I love to catalogue things. I’m a scrapbooker, a flower presser, and I need to log every movie I watch on Letterboxd or I’ll cease breathing. My desire to collect could be pathological, but I often wish I could capture all the games I play in the same way. Some games I want to remember forever, long after their consoles become obsolete. Other games I need to hold in my hands like baby birds, so I can take a hard two-out-of-five stars look at them and ask, “Why? Why?”
These 10 scary games based on scary movies would be a good place to start. Like a chainsaw-wielding villain, still lumbering slowly despite several bullet wounds to the face, these games are all missing a little something. Stick with me to remember 10 games based on horror movies, then help me figure out why they couldn’t burn as brightly as the originals.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
2013 first-person shooter Aliens: Colonial Marines is a spin-off of James Cameron’s 1986 horror classic Aliens, except instead of playing with interesting interpretations of sexuality, motherhood, and femininity, Colonial Marines is about the U.S. Colonial Marines.
Its Steam description promises “The most authentic Aliens experience ever,” encouraging players to get swept up in its honest interpretation of Aliens’ foreboding, cool grey spaceship. Before it came out, players wanted it to be good. But every component of this game is either shallow or a lie — the titular aliens are blocky, awkward dinosaurs that are unsatisfying to kill, the plotline is forgettable, and the game’s graphics never seem half as good as advertisements promised.
What critics said: In a 2013 review, Arthur Gies of Polygon wrote that Colonial Marines is “underwhelming, and there’s very little game present. […] The end result feels craven and exploitative of its source material and the fans that will hopefully know better.”
Dead by Daylight
Dead by Daylight is not a bad game (I actually like it a lot), but I never feel like it succeeds in transmitting the complicated histories of the many movie characters it borrows.
But that’s the nature of this strategy-forward game. An asymmetrical multiplayer survival horror contest, Dead by Daylight branches across franchises often — the villains from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and Hellraiser have all made cameos — but the game itself remains methodical. Either gore four survivors on rusty hooks before they can escape, or play as a survivor and turn on generators to open a door to salvation. It doesn’t matter if you’re Ghostface or Pinhead, Steve from Stranger Things or a regular boy with a less impressive mop of hair. Dead by Daylight is, somewhat unfortunately, mostly about falling into a clever rhythm rather than exploring motive, fear, or Steve’s hair.
What critics said: “I never want to play Dead By Daylight again,” Jed Whitaker wrote in a 2017 Destructoid review. There you have it.
Evil Dead: The Game
This recent game, an asymmetrical multiplayer survival horror based on the iconic 1981 possession movie The Evil Dead, is pretty good. It’s somewhat of a Dead by Daylight twin — you play either as a team of four survivors working to stay alive or a vicious demon looking to tear them apart. As a hack-n-slashy shooter it’s fun, and gets some of its levity from comedy-horror sequels Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, and Ash vs. Evil Dead. It doesn’t quite harness the fucked-up magic of the first movie, though: deep, dark, and gross enough to keep you scared of the dark for decades. Still, fans will appreciate the game’s countless dirty details and authentic voice acting from franchise stars Bruce Campbell and Dana DeLorenzo.
What critics said: “It strikes the perfect balance of horror and comedy that the franchise is so well-known for,” Brandon Trush wrote at Bloody Disgusting. “If you’re a diehard fan of the Evil Dead, you’ll feel right at home.”
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Seminal 1974 slasher film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is like a desert, hot and dry as hell. Its dirty, nails-on-a-chalkboard melancholy helped set the tone for generations of slashers after it, and that can’t easily be boiled down into a game, or even another movie. But the 1983 Atari game The Texas Chainsaw Massacre tried and, for the most part, failed. Credit must be given to one of the first licensed horror games, but playing a slow-moving 8-bit Leatherface sucks all the scary out of one of the most hellish of horror films. The movie’s exhilarating tension never comes from rooting for him — you’re hoping the girl runs away.
What critics said: The Angry Video Game Nerd eloquently puts it in his video, “As far as Atari goes, there’s not much point of complaining about the graphics, but couldn’t they have at least made his chainsaw a different colour than his body? It just blends in. It’s like his arms are, like, tangled together, or he has, like, a big jagged dick coming out of his chest.”
Saw: The Video Game
I think the Saw movies are entertaining but somewhat idiotic, melodramatic buckets of 2000s-era guts and stuff. I also have a functioning fight-or-flight response, and would be upset if a little puppet guy on a tricycle told me he wanted to play a game. I don’t want to play a game with the little puppet guy, and I don’t want to play Saw: The Video Game, a survival horror exercise from 2009.
Most of the game’s “scary” moments — digging through toilet bowls full of used needles, avoiding bone-crushing shackles and a room-sized furnace — are punctuated by sudden camera sweeps and zoom-ins. Though intended to build drama and heighten the puppet guy’s spiel about teaching you the true value of life, the game’s ungainly, wide-eyed intensity is mostly funny.
What critics said: “The Saw films are renowned for their ability to induce gut-wrenching reactions with vivid torture scenes and nail-biting suspense,” Tim Turi wrote in a 2009 Game Informer review. “Imagine my dismay when I popped in the game and instead felt boredom tempered with frustration.”
Chucky: Slash & Dash
Here’s where I admit that I actually really, really do not like little puppet guys. I could never bring myself to watch the 1988 cult demon doll classic Child’s Play. Two-foot-tall Chucky’s infamous snarl inspires a very visceral throw-up reaction inside me, but endless runner mobile game Chucky: Slash and Dash doesn’t creep me out at all. Is it supposed to? It’s little more than a somehow uglier Temple Run.
What critics said: Danny Gallagher, in a 2013 Touch Arcade review, wrote that Slash & Dash’s “cumbersome controls and awkwardly placed obstacles make it more frustrating than fun.”
Friday the 13th: The Game
Campground killer Jason, with his hockey mask, is one of the most recognisable men in horror, a quiet, heartless ghost. 2017’s Friday the 13th: The Game tried to honour his restless soul with a solid asymmetric multiplayer survival horror that lets you play as a shrieking counselor or the tattered Jason Voorhees himself. It might have worked if legal trouble didn’t effectively kill this glitchy game in 2018, before it had the chance to get up and recover.
What critics said: “Unfortunately, the game is very boring, but at least it’s boring in ways that made playing it with a friend very funny,” Gita Jackson wrote in a 2017 review for Kotaku. “As each minute of the match tediously ticked down, my boyfriend and I laughed with each other over Skype at just how inept the game makes you feel as either Jason or the counsellors.”
The most disconcerting part of the 1999 found-footage horror flick The Blair Witch Project is its blend of reality and pure, mythic evil. It flusters you because its shaky footage catches you in moments of doubt, coaxing you to consider, what if this all really happened?
Bloober Team, the developer behind a few contentious horror games like The Medium and, soon enough, the Silent Hill 2 remake, failed to capture that gripping sense of mystery while translating the movie into the first-person horror game Blair Witch.
The 2019 game is nice to look at, situated in the crisp, sunlit Maryland woods, and it very kindly gives you a healthy German shepherd and the puppy commands you need to guide it. But its protagonist, Ellis, is aggressively unlikeable, and the plot surrounding him meanders and pulls on itself until it feels loose and disjointed. There’s no mystery, no tension, only vague anxiety that subsides the longer you’re forced to confront it.
What critics said: Jeff Cork wrote in a 2019 Game Informer review that, “Navigating this world is more tiresome than frightening, especially once you realise that you’re not in peril most of the time. Instead, it’s more about how creepy you find wooden stick figures and walking around in the dark.”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
According to its page on “Crappy Games Wiki,” the 1993 SNES and Genesis game Bram Stoker’s Dracula is arse for eight reasons. The general sentiment boils down to this bog-standard platformer’s levels being unbalanced, mindless, and lacking in artistry.
That last point is especially shameful. The game is meant to be based on Francis Ford Coppola’s sensually gothic 1992 movie rather than Bram Stoker’s actual 1897 book (which is still pretty sensual). But in the developers’ defence, it must be difficult to make a Genesis game seem luxuriously hedonistic.
What critics said: A Classic Games review gives Bram Stoker’s Dracula an apathetic five-out-of-10, saying, “Dracula could have been good but is another bad licensed title. They should have made a Castlevania clone, licence be damned.”
In recent years it’s become fashionable to dig up John Carpenter’s quintessential 1978 slasher, Halloween, and make it perform yet another silly dance. Everyone wants to touch the lightning in the bottle. That was true in the franchise’s earlier days, too. Unfortunately, the 1983 Atari 2600 game Halloween was made by the same developers as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Like Texas Chainsaw, Halloween caused a stir at the time for its depiction of violence, a depiction that now seems slightly more pointed than suggesting surgery on a grape. It’s boring and mild, but at least the grinning pumpkins it displays at the top of the screen are commendable for their cuteness.
What critics said: “There’s a lot of potential in the concept, but every stage is laid out very much the same,” jeremy1456 wrote on Infinity Retro. “The gameplay just doesn’t offer enough diversity to hold anyone’s interest for more than just a few minutes.”
What are your thoughts on these 10 horror wannabes? Do you think they stack up to the movies they’re based on? Do you know any scary games that strike a better balance? Let me know in the comments.
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