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Friday, July 10, 2020

What’s Old is Scary Again: Celebrating the Rise of Retro-Inspired Horror Games

As we steadily approach the ninth console generation, it’s clear that gaming technology has come a long way since the bit-wars and limited storage space of yesteryear. AAA titles have become so photoreal that they’re looking like 3D-Animated movies instead of videogames, and that’s not even mentioning all the quality-of-life improvements on both consoles and PC. However, even during this time of incredible technological achievements, some nostalgic gamers find themselves looking back towards more primitive eras of gaming, especially within the horror genre.

There was a time when boxy 3D models of Resident Evil and barely-animated sprites of Clock Tower were more than enough to instill terror in the hearts of players, so it makes sense that some modern developers would choose to embrace the antique stylings of classic titles now that they’re no longer limitations but genuine aesthetic choices. Couple that with how easy it’s become for aspiring developers to learn how to program and manipulate simple 3D and 2D assets, and it makes a lot of sense that we’re living in a golden age of retro horror releases.

Sure, old-school throwbacks have always been a thing in the videogame industry, with remakes and rereleases being common ever since enough time had passed to make gaming nostalgia possible, but there’s a unique appeal to older horror games that makes them even more effective in hindsight. Clunky combat systems make it harder for players to feel safe and less detailed graphics leave more up to the imagination, making monsters seem more threatening. More often than not, these hardware constraints end up working as tools in creating mood and atmosphere. Hell, even the iconic fog from the Silent Hill series began as an attempt to mask the original PlayStation’s abysmal draw distance.

Much like the popularization of VHS filters and grainy film looks in movies, elements that were once considered undesirable are now being turned into genuine assets for clever creators. Look no further than Puppet Combo, arguably the most popular of these new retro developers, as an example. They’ve built an entire career out of taking advantage of low-polygon models and classic survival horror tropes in order to produce a terrifying collection of 90s-inspired horror games. In fact, PC has even released a new publishing label entitled Torture Star Video in an attempt to showcase the work of budding developers who are also passionate about this style of gaming.

It just wouldn’t be the same in HD.

The recent The Enigma of Salazar House, Torture Star Video’s first offering, was actually developed by Ignacio Maldonado, a Chilean horror fan inspired by early point and click adventures. Like many other games in this sub-genre, it looks deceptively simple, but there’s a whole lot of artistry going on behind the scenes when designing a retro experience for a new generation (not to mention the gorgeous artwork).

It seems that these scares just keep on coming, as retro horror collectives are becoming something of a trend. We’ve even seen anthology compilations like the Dread X Collection, which features the work of talented developers like Torple Dook, Lovely Hellplace and even Airdorf, creator of the excellent pixel-horror Faith games. During a week-long game-jam, these artists came together to show off the near-infinite potential of independent horror gaming. Judging from the results, I think it’s safe to say that they succeeded.

These are just some of the most popular projects, but there’s a whole community of indie developers out there (especially on Itch.Io) producing old-school scares for a bargain, and sometimes even for free. One of my recent favorites is Modus Interactive‘s Frontier Diver, a short PSX-inspired romp where you play as a scientist in a futuristic submarine, surveying the ruins of a long-lost civilization. The gameplay and visuals are so committed to the original PlayStation era that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is an actual mid-90s title, with the warped textures and pixelization only helping the foreboding, deep-sea atmosphere.

And speaking of the original PlayStation, the infamous Haunted PS1 Demo Disc is another must-play for retro horror fans. A delectable collection of old-fashioned scares, this compilation is presented as a series of cursed PS1 demos. While some of the titles here lack polish, this free collection works wonderfully as a nostalgic throwback with more than a few tricks up its sleeve.

Nothing beats PS1-era Skeletons!

The same folks behind the Demo Disc also organized this year’s EEK3 Indie Horror Showcase, a replacement of sorts for the usual gaming Expos that were canceled/postponed due to Covid-19. The online event had a bona fide horror-host presenting us with over 40 upcoming indie projects that will hopefully terrify us within the comfort of our own homes. Needless to say, these games featured copious amounts of fixed camera angles, VHS aesthetics and even tank-controls, so the Showcase was nothing short of a wet dream for retro horror enthusiasts. At this point, I hope it becomes a yearly tradition.

Naturally, we shouldn’t be too eager about living in the past, lest the gaming industry (and horror in general) become stagnant, but these retro scares are at their best when applying a modern spin to outdated visuals and gameplay, and I think they’re some of the most interesting projects to come out of gaming in the past decade. If anything, the rise of these retro-styled horror games has proven that a good idea backed by solid gameplay is worth a lot more than cutting edge graphics and performance (especially since most of these titles can be played on the hardware equivalent of a baked potato).

Ironically, the future looks bright for this old-fashioned sub-genre, and I can’t wait to see what kind of retro terrors these developers will come up with next. If you’re ever tired of what the mainstream gaming industry is offering, don’t forget to check out of some of these smaller, but equally chilling releases!



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3622047/celebrating-rise-retro-inspired-horror-games/

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