As a horror aficionado, I find horror games to be much more terrifying than their film counterparts. Whereas a horror movie has the advantage of precise cinematography, horror games have the power of complete immersion. You are no longer a mere bystander watching the horrific scenes unfold from the sidelines where it is safe, but instead an active participant in the story. Although the genre has seen a resurgence this year, there are still too few horror titles for handheld consoles. So when Aksys Games announced their plans to localize Creeping Terror, I couldn’t help being intrigued. With its eerie yet engrossing promotional poster, I eagerly anticipated what this game had in store for me.
Set in the United States, Creeping Terror tells the story of Arisa (the main protagonist), Ken, Emily, and Bob — four high school students seeking to gain internet notoriety. There’s an ongoing rumor that several students have mysteriously disappeared after venturing into the abandoned mansion where a terrifying monster supposedly lurks. Seeing this as a grand opportunity to film the next viral video, the four decide to explore the dilapidated estate in the hopes of obtaining footage of this entity, and uncovering the truth behind the disappearances.
Creeping Terror’s plot has all the makings of a typical horror movie. It has the clichéd spooky old house setting and the terrifying monster driven by bloodlust. While the premise isn’t anything revolutionary, Creeping Terror still manages to weave an intricate tale by utilizing old journal entries to expand its narrative. These are scattered throughout the game and contain tidbits of information that elaborate on past events that transpired — a useful ploy to entice the player to learn more about the history of the mansion and the identity of your deranged pursuer. However, gathering them all is a troublesome chore since some are only attainable in specific branches of the story. On the other hand, it certainly adds replayability to the game for those with more inquisitive minds.
What prevents Creeping Terror from being truly horrifying is its intrepid cast. Unlike other horror stories where several of the characters are fearful of their situation (rightfully so, might I add), Creeping Terror’s four protagonists are completely fearless. For instance, moments after eluding the shovel monster for the first time, their initial reaction is to disband and explore the confines of the manor unaccompanied. Because of this, it was incredibly difficult for me to feel any real trepidation playing through the game. Fear is an essential element in horror — without fear, horror cannot exist.
This characterization also severely contrasts with the gameplay, which tries to create intense chase scenes brimming with urgency and danger. After encountering one of the three possible pursuers, you must run and find a hiding place until the coast is clear. In an attempt to make the chases a little more difficult, a stamina system triggers at the start of each sequence. This limits how much Arisa can run, forcing you to skillfully pace yourself while struggling to escape. If these aren’t enough things to concern yourself with, the battery in Arisa’s cell phone, your primary light source, depletes over time and must be recharged using portable chargers abundantly scattered throughout the rooms (why there are multiple portable chargers lying around inside a forsaken place is beyond me).
But even with these additional mechanics, Creeping Terror still fails to compensate for its insufficient fear factor. During the chase scenes, it is laughably easy to avoid the shovel monster. If you do get caught, pressing the A button repeatedly enables Arisa to extricate herself from the monster in exchange for a portion of her stamina. This can be restored by ingesting rations which are easily procurable. Overall, the gameplay feels nothing more than a nuisance that purposely delays the progression of the plot.
I found it baffling that the developers opted to use a minimal approach in the sound department since horror in general is heavily reliant on it. There is no voice acting in the game — everything is old-fashionably conveyed through the manipulation of the text and punctuation. The background music, while sinister at first, gradually blends in after several minutes of gameplay and you are left with the sound of Arisa’s footsteps. The shrilling string instruments and dramatic sforzandos that play during the chase portions lose their intensity after several audio loops.
Being a 3DS downloadable-only title, I was pleasantly surprised at how striking and crisp the visuals were. The character models, albeit faceless, strangely remind me of Odin Sphere with its 2D perspective and cel-shaded graphics. To make the flashlight feature more purposeful, the developers created a stark contrast between lit and unlit rooms by making certain objects harder to notice without a light source. Everything from the placement of the shadows to the flickering light from nearby candles effectively evokes an ominous atmosphere.
With borrowed mechanics from several classics, I couldn’t help but travel back in time as I played Creeping Terror. Its premise is very reminiscent of Clock Tower since both games star four people (with only one being playable) and their attempt to escape a house of horrors. Creeping Terror also borrows several elements from the Fatal Frame franchise — specifically the diary entries and the “run-and-hide” procedure during the chase scenes. Although Creeping Terror is ultimately forgettable, it pays wonderful homage to the games that helped the survival horror genre gain widespread recognition.