Why you never played: That’s easy. The Lurking Horror is a text-only game for DOS, Apple II and Commodore 64 that required you to read your way through. No graphics. No animation. No music. No colors beyond the black background and white font. In fact, when it was later ported to the relatively high-tech Amiga, the fanciest addition was occasional sound effects.
What’s so scary: The power of your imagination. No, really! Mister Rogers and Geordi La Forge were right – your mind is capable of producing far more evocative dreams (and nightmares) than any manufactured images on your television screen could hope to achieve. All the brain needs is proper stimulation, and since The Lurking Horror is based on the classic creature-filled writings of H.P. Lovecraft, it knows how to deliver:
Another frightening thing about the game is its disarming sense of familiarity. You play a young college student, staying up late in the computer lab to meet a term paper deadline. Except for the blizzard raging outside, the setup is normal to the point of dullness; the first half-hour is spent microwaving Chinese food and getting a hacker to help you with your homework. So when Cthulhu-inspired demons begin chasing you through academic buildings and underground steam tunnels, you’re somewhat less prepared than when you march onto an abandoned spaceship carrying a laser chainsaw.
A final note about the image above. The pictured student ID and “G.U.E. at a Glance” freshman guidebook actually shipped with The Lurking Horror in order to help enhance your imagination. Also inside the box, but not mentioned anywhere on the outside of the box, was a rubber centipede based on the creepy crawlies featured in the game. That nasty little surprise was left for players to discover on their own.
Current availability: The original box and included prizes are now out-of-print, hard-to-find collector’s items, but the game itself is readily available for download pretty much anywhere you look online.
Why you never played: Take your pick. First, it was for Dreamcast, but released a month after Sega discontinued the Dreamcast in North America. Second, it didn’t review well, with critics rightly noting that the controls and camera sucked. Third, it was named Illbleed. Which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a really, really stupid name for anything.
What’s so scary: Despite the game’s many faults – which also include embarrassing typos and mismatched translation – Illbleed is a rare original in the survival horror genre, taking so many crazy and unexpected chances that you’re guaranteed to either love or hate the final experience. For example, what other scary game tracks not just your health, but your pulse rate, adrenaline level and degree of bleeding as well? What other scary game teaches you to sense and disarm booby traps instead of merely unlocking an endless series of doors? What other scary game takes a cue from Scream, casting you in the role of a horror movie fanatic that understands how these types of scenarios normally unfold?
And most significantly, what other scary game promises to make you “PUKE with pleasure, VOMIT with excitement and SHIT with fear?”
Yeah, Illbleed is a comedic parody, too… and definitely not a subtle one. You fight worm farmers, lumberjacks and a creature called Zodick the Hellhog. You collect items like Erotic Magazines and Relaxation CDs. You run across obvious references to everything from Tremors to Toy Story. The female hero wears less clothing the more you play, and the villain is eventually revealed to be her long-lost father. At some point, a huge monster you were hiding from is unmasked as a robot, controlled by an amusement park employee… who is then unmasked as a robot himself.
All of this over-the-top bizarreness adds to Illbleed’s fear factor, however, especially when you realize the game’s designers are willing to break convention – and the fourth wall – in order to shock you.
Current availability: Amazon sells new and used copies for less than $15.