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Five retro horror games to chill your December

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Christmas is just about the worst time of year for horror fans, and this looks like being one of the most barren yet. The last five years have seen the giants of the genre drop like flies in terms of both gaming and movies, and horror literature doesn't even get talked about any more. The two best horror games I've played during this time, Bloodborne and Spec Ops: The Line weren't even marketed as horror games for fear of scaring the horses.

Clearly there are only two choices. Do the Year Walk and end up tripping balls in a graveyard at midnight, or dig into the back catalogue. I can help you with one of these today.

(Disclaimer: Destructoid cannot be seen to be condoning the use of emulators. By reading this sentence you agree to only emulate games that you own physical copies of. Please steal games responsibly.)

5. Project Firestart (Commodore 64)

It might seem hard to imagine now, but EA was founded on the principle of pushing the boundaries of video games as an art form. Of course, like Apple, they then sold out and now the own most of the civilised world. For a time, though, the EA stamp was a guarantee that you were buying something unique and hauter.

Described variously as "The first fully formed survival horror game" and "The survival horror template in its entirety," 1989's Project Firestart was years ahead of its time. It was a small maze game set on an abandoned spaceship and featured item puzzles, multiple endings, fiercely limited ammunition, actual cutscenes and buckets of gore. It's a vital piece of gaming history that shouldn't be missed by horror connoisseurs.

4. The Lurking Horror (PC)

Ranked by Gamespy as the tenth scariest horror game ever made, The Lurking Horror is a text adventure released by Infocom (the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy people). It takes place during a fierce snowstorm in the middle of the night, with the player taking the role of a student pulling an all nigher at an institution which is MIT in all but name only.

It's difficult to get the same experience playing Lurking Horror today, as the game came weighed down with bundles of student materials necessary to complete the game. However, fans of really good horror (in particular the works of Lovecraft) will find that the effort needed to recreate at home the stir that it caused when it dropped back in 1987 will be well rewarded.

3. Sweet Home (Famicom)

Historically, Sweet Home is CAPCOM's first dip (and by dip I mean headlong plunge) into the survival horror market. Based on the Japanese novel of the same name, Sweet Home was developed in 1989 by Tokuro "Ghosts 'n' Goblins" Fujiwara and is a turn base RPG which follows a group of investigators who get trapped in the mansion of a missing artist in their quest to unravel the mystery of what happened there.

In gaming terms, Sweet Home is SCARY. Not boo jump scary, but "Jesus fucking fuck, there is a fucking child in that fucking incinerator" scary. It also features multiple endings, perma-death, limited health packs, a story-driven final boss fight and the first occurrence in a game of creaky opening door transitions.

2. Snatcher (Sega-CD)

Set in Metal Gear's dubious extended universe, Snatcher is Hideo Kojima's first legitimate wordy epic. It's a point and click adventure with shooter elements, and rich kids could plug in the Lethal Enforcers lightgun for a bit of realistic shooty bang. It also takes place in a universe in which half the world has been devastated by a Russian bioweapon outbreak called Lucifer Alpha. Russia is pretty much toast, so sucks to be Ocelot in this version of the timeline.

Snatcher is a menu driven adventure from 1989 and suffers from the ponderous nature of the medium as well as Kojima's tendency towards verbosity. The flip side of this, however, is that the amount of buildup allows it to deliver heavily on its Invasion Of The Body Snatchers theme of creeping paranoia and its Terminator style jumpscares. Fantastic game, and vital piece of Kojimalia.

1. Clocktower (Super Famicom)

It's less obscure now that it's had a reboot and a lot of love on various Youtube let's play channels, but nonetheless the fact that there are horror fans who haven't played this masterpiece of cat and mouse terror remains a crime against the art form. Designed by Suda 51 in 1995, Clocktower follows Project Firestart's format of a branching plot which develops in a tiny maze of rooms. However, the game switches things up by having the layout of the rooms alter with each playthrough.

It's also the first game to do the single, unkillable big bad which stalks you from beginning to end really, really well. Its sequels and spinoffs tried to recapture the format with varying success, but none of its high production descendants have ever managed to truly match the heart-pounding terror inspired by the 16 bit snap-snap-snap of the giant scissors coming for you as a horrible wizened little Victorian child gets closer and closer to cutting a little girl into tiny pieces.

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About Dalek Sexone of us since 3:11 PM on 02.27.2013

Z list internet comic. I have worked on stuff for podcasts like What A Fool Believes, We Are The Lolocaust, The Monday Movie Show and The Gamescast. I named myself while I was blogging for Tachyon TV. There is a Dr. Who character called "Dalek Sec," only I made it a penis joke. Witty.

I have a Youtube channel where I play terrible mobile games. Sometimes I write and sing funny songs, like the Tailspin theme I rewrote to be about Jonathan Holmes.

Every print magazine and most of the websites I have ever written for have collapsed pyrotechnically within months, making me the Typhoid Mary of games journalism.

I used to write and manage the front page of Encyclopedia Dramatica when it was still good (pre-2008).

I got fired from NTSC-UK once.