I feel like the 90s are the new "retro" when it comes to gaming lately, or at least that's the vibe I'm getting from Pigfarmer Productions' freeware action-adventure horror game Halloween. Based on the iconic slasher film of the same name, from its opening credits to its (optional) "movie" camera style, the game lovingly recreates both the look and feel of a 70s horror film, and then throws in the classic tank-style survival horror controls of my youth which are terrifying all by themselves. Playing as Sarah, you pick up a last minute babysitting job late one night and aren't expecting much trouble beyond finding a good VHS (ask your parents, kids) to watch and keeping hyperactive Billy out of trouble. But the prank phone calls you begin to get aren't funny, and when the lights go out, suddenly you've got more problems at hand than spilled milk.
Use [WASD] to move, holding left [shift] to run, [spacebar] to interact, [F] to use whatever tool you have (such as Harry Mason's pocket flashlight), and [ESC] to open the menu, where you can examine, combine, and equip items as well as change the options. (The options will allow you to change your camera style, which for some of you will be a lifesaver.) When you find and equip a weapon, just click the mouse to attack in the direction you're facing. You need VHS tapes, found in limited supply, to save your game on the recorder in the study. You've got some time before things hit the fan, so spend some time familiarizing yourself with not only the controls, but the house layout. It's not a big place, but you'll want to know where everything is when you're running for your life. When the game's villain shows up, you've got to run, hide, and find a weapon to take him out since you can only handle a few hits before you die.
While the game's initial set-up is slow, sending you all over the house for mundane tasks, Halloween manages to deliver some really intense gameplay once things kick off. Not knowing where your assailant could be, you still know he has to be somewhere, and the moments of creeping through the silent, dark house trying to watch everywhere at once are just as scary as the ones where you have to run for your life, regardless of the game's... rustic... visuals. You can disable the VHS filter in the options (or switch to "DVD" at least), but with the atmospheric camera angles under the "movie" setting it really does deliver a fantastically authentic slasher film experience. Of course, with the good bits of that era also come the bad, the tank-style controls are a special sort of frustrating when you consider how unforgiving the gameplay is regardless of what camera angle you choose. I get challenge, but... should it really feel like the controls and camera are scarier than a maniac with a knife?
As a result, while some players will still love the game regardless and even enjoy the challenge, Halloween isn't as universally appealing as it might otherwise be to anyone who loves cheesy horror flicks. Still, with an exceptionally creepy mood and a fantastic dedication to classic style, Halloween is worth checking out with a grain of salt in a darkened room of your own.
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