Microsoft’s XBox 360 home video game console was released in the US on November 22, 2005. After selling more than 85 million units (worldwide), a successor system, the Xbox One, was released on November 22, 2013. On April 20, 2016, Microsoft announced that it would end the production of new Xbox 360 hardware, with releases of new games having slowed to less than a trickle by that point. It was also announced that the XBox 360 Live Indie Games program would cease in late 2017, with the large catalog of previously released indie developed games becoming no longer available.
Games available through this Indie service generally ranged from as low as $1 to up to $5 for more elaborate or polished games. Granted, most of these games were of piss poor quality and were barely worth even that low $1 price point. These shitballs included poorly developed Minecraft clones, softcore dating sims, shallow shooters, and oddities by the bucket full. Zombie Cow Milking, anyone? Not all of the games available were total turkeys, as a few gems, such as Cthulhu Saves the World, Amazing Princess Sarah, and Ultratron, could be found for dirt cheap, if you are diligent enough to do some digging.
For no reason other than it seemed like something different to do, I have decided to take a look at a couple of these games before they cease to be available. However, as this is supposed to be a horror-themed website, I couldn’t take a look at just any old game. No, no, no. It had to be horror-themed, right? Well, of course it did!
While there were more than a few such games to choose from, most of them looked like something that could only be called a “game” in theory. Sure, the buttons actually worked and the game had an objective, but these were generally games that you couldn’t pay me to play. Luckily, I was able to find at least 2 games that would fit the context of what we do here at Horror and Sons…. whatever that actually is.
Game of Horror – $1
Developed by NeuronVexx, Game of Horror is a survival horror game in the truest sense of the term. The objective of the game is to survive against a serial killer who is constantly on your trail. The killer, a gas mask wearing monstrosity called “The Eviscerator”, likes to have a little fun with his prey before killing it. So, he tosses them into a large mansion filled with maze-like rooms, giving them only a flashlight (here called a “torch”) to illuminate their way.
The house is divided into wings, each separated by doors adorned with one of the four “suits” from a deck of playing cards. Somewhere within each wing is a key which opens access to another wing, and so on until the final wing is opened. Here, the player will find the final key that frees them from the house entirely. All of this, mind you, while the Eviscerator continuously stalks you.
Presented in a 1st person perspective, the player moves from room to room, opening and closing doors (by holding the X button) as they go. Keys may be hidden in bookshelves or in desks, but may also be in plain sight, sitting on tables or even in the middle of the carpet. To simplify the task, searched items will be marked to help prevent accidental backtracking and wasted time. This, however, does not apply to doors.
Being a seasoned serial killer, the Eviscerator has made sure that you will find nothing to use as a weapon. Your only means of defense is to either duck and hide behind some furniture, turn off your torch and hope to not be seen, or to try to block the door (by mashing the B button) before he can get in. I found that the first 2 options never worked for me, but blocking the door worked a large majority of the time. The Eviscerator will generally enter the next available room, so just make sure that it’s not the same room you plan on escaping to.
You can be “caught” by the Eviscerator twice and live (which makes him pretty lackluster at this whole “killer” thing), but the 3rd time will end the game. However, as you are injured after each encounter, you will now move much slower. To make matters much more difficult, the location of the keys and the path you take to locate them is randomized with each new restart! So much for trying to map that shit out.
While delivering tense gameplay and a decent concept, Game of Horror is basically a “jump scare” machine. While the confusing confines of its labyrinthine setting helps build a sense of dread, the scares ultimately come from the Eviscerator’s lunging at the screen each time you are caught. As expected, the novelty quickly wears off. That said, the ability to see your assailant kicking in doors in order to run you down and gut you is effectively chilling.
In terms of gameplay, Game of Horror is incredibly shallow. At only $1, it will definitely deliver a few cheap thrills. However, just not for very long.
Vital Force – $1
Developed by Mancebo, Vital Force puts you in the role of “Jessica”, an 8-year old girl who awakes to find herself alone in some sort of underground facility. The only item in your possession is a cell phone, albeit one with no signal. After some brief investigation, you discover that you are actually in a seemingly abandoned subway platform. You’ll soon figure out that you are very much not alone, as the subway station is haunted by angry spirits out to claim your soul.
Presented in a first-person perspective, you must make your way from room to room, looking for answers to where you are and why you are there, as well as for a way out. You will occasionally be forced to backtrack in order to find the next key or to open previously locked doors in order to further your progression. During your search, you will also find batteries to recharge your phone and medikits to replenish your health meter.
As mentioned, you will frequently encounter evil spirits that will attack you upon approaching them. These spirits are invisible to the human eye, but can be detected using your cell phone’s camera. Activating the flash on your phone’s camera causes damage to the spirits, much like what gamers may remember from the popular Fatal Frame series of games. However, the flash feature has a meter that must refill between each use. While this recharge only takes a matter of seconds, it does leave you vulnerable to attack. This can be prevented by running from each spirit while the meter recharges and then turning back for another flash at the target.
Each of these vengeful spirits can be vanquished with 2 or 3 direct flashes, which makes battles never much of a challenge. As medikits are to be found aplenty in Vital Force, the challenge is minimized even more. Adding further to the game’s ease, as well as decreasing its replay value, is the fact that enemy encounters are not randomized, occurring at the same predetermined spots each playthrough.
Vital Force is insanely short, with most players probably able to reach the ending within only an hour or 2. At the low price of only $1, I wasn’t expecting much in the line of “depth”, so this shorter game length is really a non-issue. What was much less expected than the short game length was the fact that Vital Force is really damned good. It’s not going to win any awards or replace Resident Evil from the top of the horror gaming food chain, but there is some signs of innovation on display and enough presented to easily justify such a minuscule price.