If you grew up with the consoles of the 90s, you also suffered innumerable, awful adaptations of horror films by folks with a threadbare understanding of the source material. The resulting tie-in games weren’t entirely the developers fault, of course. The creators needed to churn out some kind of gamified product where you shot spooky birds that threw their own bones at you. On second thought, that sounds pretty good…
But converting good horror movies into good horror games has always been hard. It’s only within the last few years that we’ve started seeing excellent horror adaptations that capture the themes and scares of their inspirations.
While not everything can be an Alien: Isolation, plenty of excellent games have birthed from the shadows, inspired by lesser horror films. Sometimes, the right grain of inspiration comes from unlikely places. Here is a list of horror games that, despite not being actual licensed games, still do right by their very obvious spiritual sources.
1. The Faculty – High School Horror Show
1998’s teen horror classic The Faculty saw Josh Harnett and Elijah Wood lead a group of high schoolers against drugged-out alien teachers. It’s certainly not the only Adults Are Evil schlock classic, but it does have a weird legacy in the ObsCure game series. If this one never crossed your path, it’s decidedly worth tracking down.
Also taking heavy cues from Silent Hill, ObsCure follows a group of students locked in their high school overnight while searching for a missing friend. What they uncover is a conspiracy of teachers injecting students and creating terrible mutations.
Appropriately enough, these games are budget titles. It guarantees the B-movie nature of the plot matches the second-tier quality of the gameplay. That said, I’d recommend avoiding the 2013 reboot, Final Exam, which reinvents the series as a 2D side-scrolling brawler. It knows that it’s trying to be kitsch. That’s much less interesting than the sincerity of the other entries.
2. Deep Rising – Bloody Murder on the High Seas
A mostly forgotten 1998 film, Deep Rising follows an ocean liner where the crew and passengers have been slaughtered by an unknown presence. A recovery team must match wits against what remains.
Among video games, you’ll find a direct link to Cold Fear. The 2005 title is a surprisingly excellent third-person shooter that’s basically Resident Evil 4… but with a lot of water. There are creatures and zombies and hard-to-parse puzzles—all within an environment that’s just as oppressive as the sentient beings in your way. This is one of those IPs that I’m shocked no one has rebooted or revisited, and the original is easily accessible on Steam.
3. The Omen – Demon Kids Behaving Badly
I like The Omen. It’s fine. It’s a fine movie. But I weirdly prefer The Omen 3, where the son of the devil is all grown up into Sam Neill. It’s not a better movie than its predecessor, but these days it’s spooky as a much more obvious Trump parallel. Adult Damien even bends the law to keep control of his corporation while taking political office.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to do A Politics. Anyhow, Omen Original Flavor was never my favorite horror film. But one neat thing that recently spawned from the original is the Lucius game franchise.
Lucius is a weird mix of 3D adventure and point & click puzzles, wherein you play the child of the devil. Specifically, you “solve” the problem of adults who stand in your way by making them not alive anymore. Sometimes, that’s as easy to fix as opening a door with a key. Sometimes it means using unholy powers to shake loose an icicle to stab your butler through the eye. We’re about to reach the third entry in the series and each new iteration brings fascinating dividends. This is well worth a spin on Steam if you’ve never tried it.
4. Event Horizon – Space Travel is Pure Hell
Paul W. S. Anderson managed to make a pastiche film based on super recent references. Sam Neill (in his second appearance on this list) accidentally betrays his technological life partner (the titular ship Event Horizon) by sharing its journey into Hell. The movie borrows scenic designs (and almost everything else) from Ridley Scott. Even so, it makes its own beautiful nightmare adventure.
Dead Space captures that same essence and expands it into a universe beyond the scope of anything in its reference points. It mainlines everything from a century of science fiction into protagonist Isaac Clarke (whose own name is a reference to sci-fi authors Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke). Then Dead Space funnels that down into a deluge of creatures and situations that find their own horrifically original footing.
Even the inevitable deteriorating quality of the series echoes that of a Hollywood franchise. Yeah, this started with claustrophobia and under-powered engineering tools facing a flood of reanimated flesh. Why wouldn’t it end in a guns blazing co-op shooter?
5. Dawn of the Dead
While certainly not a bad film, most attempts to translate Dawn of the Dead’s urban zombie violence have been… middling.
Dead Rising liberally borrows the film’s plot and shopping mall setting to create a series of games about re-purposing consumerism to fend off hordes of the undead. The first game was a technological marvel at the time, with its ability to render hundred of opponents on-screen at once. But the early entries’ difficulty curve is just brutal.
I highly recommend grabbing Dead Rising 4. The gameplay is as wacky as your could possibly hope for and the Christmas setting brings the hands-down best holiday jazz music you could ever want. What I’m saying is this: even the pause menus are a delight.