It's that time of year when the world is plunged into
darkness and all manner of unpleasant monstrosities emerge from the gloom. A time when said hideous beasts extend their
gruesome tentacles towards the lands of the living and drain people of their
very will to live. But luckily I've been able to distract myself from the run
up to the 2016 US Elections by focusing on a far more appealing occasion –
Halloween. And so, in the run up to said
festival, I'll be taking a look at some older horror games that may have
bypassed the current gaming generation. Starting with one of the most controversial
games ever to grace any gaming platform... Night Trap!
'Wait, what?' you could well be thinking. After all, if you ask most gamers today to name a controversial video game, they'd might point you in the direction of Grand Theft Auto. But Night Trap caused such a ruckus that it led to a hearing on video game violence due to the fact that the game encouraged players to 'trap and kill women'. The only problem is that Night Trap, originally released on the Mega CD and later the PC and 3DO, does no such thing.
Night Trap tasks you with protecting – not killing – a group of girls who have been invited to a slumber party by a family of vampires. Aside from the vampires themselves, you also have to deal with the 'Augs', half-turned vampire victims who also want to get their teeth into the co-eds. You protect the girls by turning the vampires' own traps against them, capturing the augs and keeping them away from the girls. Unfortunately, while this sounds like a fairly intriguing premise, the game is mediocre at best.
Night Trap is an an 'interactive movie' , which means that it uses video footage to advance the game's story. You view the action through a set of in-game cameras, since you're supposedly hooked into the house's security system. So you might select the living room camera and see the father of the family talking to his wife. Maybe you'll see the girls arriving at the house or, a few minutes later, after they've all gone upstairs, you'll be greeted with an empty living room. The video footage you're shown is presented in a fairly small box, and it's a bit grainy, but Night Trap is a fairly old game, made when crystal clear in-game video was a pipe dream.
All of which sounds a bit passive, and it is. You have no real opportunity to influence the plot at all. Instead, all you can do is stop the game from ending prematurely. There are a few points at which the girls are in real danger and it's up to you to trap the augs. Surprisingly , the acting itself is fairly decent but the augs themselves are laughable – they're basically people dressed in black with what appears to be tights over their head. Should an aug wander into range of a trap – again, shown as a piece of video footage, you can hit the 'trap' button and they'll be very slowly pushed down a hole, accompanied by a big plume of smoke. All of which is as rubbish as it sounds.
But at least watching the game's storyline unfold should be entertaining, right? Yes, it would be, if you were allowed to watch it uninterrupted. But you also have to keep flicking between rooms to keep an eye on the augs. If an aug gets through a room without being trapped, even though it's just wandering around and not threatening the girls, it counts against you. Should you let enough augs go untrapped, the game ends. And since they're wandering around at the same time the main characters are talking, you don't get the chance to watch the main video sequences.
So you're left with a game that doesn't do anything particularly well. The story's not particularly great, there's little real interactivity and the actual gameplay is minimal at best. So why then, was Night Trap so controversial at the time? Mainly because of its use of FMV added an extra level of 'realism' to the game. Mortal Kombat had already made people sit up and realise that not all games were suitable for kids, but Night Trap took things to the next level, giving them control over what many people thought was a 'video nasty.' Press sensationalism also didn't help, with some papers trumpeting to high heaven how bad the game was. That said, Night Trap is one of the reasons that we have video game ratings today, which has enabled the release of more 'mature' games.
From a players perspective, though, playing Night Trap through again just reminded me how dull it is and I wouldn't recommend you follow suit. And while the PC version can be found on various abandonware sites, if you
really want to see what all the fuss was about I suggest you hunt down one of the
several 'Let's Plays' on Youtube. Night Trap is an interesting gaming curio,
but certainly not a good game.