Written by J. Weagle
Modern horror games are scary probably more so today than they were when I was growing up. I thought it would be fun to look back at the very first game to ever scare me, and doing so was not as easy as I originally thought it would be. The truth is, that I was a coward growing up, and quite frankly it didn’t take much to scare me, well, than again on second thought, maybe it did. You see at a very young age I was watching horror films, the classic slashers like Friday the 13th, or A Nightmare on Elm Street and I would sleep like a baby the very same night. They really never had an effect on me the same way they did others my own age. Games on the other hand, that was a different story.
It was hard for me to choose just one game here because the truth is that I could easily place two in my category for first scary game. At first I was leaning towards the original Silent Hill released on the Playstation, that would be the easy choice. I can’t quite remember my exact age the first time me and my brother rented it at Blockbuster. Well, we weren’t old enough the rent it so we had to get my mom to. I remember the night I played Silent Hill for the first time as clear as day, it’s almost scary in itself how much of that night I remember. I always gamed with my brother, and we had spent most of the evening playing our way through Syphon Filter, until we got bored. Back in those days, before the wave of internet gaming sites (and everyone is a journalist) we had good ol’ fashion printed gaming magazines. My brother was flipping through the pages and read a little article on Silent Hill. He, like me loved just about anything to do with horror, so we immediately waited for our mom to call and got her to rent the game for us. By the time she got home and we got the disc spinning it was late into the night, past midnight – the perfect time to be scared. I think it’s safe to say I managed to get about fifteen minutes into the game before I had to turn on all of the lights and go upstairs where it was safe.
Silent Hill isn’t my choice for first scary game however, because I almost feel like that would be cheating. Sure, Silent Hill was the very first game to give me nightmares, and all around freak the young me right the hell out but it wasn’t a hard thing to do back then. That’s why I chose a more recent game in my history, one that would give me the same feeling that Silent Hill did years before. That game is Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly, released on the original Xbox in 2003.
I was an Xbox fan back than, I bought one (like everyone else) for a little game called Halo. The Xbox is known for many things, it was the first console to receive many quality PC ports, it had an ass load of first person shooters, hell it even had a hard drive built in. One thing the Xbox did not have though was survival horror games. So, as you can imagine when the young me was looking for something scary to play the options were limited. That’s when I came by Fatal Frame 2. I’ll be honest and say I had never and still to this day have not played the first in the series, but I dropped the sixty dollars on the unknown (to me) sequel in hopes it would satisfy my survival horror craving. It did. In fact it over delivered, causing me to completely shut the game off on countless occasions. The first thing that struck me was just how unique the experience was, and still to this day it stands out among the other survival horror games based on its style and gameplay mechanics. Back in the early 2000’s Japanese horror films were a lot of noise in North America, and Fatal Frame fits into that category nicely. It wasn’t your traditional shoot as many zombies Resident Evil ripoff like so many horror games tended to be back then. You were only armed with your camera, and the ability to take snapshots of grisly looking ghosts in a traditional Japanese looking village. Your camera actually did damage to the ghosts, and if you hit the right spot it would do bonus damage adding a cool bit of gameplay. When in camera mode, your actions became a lot more sluggish and it wasn’t easy to get a good shot. I remember the scariest aspect of the game being that the ghosts always seemed to want to kill you. They would come at you relentlessly, and after you took your shot they would still charge towards you, only it would take a minute to get reorganized. It was those seconds in between your shots that became the most intense and frightening, more frightening that shooting zombies could ever be.
I’ll admit to never actually finishing Fatal Frame 2, and I have no plans to ever go back to it. Sure the Japanese horror style has now been overdone, and the graphics despite being good for the time really hurt a game like this, it will however always hold a place in my heart as one of the most frightening experiences of my video gaming life, and one of the true classics on the original Xbox.