Praise the lord and pass the ammunition
Like any genre, lo-fi horror carries with it the possibility of growing stale. You can only be locked in a house with a killer so many times before it’s routine. It’s not always that way, however. There are lots of alternatives. Night at the Gates of Hell makes a big detour for the genre by empowering you with a gun. The zombies are slow, and ammo is limited. Aim for the head.
It certainly helps that it marks the return of the duo that created Bloodwash, which still stands as one of my favorite examples of the genre. Jordan King and Henry Hoare have returned with some extra ammunition, this time giving us all the zombies we can handle. It’s a rather stark departure from Bloodwash’s thick and heavy suspense, but it’s substantial proof that these two know the recipe to the secret sauce.
Night at the Gates of Hell (PC)
Developer: Black Eyed Priest, Henry Hoare
Publisher: Torture Star Video
Released: September 15, 2022
Night at the Gates of Hell is so turgid with sleaze that someone gets their low-poly tits out within the first five minutes. They get bitten off shortly after that. It’s hard to miss the B movie goofiness that pervades the game; it certainly embraces it. You play as David, who has found himself in a bit of a zombie outbreak. It sure seems like the end of times, but David isn’t going to get dragged to hell without a fight.
The zombies are typically slow and rarely attack in groups, which is somewhat rare for horror in general. What’s more, they’re grotesquely rendered. I’m not just talking about the necrotic details like peeled-back lips and sunken eyes. Their low-poly exterior and unnatural movements give them an extremely unsettling quality. They also tend to be strangely proportioned, giving the entire game a surreal feel. It’s like being assaulted by pointy meat dolls. There are apparently 85 zombie models in the entire game, which seems excessive, but also adds noticeable flavor. It’s not like you’re going to get personal with a particular zombie, but it makes the world feel a bit more alive. Or perhaps like it was once alive.
You need to score a headshot to take down a zombie, which isn’t a tall order if you keep calm, but means you can’t just go popping off shots. You can look down the sights, but you can’t move while doing so. Ammo is also limited, and reloading takes time. Still, as long as you can hit your target, combat is the best option.
If you’re not that great at lining up your sights on a brain, you can load up on knives. These trigger whenever a zombie grabs you, resulting in an instant kill. It’s sort of like the Resident Evil remake on Gamecube, but with a hilarious animation attached. The zombie gets right up in your face, but the knife kind of just floats into view and politely stabs its way into their head. It gets the job done, and you get a view of the zombie, but the fact that this is the bare minimum way of depicting a knife going into someone, it’s almost comical.
Not that Night at the Gates of Hell takes itself very seriously. There’s a story, but it’s rather tenuous. It doesn’t go all out in creating an atmosphere of dread like Bloodwash did, but rather supports itself on the gory visuals. The characters you bump into are a diverse bunch of weirdos, with fan favorite Stan from Bloodwash making a celebrated reappearance. The characters are memorable, but more for being amusing rather than deep. That same thing could be said about Night at the Gates of Hell.
Stan’s our man
The whole experience is level-based. This, unfortunately, eliminates a feeling of continued survival, but it does help all the scenes stand as their own. There’s a surprising amount of variety to be found, as well. While most of Night at the Gates of Hell has you skulking through darkened corridors, it has a healthy habit of flipping the script.
As is standard with Puppet Combo adjacent games (this one published under Ben Cucuzza’s label, Torture Star Video), there are a number of filters to better replicate the ‘90s. I started off with it looking like a VHS rental but had to turn it down to just VHS. Even then, I often missed small details in the environment, but I will allow myself to suffer for the sake of an authentic experience. Or most anything, really.
It’s not the longest game, but it makes the most of its runtime. It also includes some smaller prototypes from the developers’ back catalog thrown in as extras. I’m most excited about The Booty Creek Cheek Freak being included because it’s just fun to say.
Aim for the head
While I’m still more fond of Bloodwash for its inventive narrative flourishes, Night at the Gates of Hell is a good time for its modest artistic vision. Some of the elements within feel more like they happened as happy accidents rather than deliberate attempts at a unique experience. But really, that just feels more true to the B Horror experience.
Night at the Gates of Hell is not the deepest or most creative horror game in the pack, but it is undeniably entertaining. It gives a strong impression that the developer had as much fun creating it as you will have playing it. Its campy and unsettling tone belies a game that just aims to please, and it is rather accurate when it comes to hitting that target.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]