to be the majority of the discussion for this game on the countdown as Still Life fans are pretty fanatical about it. As such I’m going to have to warn you that not only is the conversation from here on going to be SPOILER HEAVY, but it’s also going to spoil the ultimate debate this game inspires, thanks to a lot of detective work by your favorite Sub-Cultural Icon…as well as getting some of the development team of the game on both sides of the Atlantic to confirm that this is the correct solution to the killer. Thanks to both the Dreamcatcher/TAC crew for putting me in touch with ex Microids employees, but also the Microids guys as well for answering questions from a derranged American who tracked them down after they were scattered to the four winds. Who the f*ck knew that my speaking French would ever come in more handy than my speaking Japanese in the Video Game World?
Are you ready? Then let’s continue.
Still Life begins, as I said earlier, with Victoria McPherson on the trail of a serial killer in Chicago. The killer has been using the same MO, but is growing more violent. Not the happiest Christmas season, is it? At the same time, while working on this case, Victoria comes across the diary of her grandfather and reads an autobiographical account of Gus’ investigation of prostitutes being murdered in Prague. These Prostitutes are friends of Gus’ lover, who is herself an ex lady of the night.
Eventually Gus, through a combination of visions, American ingenuity, and hard detective work realizes the killer is one Mark Ackerman, a painter of amazing talent, and also the son of the American diplomat to Prague. Alas, Gus’ knowledge leads him to the correct answer, but not only is it too little, too late, but it also costs him dearly. The end of Gus’ story in Still Life is one of the most tragic and melancholy moments in gaming. And one of the best shown via the incredible cinematic that occurs.
Back in modern times, the name Marc Ackerman resonates with Victoria. Her boyfriend, Richard is the owner of an art museum which is showcasing his work. Richard is also a fanatical devotee of Ackerman’s work.
As Victoria reads her grandfather’s journal, she realizes the current serial slayings are done in exactly the same manner as the ones Marc Ackerman committed in Prague. Thus we have what is called copycat killings. This entails when a modern killer takes the modus operandi of a serial killer or famous murderer from long ago.
Victoria ends up learning two big things. The first is that the victims all have something in common. They worked at a BDSM club under various pseudonyms. In fact none of the victims knew each other’s real names, and worked at this particular club under the down-lo. The second is that after being schooled on Ackerman’s paintings, Victoria learns the killer isn’t just copying the WAY Ackerman killed his victims, but WHERE he kills them is also a variant of where they all died in Prague.
Throughout the game Victoria has three encounters with the serial killer, who is cloaked in all black and wears a mask. The first is in FBI headquarters itself. The second is in a college apartment campus, and the third and final encounter is the climax of the game, although one will most likely walk away from this bit unsatisfied.
The game ends with Victoria recovering from the final battle and telling a fellow FBI employee (and her old teacher at the academy) that she is going to California, which was the last known whereabouts of Marc Ackerman. You learn in the game he was institutionalized by his father. Marc’s father lost his diplomatic status in return for the covering up of his son’s foul deeds. And that’s how the game ends. The stage is rife for the last bit of the trilogy, and a lot of plot threads are left dangling. Chief amongst them is, “Who was the killer in modern times?”
Yes, the game never says outright. The killer’s face is only shown once, but the only character who actually sees it is immediately killed afterwards. There are lots of suspects and there are some crazy ass theories (all of which we will run through and debunk) on the net put out by the hardcore fans of this game.
But in the end, as Mathieu Larivire, the writer and lead designer of the game once said, “The answer IS in the game. You just have to pay attention to EVERYTHING said.” This is also why the entire script is kept for you in transcript form after the game is done.
Now the game’s going to get even more spoil laden. That is, if you choose to keep reading. In fact, even those that have played the game might not want to keep going as it’s almost a definite that your theory is WRONG.
Ready? Let’s go through the suspects.
Suspect 1: Miller. Miller is Victoria’s partner. He’s mainly suspected by a few people because he’s never there when the killer is. He’s the flimsiest suspect of them all.
Why isn’t he the killer? Several reasons. The first is Miller has a weak stomach and vomits at the sight of gore. Sure he could be faking it, but very, VERY few people can spontaneously empty the contents of their stomach at will. The second is that Miller is back in the office after the first encounter Victoria has with the killer. The killer was on foot. Victoria is in a hummer. When she comes back, Miller is well rested and shows no sign of the struggle that the killer was in earlier. As well, he’d have had to ditched his costume and changed into his normal work clothes. As well, there’s nothing to connect Miller with Mark Ackerman, as there is with several of the other suspects.
Suspect 2: Victoria’s boss, Todd Browning (Inside joke there!). He’s considered a suspect because he has an obvious dislike for Victoria, much like Ackerman had a rivalry/dislike for her grandfather. He’s also a member of the elite and secret group known as the Red Lantern, which appears to be half BDSM society and half occult grouping. He also wants Victoria off the case, feeling it is too personal for her. Finally, the killer was able to get into and out of the FBI headquarters without any problems, including secured areas.
Why isn’t he the killer? Several reasons. The chief amongst them is that he allowed the prime suspect that Victoria fingered as the killer off scot free. This suspect was a college student named Vaclav who was obsessive about the Prague murders and was writing an in-depth thesis on the crimes. The man could have easily been shoehorned into the crimes as a patsy and any jury would have convicted him based on the evidence, but the man was let go. If Todd was the killer, he’d have kept the patsy. As well, Todd is more worried Victoria will tell his wife about his membership in a sex society rather than being caught as a serial killer. Plus Victoria confronts him about his membership when they’re all alone and the security cameras have been disabled (by Victoria herself). Perfect time to kill her. But he doesn’t. Finally, when Victoria and Todd finally have it out verbally, The killer is at that same time attacking his final victim. There’s no way for Todd to beat Victoria to the crime when she leaves first, not to mention getting into the dramatic outfit the killer wears.
Suspect #3 The Queen of Secrets. One of the attempted victims of the serial killer. This is one of the stupider theories as she’s seen being attacked by the killer. And when Victoria shoots the killer, the QoS is still around! Hello! I don’t even NEED to do a “Why isn’t she the killer section here. But I will.
Why isn’t she the killer? Because the killer nearly kills her! Oh, and Marc Ackerman is a massive misogynist.
Suspect #4. Victoria’s father. Only a suspect by some because he’d read the journal of his father and knew the history of the Prague killings.
Why isn’t he the killer? Too much distance between himself and the killer when the crimes are committed. Plus Victoria’s at home with him when one of the crimes is committed. She’s reading the diary for hours at his place remember. Sheer impossibility.
Suspect #5. Gus McPherson. This is for the Prague murders and leads into suspect #6. For some dumb reason there are people that think Gus did the murders and fakes the journal to cover himself. This makes no sense as #1, the head of police in Prague is already plotting to frame Gus for the crimes, #2, there’s substantial evidence showing Marc Ackerman is a real person, ranging from the art exhibit to proof he was institutionalized at the same time Gus was RAISING A FAMILY IN CHICAGO. People that have this theory either didn’t finish the game, or are on drugs.
Why isn’t he the killer? Well, because they establish him pretty well in Post Mortem personality wise, which most of the people with this ludicrous theory haven’t played. There’s far, FAR too much evidence showing Ackerman is a real person and not a schizoid delusion of Gus.
Suspect #6. Victoria McPherson. The theory here is that Victoria is suffering from “Fight Club Syndrome” and is committing the crimes herself.
Why isn’t she the killer? This is the worst theory. Even more so than Miller. For starters Victoria had no knowledge of Marc Ackerman or her grandfather’s knowledge until halfway through the killing spree. She couldn’t have been able to commit near perfect homage’s to crimes she never knew existed. There’s also VIDEO EVIDENCE of her being in separate places from the killer at the same time. The Killer is on video tape leaving the FBI’s Morgue while Victoria is on an elevator. As well there’s video footage of the killer sneaking out of HQ while Victoria and her old teacher and friend view what the killer has done in the morgue. She also had no knowledge of the women being killed and was not recognized by the guard at the Red Lantern, which was the only way the killer would have known who all the victims were. And the guard was established in the game as having worked there for quite some time. Finally, the people posing this theory took Gus’ psychic visions as Schizophrenia which Victoria was believed to inherit. This aspect of the theory is again disproven by actually playing the first game in the series and the fact that Schizophrenia has only a 5% chance of being inherited by grandparents and a 6% by parents. There’s also no indication the characters are schizophrenic at all.
I’ll never understand why or how the spooky schizophrenic theory came about. It’s just ludicrous.
Suspect #7. The Guard at the Red Lantern. Why? Because he works there and knows the girls by sight.
Why isn’t he the killer? Too obscure and random. The guy has five lines of dialogue in the game. Plus if he was the killer he’d know who Victoria was. The Killer and Victoria have their first meeting long before the guard and Victoria meet. And the killer gets a very good look at Victoria. Plus the body proportions are so different, it’s comical.
Suspect #8. The Son of Marc Ackerman. Richard, Victoria’s boyfriend and obsessive fanatic of Ackerman’s art, reveals that Ackerman had an affair with a nurse while in a mental hospital. Could the killer be his son or grandson and a generation feud between the Ackerman’s and the McPherson’s continue?
Why isn’t he the killer? Well, Richard gets a lot of things wrong regarding actual personal history of Ackerman. In the painting of people who Ackerman killed, Richard gets the story behind them almost totally wrong. He sees something quite different from what actually happened. This is most likely due to the fact Ackerman’s serial killings were covered up and he was admitted to the mental asylum for angst and depression. No, Ackerman is well established as HATING ALL WOMEN. He wouldn’t have had an affair, unless the ulterior was escape. Besides, in typical serial killer pattern, the personality and acts of Ackerman would be chalked up to the profile of a repressed homosexual male. Everything about the character is contrary to him spawning, and it is never stated in the game that he does. It is merely fan conjecture. And if the character does not actually exist, it has to be denied as a plausible suspect.
Suspect #9. Richard. Richard is not only Victoria’s boyfriend, but is almost a zealot to the art of Marc Ackerman. He knows tons about him and has more than a little praise for his life and deeds. It’s actually rather creepy. Even Victoria thinks so. Richard’s gallery is also the sight for one of the murders, which could have easily been done by him. His knowledge of Ackerman and his collection of his paintings would allow him easy access to replicating Ackerman’s crimes. Richard was also left in the care of the would-be final victim who is somehow taken away from the secure spot she and Richard are in. Finally, in the climax of the game, Victoria shoots the killer in the shoulder and causes him to plunge into the icy waters and disappear into the night. But while the credits roll, a still of Richard is seen entering the hospital, holding his shoulder. Out of all the suspects, Richard is the most likely of the killers.
Why isn’t he the killer? Obviously, with all the evidence around him he’s the hardest to disprove. But there’s some important details that disprove it.
The first is Richard is NOT a member of the Red Lantern. The killer is definitely a member of this club, as it’s the only way he would have access to the women that were killed and certain other aspects of the crimes. Without this membership, it can’t be Richard.
The second is the shoulder Richard is holding in the still is the OPPOSITE shoulder that Victoria shot. This is a really excellent red herring by the development team. Richard was attacked by the killer, who was already established as being able to come and go as he pleased from the gallery. The killer stabbed Richard and took the final victim from him.
The third reason the killer is not Richard is because again, he is at one place when a murder is being committed at another. This is established not only during the opening cinema (although one could claim the murder happened hours before), but this fact is also established with at least one of the other killings.
Fourthly, Richard actually helps Victoria by giving her information about Ackerman. He seems utterly clueless about who Ackerman really was. If he was the killer, he wouldn’t be helping her catch him. Rather he’d be giving misinformation to lead her away.
The final reason goes back to the fact Ackerman had a compulsion to kill women. He didn’t kill men. He could have (and should’ve) killed Gus back in Prague but didn’t. Ackerman could/would only kill women. If Richard was a copycat or disciple of Ackerman, he would have killed Victoria as one of the first victims. After all, she’s a GIRL and the descendent of Ackerman’s greatest foe.
So who is the killer? We’ve run through all nine suspects. Really the only nine in the game. Except there is a tenth that everyone forgets at first. No, it’s not a cult or group of people re-enacting Ackerman’s crimes. Nor is it a copycat killer at all.
Riddle me this Batman: When is a Copycat NOT a copycat?
Answer: When it’s the same person merely repeating himself.
The killer is in fact, Marc Ackerman himself.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Alex, how can that be? He’d be over 110 in the modern sections of the game.” You’re right, he would be. The key is in following all the clues laid out in the game.
One of the big hints is in Post Mortem. Post Mortem, on the surface, appears to be just a very nicely made murder mystery. But as you delve deeper into the game, there’re both occult and mystical aspects to it. They are subtle, but very much a strong part of the game. This holds true with Still Life as well.
A huge influence on the Still Life is the short story by Robert Bloch entitled, “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.” It’s actually the best thing Bloch ever wrote, more so than his most famous tale, Psycho. Perhaps once I tell you a summary of the tale, you’ll see where Still Life gets much of its inspiration from.
YTJtR revolves around two main characters, both of which enjoyed discussing the crimes of Jack the Ripper. The story takes place…in modern day (for the time the story was written) Chicago. The crimes of Jack the Ripper? Roughly sixty years before hand.
As the story unfolds one of the two main characters expounds upon his theory on Jack the Ripper. His theory is that the copycat crimes are not copycats at all, but are all done by Jack throughout the years. The crimes are committed on similar dates in similar fashions. But there is a reason behind the madness. The theory holds that the Ripper is killing his victims according to some occult timeframe; the result of which keeps him eternally young. The killings in all their intricacies from similar MO to closeness in location are in fact ritual slayings. Sacrifices to some dark god. Of course then, the second man at the end of the story confirms the first’s theory by killing him and revealing he is in fact, Jack the Ripper.
Throughout the game you are given a LOT of hints that the killings are not just copycat but occultish in nature. Gus only has his psychic visions around things involving the occult. This explains why the graphics also take a weird turn when Victoria encounters the killer. She’s inherited a version of Gus’ latent ability.
There’re also strange sigils, symbols, comments, and a VERY strong adherence to metaphor in the matching murders. The killer is shown frantic towards the end. He knows Victoria has him figured out but he has to keep to his deadline. Why is he killing in these specific spots at this specific time? Why after all the heat being laid on him by the FBI would he not become smarter. Why become more daring? Because he has no choice. The stars must be right, after all.
Another important clue is that when Victoria enters the Red Lantern, there is a book listing the members that she reads. Besides he boss Todd, one of the members is named Marc Ackerman. Remember the only way the killer would know all the victims would be by being a member of the club. That rules out the main suspect in Richard. However, Todd knew nothing of Marc Ackerman, his crimes, or his MO, so he has to be ruled out as well. Was one of the other suspects in the game a member using Marc’s name as an alias? No. There’s no indication of that, and the Microids staff said even before the game was out, that the killer was revealed in the game. You just had to look.
We in the folklore biz call this Occam’s Razor. It means, “The Simplest Solution is often the answer.” If the game comes right out and says “Hey, Ackerman is a member of the club, and only a member of the club can be the killer.” Then you’re only hurting yourself by trying to look for a more complicated answer.
They also establish that there is no record of Marc Ackerman’s death in the game. Considering Richard is a history buff about the life of Ackerman, the absence of his death is a pretty big red flag.
Finally we have to go to the death of Valcav. Remember that Valcav was massively obsessed with the serial killings in Prague 75 years before. He is also the only character to see the killer without his mask on. Of course, he dies right after thanks to a slitting of his throat, but the key thing is to watch the cinematic here. Valcav recognizes the killer. He’s seen the face before. The only characters in the game that Valcav has seen that aren’t dead are Miller, his next door neighbor the Queen of Secrets and Victoria. We know it’s not the QoS because she’s nearly killed by the killer. We know it’s neither Miller or Victoria. So who else does Valcav know in the game that he would recognize the way he does the killer?
The answer is simple. Someone from the original slayings three quarters of a century ago. Valcav recognizes Ackerman from the chief of Prague’s police’s initial investigation into Ackerman (before being called off). Think of it as John Harker when he finally returned to England after months of being in torment in Transylvania. Harker returns only to see the count across the street. “It is the Devil himself. He’s grown young!” Valcav has much the same recognition with Ackerman, although unlike Harker, he does not see an old man grown young. Rather he sees an old man who has STAYED young.
There’s actually a lot more that I could go into on how Ackerman is still the killer and even how it is possible, but we’re hitting 9 pages at this point, and six pages alone on the dissection of the murders. I think that’s more than enough for an article on a well made, but ultimately little known video game. Of course, Murphy’s Law states somehow the final game will be made and they’ll pull a Syberia II on us and totally ignore the orignal planned plot and go in a different direction. But until that happens, the killer has been named thanks to my insane willingness to track down and nag ex employees of Microids.
And just think kids, we have 29 BETTER games to go from here.
Bottom line? Still Life has all the trappings of the prototypical subtle classical terror stylings of many authors from the 1920’s to 1940’s. It is intelligent, amazingly deep, and has one of the best stories in gaming. Hell, it was my runner up to Digital Devil Saga for best story of the year in 2005. It is mature, yet not gratuitous. It requires a lot of brain power, but little hand to eye coordination…save for one god awful evil puzzle. Still Life is the horror game of the intellectual bent, combining horror WITH terror, and considering it can be found on the PC or Xbox for less then twenty dollars, there’s no reason to not have this game be one of your first forays into the realm of digitized horror.
#29. Night Trap
Developer: Digital Pictures
Systems Released On: Sega CD/Sega 32X/3DO
Release Date: 10/15/1992
That’s right folks. Night Trap. THE Night Trap. Night Trap remains one of the most infamous games ever made, although the more modern gamer appears to feel Night Trap is infamous for sucking, and not the real reasons the game is widely known. In truth, when Night Trap came out, it received very high reviews indeed, with the lowest score at that time being a “6/10.” Considering this is back before the great Working Designs, “Holy shit, it we give reviewers free shit, they’ll give our games higher scores” debacle that set off what we know refer to as “power creep”(Side note: I’m impressed how often this term pops up since I coined it. From EGM to 8 Bit Theatre.), this is a very impressive show of scores indeed. ESPECIALLY when you realize many people who played it for the first time in the past 5 years or so, generally hate the game. But then, they miss the context of the game and go into Night Trap it like it is supposed to be serious.
The truth is that Night Trap is a decent game that is actually pretty enjoyable if you go in remembering it is supposed to be a parody of B rated horror movies. This weekend, instead getting up to my usual shenanigans, some friends and I held a “Night Trap” evening. The real reason for this was to make sure the game still deserved a spot on the countdown. The people that engaged in an evening of Night Trap with me were not my gamer friends. These were my friends that long ago “outgrew” video games. Doctors, lawyers, higher ups in pharmaceutical companies. This was my “Frasier Crane meets Frat Boys” group of friends.
And here’s the thing. We had a shitload of fun playing this game. And to me, that proves Night Trap still holds up today. When it’s played by people that ignore(or are ignorant of) the fact that Night Trap created more controversy than GTA’s “Kill the Haitians” and “Hot Coffee” combined, they end up enjoying the game…even though we didn’t even come CLOSE to beating the game. That’s what matters.
Of course, Night Trap’s at its best when the game is played by a large group of people; most of which are hopefully drunk. This is because Night Trap is an interactive horror-comedy movie. It manages to do something that no other horror game besides Obscure has ever been able to do, and that’s feel like you’re PLAYING a movie. Yes, to those of us who consider their video gaming palates to be a little more sophisticated, games like Eternal Darkness or Clock Tower are superior. But again, this list is not for video game fans who are into horror; this list is for horror and/or terror fans and what video games would appeal to them. And Night Trap is a game that every fan of cheesy, badly scripted, horribly acted, B-Level horror fans can enjoy. You like “The Cremains” or “Jack Frost,” you’re going to love Night Trap.
So what is Night Trap exactly? I can give you the entire plot in one sentence. “Vampires vs scantily clad sorority girls.” Oh my, yes. That IS the plot. In Night Trap, you the player however are neither sorority girl nor vampire. Instead you are member of SCAT (SEGA’s Controlled Attack Team), which is like video game FBI. Your role is to play peeping tom on the party of girls, monitoring 7 or 8 hidden cameras throughout the house.
Now, you’re probably wondering just why you’re spying on an all-girl slumber party. No, you’re not a sweaty palmed sex fiend. And this game came out 14 years before George W. Bush’s “Let’s spy on our own people without warrants!” controversy. The reason you have all these cameras set up comes down to the fact that recently people in the area have been disappearing mysteriously, which turns out to be well, vampires, or, as they are called in the game, “Augers”. Your job is to set traps for the Augers and catch them. All 95 of them. Yes. 95. And as you’ll see in a bit, this is so utterly insane and depraved to inflict upon the gamer, that those that have accomplished this goal are up there with “people who have beaten Illbleed or Nightmare of Druaga.”
The game is hard. And a lot of the game involves being in precisely the right spot at the right time. You need to set traps for the Augers and catch them by monitoring rooms for them and hitting buttons at the right time. The right time is when the Danger Meter is saying “Hit the f*cking button…NOW!” You don’t have to catch all 95 vampires, but if you do, you get a very special ending that is hilarious. There are many endings to the game, both bad and good. It all depends on how many vampires you take out and how many humans the vampires take out. As I said before, the game is pretty hard to even get a good ending out of. A lot of people blame the game for this, saying you have to be in the right place at the right time. Hell, even I used to think that. But in fact the game is amazingly clever when you boil down to the REAL reason you lose. And that’s because you fall for the game’s shitload of distractions.
What makes Night Trap a wonderful “hang out with buds” game is that it is so bloody awful. Not awful as in poorly made. But it was designed to be bad. To make you groan. To make you shake your head. To laugh at the sometimes gruesome (but usually hilarious) deaths. And this is all part of the master plan of the game to make girls in nighties Purina brand Vampire Chow.
The main song to the game is so infamously bad, that you can just hum the first few notes, and ANYONE who has ever played the game will point at you and go “OMGWTF! NIGHT TRAP!” Or else they will start humming along and curse you eternally for getting it stuck in their head. The game even goes out of its way to stick the song in your cranium and make you laugh at it, as several characters will hum or sing the song while playing through the game.
The other big thing is the dialogue of the game. It’s cheesy. It’s horribly acted. It comes off lip synched due to the nature of the game being all Full Motion Video. And it’s addicting. There is so much dialogue and stupid situations thrown into the game, that you find yourself watching as much as you can so that you can play MST3K or just laugh at how silly the scenes are. So bad, it’s good.
And that my friends is the catch, because it’s exactly what the game wants you to do. It WANTS you to focus on stupid girl talk and pillow fights, because that means you’re not focusing on hunting vampires. The entire game is set in REAL TIME, meaning every second you are laughing at the commander of SCAT and his horrible Jamaican accent, you are missing a chance to take down an Auger. Time and time again, you will find yourself caught up in the insipid subplots and dialogue and will end up losing the game because of your own inability to stay focused on why you’re playing the game. This aspect of Night Trap is what makes it one of the most under-rated games of all time. Most people never catch on to the fact the game is designed to distract the player with all its cheesiness.
Of course, if you do ignore the titillating dialogue and characters, the game is a lot easier to beat. But you also miss out on a lot of the fun. That’s why I said the game is still fun to play, even if you don’t get the best ending. It’s almost more fun to lose at Night Trap, in the same way it’s more fun to lose at Brain Dead 13 or Dragon’s Lair sometimes.
Now it’s time to get to the real reason Night trap is on the list. Yes it’s fun with a group of friends (especially when they’re drunk) and it’s a lot better than most people give it credit for, but in fact there are a lot of games that are scarier, better made, and well, more fun to play. So why is Night Trap on the list (albeit towards the bottom)? Simply put, Night Trap is arguably the most important and influential video game of all time. That’s not just my opinion, but that of pretty much everyone who has any tangible knowledge of the industry. Let’s take a look at just a FEW of the reasons why.
1. It was the first console game to be so large it spanned 2 CD’s.
2. It was the first game with over two hours of video footage and voice acting.
3. It starred Dana Plato from Different Strokes.
4. It was the first Full-Motion Video game
5. It was the first “Interactive Movie” game.
6. It was the first game to feature actual actors.
7. It was a Sega CD launch title.
8. It was the game that single handedly spawned the ESRB.
That last bit is far more important than you realize. No other video game created a fervor amongst parents and politicians like Night Trap. Mortal Kombat? Nope. GTA? Rockstar WISHES. Manhunt? Nope. My god if Jack Thompson had been around when Night Trap was released, he’d have stalked and burned the homes of every employee of Digital Pictures while urinating on the ashes.
You see, Night Trap was the first actual game that showed gore or any non cartoon violence. Sure you had Friday the 13th on the NES. But there was no blood. It was all cartoon violence. With Night Trap, you had real women, real boobies, and what appeared to be real violence perpetrated against human beings by demonic thingies wearing garbage bags and gas masks. Parents were used to video games being cute and wholesome. “Oh. Mario jumped on a living mushroom. Tee Hee.” or “When Sonic stomps on a fiendish cyborg monstrosity, it turns into a cute animal!” They were NOT used to “OH MY GOD! Little Timmy just saw nipple while blood spurted out everywhere.”
Now granted, Night Trap was a LOT less graphic or violent than any horror movie that could be rented at the time. But Movies had a rating system. Video games did not. So parents that were used to that wacky caveman Bonk or River Raid planes blowing up badly drawn bridges ended up being in quite a bit of shock to see horrible actors in “high quality footage” eating Gary Coleman’s adopted older sister.
Thus, Night Trap earned the wraith of censor crazed politician Joe Lieberman who would launch a public campaign against Night Trap with actual quotes like, “(the game is) contributing to the unacceptable level of violence in our society.” The irony here is Night Trap was only ever released on systems that underperformed. Sega CD? Sega 32X? The fricking 3DO? But because of the massive freak out some people had over the game, Night Trap became an actual system seller. So thanks Joe Lieberman, you radical nutjob! Thanks to you, more people owned Sega CD’s and thus could appreciate Lunar: The Silver Star and Eternal Champions!
The lamentation that Night Trap would cause all of us impressionable teenagers (I was at the time!) to go out and storm sorority houses and slice and dice nearly naked women may be silly to us today, especially when compared to modern games and the emphasis on “realistic violence” over quality gameplay, but back then, Night Trap was so “innovative” and “realistic,” it would cause Congress to set hearings on video game violence and would eventually spawn what we know now as the ESRB. The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), is simply put, the governing body that decides what rating a video game gets stamped with on its cover. It’s an attempt to educate parents to the content of the $50 video game, they’re about to buy for their child. I’d love to go into a lot of detail about the history of the ESRB and what exactly it does for the industry, as well as how it has changed it, but instead I’m going to point you towards an amazing feature done by Inside Pulse’s own Bryan Berg. Bryan’s ESRB: 10 Years Later was written back in October 2004, 12 years after Night trap came out, and is still an amazing read for those of you who like a little history and intellectualism with your video game playing.
Eventually Night Trap would hit the 3DO with even better resolution and picture quality. But of course it’s the 3DO so maybe 10 people played it. As well, the game was re-released on the Sega CD and 32X, but edited. It’s the red cover that’s the unedited version, and the one you need to pick up.
So that’s really it. Night Trap, in its day, was a game way ahead of its time. It was highly ambitious, and considering the technology at the time, very well done. It’s two big problems were that 85% of the gaming audience at the time “didn’t get it” and that it gave the video game industry its first really big black eye. Today it’s ranked with Tomb Raider as one of those games that was considered well made and fun its day, but is now decried and mocked by the hardcore gamer. I realize Night Trap making this list will raise more than a few eyebrows, but I’m also betting those will also be the people who didn’t get the actual intent of Night Trap, or are those that are comparing to today’s games. Night Trap deserves to be remembered for being one of the most influential and innovative video games ever made, not just one of the most infamous.
I strongly suggest playing the game in the manner my friends and I did this weekend. Not only will you gain an appreciation for what Digital Pictures was trying to do, but you’ll be amazed how well the game works as a team effort. Remember it’s a spoof of B level horror films, and like those movies, Night Trap is far more rewarding when enjoyed by a group. Is this a game I would tell you to buy a Sega CD setup just to play? Oh god no. GOD NO. Like I said, there are MANY better games out there than Night Trap. It makes the list simply because it is underrated by the average game, but mainly for the fact it is hands down the most influential video game ever made. We wouldn’t have 95% of the horror games or Mature video games out there is Night Trap hadn’t unwittingly paved the way. This makes the list more out of respect for how a single game changed the industry and for historic reasons. That being said, play the game and judge it for yourself if you get the chance. It’s amazingly popular amongst the IP and 411 games staff, getting rated the eighth best game on the Sega CD. It’s also one of Tim Stevens (The head of Comic Nexus)’s favorite games, and our own Jamie Hatton (writer of the popular Monday Night Rabble and web cartoon In His Likeness) is quite fond of Night Trap as well. Instead of letting your enjoyment of this game be some dark secret you act like you’re ashamed of, stand up and sing out the lyrics of the Title Song and be proud of your enjoyment of a game that went out of its way to be comedy-horror. Because they got it right where Evil Dead: Hail to the King did not.
And for those of you who wish yet another reason to loathe my existence, I end this article by giving you not only the lyrics to song “Night Trap,” but also, the Mp3 so that you can carry it in your Ipod for all eternity. Click here for Cheesy Saxophone filled goodness!
Love is easy by the light of day
You get the boys to play away
Thoughts are down when darkness falls
Passion burns and danger calls
So don’t go out if you dare
You better be good
You better beware
That boy will find you
Watch out behind you
Girls if you driving a ride
You’ll be caught in the night
No Recipe this week. But we’ll see you next Monday with the next two games on the Countdown. One’s got a Great Old One in it. The other was pretty famous in its heyday, but never gets mentioned anymore. Alas. Here’s hoping we revive it a bit.