The Playstation 2 (PS2) Survival Horror Library

Survival Horror on PS2

Presented by Ack

When people think survival horror, they tend to think of the classics: late night game sessions with Resident Evil or Silent Hill on the PlayStation, nightmares from Alone in the Dark on the 3DO, scaring themselves silly with Eternal Darkness on the Nintendo Gamecube.  But the PlayStation 2 deserves some of the spotlight.

Blessed with an enormous catalog of titles to enjoy, the console saw its fair share of horror titles across all major regions, with an interesting mixture of gameplay styles and nightmarish designs to keep any fear enthusiast on the edge of their seat.  Most stick to the “traditional” third-person style, forcing players to be disembodied from their avatars, who wander darkened corridors in search of bloody night terrors.  Others take that formula and toss it out the window, including FMV, first person, and even a mic-based horror title sort of like Seaman but with guns, guts, and far fewer fish.

And in terms of design, well, there really is something for everyone.  Science fiction horror?  It’s in there.  Supernatural horror?  You got it.  Zombie apocalypse?  You better believe it.  There’s all sorts of mummies, mansions, and things that go bump in the night on this list, and they’re all waiting eagerly to get their slimy and freakish fingers on you.  So take some time, turn out the lights, and read on for some trials of terror which will surely leave you a gibbering lunatic in the corner.  And don’t forget to have fun.

Resident Evil Series

Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil Survivor 2: Code Veronica, Resident Evil: Dead Aim, Resident Evil Outbreak, Resident Evil Outbreak File #2

Resident Evil Code Veronica ScreenshotIf there is any series that has been synonymous with survival horror, it is Resident Evil.  But during the PlayStation 2’s years, Capcom secured a deal with Nintendo to release its major RE series titles on the Gamecube either first or exclusively.  The result?  The PlayStation 2’s selection of Resident Evil games is comprised primarily of updated ports or offshoots from the main series, the success of which could be considered arguable.  Only two of the six games are actually of the main Resident Evil storyline, Code: Veronica X and 4, with Veronica X incorporating a few extra cut scenes and minor graphical boosts while 4 received an additional scenario for Ada Wong among other things.  Of the two, Code: Veronica X sports the classic Resident Evil fixed camera style, with 4 bearing the updated over-the-shoulder perspective that is now popular in the series.

Resident Evil Survivor 2: Code Veronica and Resident Evil: Dead Aim are both part of the spinoff Gun Survivor series, which started the interest in Resident Evil light gun games that continues on today with the Resident Evil Chronicles games on the Wii.  Survivor 2 is a remake of Code Veronica in first person style, so fans of the game who want to try something a little different now have the opportunity.  The events of the game however have no bearing on the RE universe, as they are revealed to be a dream sequence upon completion.  The game is only available in Japan and the PAL territories.  Dead Aim kept the same first-person shooting style of the Gun Survivor series, but changed movement into a more traditional third person perspective.  While it’s not perfect, it’s often considered the high point of the gun survivor series.  Both games were compatible with PS2 light guns.

The Resident Evil Outbreak games are both third person shooters in the traditional Resident Evil vein, but they have the unique distinction in the series for being the first titles to offer online co-op.  Players play as a group of ordinary citizens who must escape the zombie infestation in Raccoon City over the course of several episodes.  Unfortunately for those interested in still playing, Capcom shut down its online servers in 2007, so players no longer have access to the wider community.

Fans of the series who don’t have access to these titles on other consoles or want to explore the PS2 titles specifically can also look for the Resident Evil: The Essentials compilation for PS2, which included copies of Resident Evil Code: Veronica X, Resident Evil 4, and Resident Evil Outbreak.
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Silent Hill Series

Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill 4: The Room, Silent Hill 0rigins, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Silent Hill ScreenshotThe Silent Hill games are generally considered the peak of psychological horror in video games, and the PlayStation 2 was no stranger to the series.  Each of these games focuses on events in the town of Silent Hill, particularly when strangers come to call.  The town is a secluded resort town, but it harbors numerous dark secrets, and those poor souls who accidentally wander in find themselves tormented by its horrific denizens.  Even worse, not everyone who goes there does so accidentally.  Some are called through various means, and these people must face their own inner demons while battling those without.

While all of the Silent Hill games in this line are third person action games, the series stuck with its original formula only in the first three titles and began experimenting with each subsequent release, albeit not always successfully.  Silent Hill 4 changed the inventory and weapons management system while also redefining the level structure by creating a central “base” locale and establishing each area as a distinct level.  0rigins went back to the traditional style of inventory but added more emphasis on combat, incorporating a plethora of breakable weapons as well as bare fists if you’re really desperate.  Shattered Memories is a remake of the original Silent Hill for PlayStation, but changed the series in even more fundamental ways by dropping combat, changing the way Silent Hill is represented visually, and making the game subjective to the player’s actions as opposed to a linear plotline the main protagonist must follow.  In essence, Shattered Memories attempted to shift the focus of psychological horror from the character, where it had always rested in previous games, to the player.  As for whether they were successful, well, that’s up to the player to decide.

While in general few of the games are directly connected, they are all connected, as each tie into each other in relatively minor or major ways.  News articles have connections to later games, while characters may have connections to previous ones.  Dark deeds hinted at in some titles are described in grisly detail in others, while jokes are sometimes made at the expense of earlier games.

If you’re interested in a sense of hopelessness, despair, and the violation of the self, then the Silent Hill games are the games for you.  Silent Hill 2 is often selected by fans as the shining high point, but survival horror fans shouldn’t stop there, as these games have lots to offer in terms of disturbing design, atmospheric music, and a bleak outlook on humanity.
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Fatal Frame Series

Fatal Frame, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, Fatal Frame III: The Tormented

Fatal Frame ScreenshotThis series is known under several names, but Fatal Frame is its American title.  PAL gamers know them as the Project Zero games, while the series is called Zero in Japan.  Though the protagonists change with each game, the Fatal Frame series revolves around third person exploration through creepy Japanese locales while combating all manner of grisly spirits with a camera.  The protagonists are generally female, and each setting is home to some particularly gory folk rituals which seem to have gone horribly wrong.  To add to the fun, ghosts can walk or fly through walls, and the cameras used in each game as a weapon forces the player into a first person view, meaning the player has to stare them dead in the eye.  And if you really want to lay them out, you’ll have to wait for precise moments when they’re about to get you.

Of course not all the ghosts that you’ll see will harm you.  Some ghosts are hidden throughout each game, only appearing when they’ve been captured by the camera.  Another type reveals past events and horrors or points the player in a particular direction.  While this last type is nonlethal, they have a bad habit of showing up where the player doesn’t expect, such as opening a door to reveal one on the other side, or running across the end of a corridor the player has just turned down.  The games offer a radar system called the filament to tell when a ghost is near, and the color of the detector changes depending on whether the ghost is peaceful or hostile.  However sometimes visual and audio queues work even better.  You’ll know you’re in a fight when you suddenly hear something behind you screaming in pain and rage.

While the plots of the first two games are seemingly unconnected, the third ties them in together through a storyline which puts the leads in contact with each other.  The series is generally considered to be the pinnacle of supernatural horror on the PlayStation 2.
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Siren Series

Forbidden Siren, Forbidden Siren 2

Siren ScreenshotOk, so the first game is known simply as Siren in the United States.  If you’re a fan of stealth titles like the Tenchu games, Metal Gear Solid, or Splinter Cell, then the Siren games are going to be up your alley…if you can withstand the difficulty.  They’re certainly not easy games, though the second improves significantly on nearly every aspect of the first.  Both Siren games revolve around a group of normal people being stuck in a remote portion of Japan (either the mountains or an island), where the local populace has largely been turned into mindless drones called shibito.  The shibito want nothing more than to do their typical routine and murder anyone they see, so it’s best not to be seen.  Fortunately they’re not too bright.  Unfortunately they often come armed with a variety of weapons, including sickles and firearms, and they’re more than capable of using them.  To escape from them, players will have to use the ability to sight jack, meaning see through the eyes of the enemy, so that they can learn their routines and successfully avoid them.  Players will also have to deal with a scenario-based system revolving around time, so certain levels may take place at different times in the same locale, albeit with some massive changes.

The first Siren game isn’t easy: there are babysitting AI missions, the player has little means of fighting back, and while enemies have a limited range of vision, the player’s vision isn’t much better.  The sequel added many new features, including the ability to fight the shibito, but also added new enemy types with improved AI, modified the sight jack system, and enabled downed enemies to be resurrected by certain types of spirits entering their bodies.  And while the first game forces the player to play through specific levels in a peculiar order, the second allows for branching choices to try new places at different times.  It’s a shame it was never released in the United States, but European fans can count themselves lucky enough to have two chances to come face to face with bloodthirsty shibito.
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Alone in the Dark Series

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, Alone in the Dark

Alone in the Dark ScreenshotIt’s generally a shame what happened to the Alone in the Dark series.  It spawned what would become the “traditional” 3D third-person survival horror style, kept up the locked-in-a-mansion setting we’d been seeing since the days of Haunted House, and fueled our nightmares with an array of nasty foes who stalked us across prerendered backgrounds with fixed camera angles.  After that, things generally went downhill for the series.  But don’t lament too much, for the PlayStation 2 managed to see two spin-off titles that change things around considerably for the series.  Now whether they do so for the better…well, that’s up to you.  Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is a sort of reimagining of the original game, but with a graphical facelift, a modern setting, and a heavy influence from Resident Evil.  Unfortunately for horror fans, the PS2 port of The New Nightmare was only released in Europe, but anyone with a PC, Dreamcast, PlayStation, or Game Boy Color can enjoy their various releases.

Meanwhile Alone in the Dark is a very different game from the original trilogy and from the New Nightmare pseudo-remake.  Levels are presented in a DVD-style which allows players to skip between different sections if they desire.  The PS2 version is similar to the Wii release, but differs drastically from the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC versions in terms of level design, so fans of the next-gen version may be tempted to go back to it.  Instead of The New Nightmare’s third-person shooter combat, Alone in the Dark’s can be done in either third or first person.  The environments are generally quite interactive, and the game boasts an item-combining system similar to the ObsCure series.  While both games have lots of action, The New Nightmare plays more like the old variety of survival horror, seeing release in 2001 before titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill had integrated new over-the-shoulder cameras and drastically different combat.  Alone in the Dark, being released in 2008, is closer in style to the games of its time.
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ObsCure Series

ObsCure, ObsCure II

ObsCure ScreenshotThe ObsCure games are the video game equivalent of teen horror films a la The Faculty (which directly inspired the first game), Urban Legend, and the Final Destination movies.  The first game even comes complete with music from the likes of Sum41 and Span.  In the first game events revolve around bizarre biological experiments on the student body(or should I say “students’ bodies?”) at Leafmore High, where the four main characters find themselves locked up after dark while trying to find all of their friends who have gone missing.  The sequel provides more of the same but now takes place at Fallcreek University, where college kids are happily falling all over a new drug on the streets made from a strange flower which happens to turn them all into freakish monsters.  Once again it is up to a band of intrepid (and now slightly mutated) teenagers to take them down.

Ok, so it’s not exactly high art, but there are some interesting things going for the ObsCure games.  First off, they’re multiplayer, so if you’ve got a friend who loves horror games, you’ve got a partner to make it through these nightmare schools.  Second off, players can use items to combine things together, such as a flashlight and a pistol.  There are some interesting combinations to play with, so experimenting with the inventory system is fully encouraged.  And then there are some interesting throwbacks to the days of Sweet Home: there are multiple playable characters to choose from when forming your two-man party.  Every playable character has a skill unique to them which will help you progress through the game.  But if a character dies, that’s it.  They’re gone for good.  So don’t run off pell-mell thinking you can kill everything, because you may lose someone you really need.  But just because you manage to save your characters doesn’t mean they’ll make it out alive.  The ObsCure games are also good for racking up a large body count.
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The Suffering Series

The Suffering, The Suffering: Ties That Bind

The Suffering ScreenshotTorque’s life kind of sucks.  He’s stuck in a penitentiary for the murder of his ex-wife and two kids.  The island the penitentiary is on has just been rocked by a massive earthquake.  And now there are execution-themed monsters roaming the halls hell-bent on getting some blood.  But important questions remain: what are these monsters?  Did Torque really kill his family?  What’s really going on?  The Suffering series follows Torque as he eventually escapes from Abbot State Penitentiary and manages to make it to Baltimore while trying to unravel exactly what’s happening to him and bring prison justice to the people behind it.  In the process he’ll run across all manner of ghosts and nasty characters too, ranging from the prison’s ghastly executioner to a long-dead slave catcher who may have hunted Torque’s family at some point.

To fight all this, Torque’s got a shiv and a few other things, like the ability to turn into a hulking monstrosity to slaughter everything in a blood-soaked orgy of violence and destruction.  He can also switch between first and third person to have an easier time mowing down the things that are clawing at his brain, and his actions over the course of both games will directly affect the outcomes and even bosses he faces.  The Suffering’s morality system is the key: based on Torque’s actions in the first game, he’s either a good guy or a bad guy.  But keep your save file handy, because once you start up the sequel, Torque’s ending morality in the first game will change the beginning of the second, with some interesting and important consequences.
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Clock Tower 3

Clock Tower 3 ScreenshotClock Tower 3 changed the gameplay in the Clock Tower series significantly.  Instead of the point-and-click interface of the previous games, Clock Tower 3 allowed full control over movement via the analog stick.  Instead of a multitude of endings, there’s just one.  And instead of just one killer, there’s now a time traveling tail of a lost British girl running for her life from a variety of mass murderers with extreme death counts.  It’s safe to say that Clock Tower 3 is a big change for the series, even more so than Clock Tower Ghost Head, or Clock Tower II for those of us in the US.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The Clock Tower games have their fans, but the loss of the point-and-click control scheme helps significantly to make this entry more accessible to those horror fans not familiar with the previous games.  It’s just a shame the story is so incredibly campy.  14-year-old Alyssa Hamilton receives a strange letter from her mother to hide until after her 15th birthday, so she instead returns home to find her mother gone and a weird old man walking around her house.  Upon finding a vial of holy water, she’s transported through time, and must now attempt to find out what’s happening to her mother and herself while also figuring out exactly why a bunch of raving lunatics want her dead.  Sure, it’s got gruesome murder.  It’s also got dead British people flying up the stairway to Heaven.

While there are quite a few changes, the core gameplay does fit the bill for the series: murderer shows up, you run and hide.  But to make things harder, there’s a random chance Alyssa will trip while running away.  This can mean some awful things can happen, such as randomly falling all over yourself while trying to scramble down a hallway.  Then again you might also run for half the game without ever falling down.  If a murderer manages to get you, instead of draining health, Alyssa will start to panic, at which point she becomes easy pickings.  There’s also a hint of the Echo Night series throughout, with Alyssa finding ways to appease the spirits of the murderers’ victims to advance in the game.
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Haunting Ground

Haunting Ground ScreenshotHaunting Ground is like Clock Tower 3’s much sexier older sister.  Instead of a campy plot and combat sequences featuring a little British girl taking down serial killers, Haunting Ground features a shapely woman named Fiona who must run from a variety of creepy stalkers with nefarious intentions which extend beyond simple murder to a more rigorous violation of her person.  To defend herself, Fiona has nothing more than a German Shepherd named Hewie.  The game plays in the third person, with Fiona exploring the massive Belli Castle and hoping she doesn’t come across the variety of manglers waiting for her.  But between her and freedom stand a monstrous mentally challenged gardener, a psychotic mannequin maid with a big piece of glass, a groundskeeper with a gun and an interest in Fiona’s womb, and an old man in search of his youth.

Underlying the entire game is a not-so-subtle tone of rape, which later includes hints of incest.  Camera angles emphasize Fiona’s figure to the point of voyeurism, which is enhanced by the skimpy outfits she wears.  The reasons each pursuer wants to abuse or kill Fiona vary, and when they do so the sound effects that play at the game over screen are nothing short of sickening.  Hewie will do his best to help, but Fiona’s tormentors can turn on him, beating him into unconsciousness or even killing him in the higher difficulties.  If Fiona becomes too scared, she’ll panic and run away frantically.  Any enemy that gets her at this point will kill her.  And while Hewie will continue to try and fend them off, if Fiona hasn’t treated him well enough he may walk away or even attack her.  Haunting Ground was released in all three major regions, though it is known as Demento in Japan.
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Echo Night: Beyond

Echo Night ScreenshotFor a horror game, Echo Night: Beyond is strangely soothing.  The player takes control of Richard Osmond who is traveling to the moon for his wedding.  On the way his ship crashes into the lunar research base.  He awakes to darkness, puts on a spacesuit, and decides to try and determine what happened and find his wife-to-be in a different base.  Unfortunately he’s the only survivor, the base’s inhabitants are all dead, and their ghosts are wandering the corridors.  Even worse, a strange fog permeates portions of the base, driving the ghosts there into madness and hostility.  So you must find a way to drain the fog, appease the spirits, and find your wife.  To appease the spirits, you find items that held some significance for them in life.  Once appeased, they pass on and disappear, usually leaving behind some item or clue in how to proceed.  Their pictures can then be found in a special room in the space station designed as if to provide a cheap representation of Heaven.

Echo Night: Beyond is unusual for a horror game in that there is no combat and no health items.  If you encounter a hostile ghost, the only things to do are run and hope you make it out alive.  Instead of a health bar, the sight of an angry ghost accelerates the heart rate to the point that vision blacks out and you enter cardiac arrest.  If you can get away, your heart rate will return to normal and you’ll be fine.  But it also means that every hostile encounter can be a lethal one.  Luckily for you, ghosts show up on security cameras, which can be used in some areas to determine their locations so you can avoid them.  Much of the base is also in darkness, and while your spacesuit does have a flashlight, it has limited battery life, so you may find yourself fumbling in the darkness with a red-eyed haunt bearing down upon you.  Echo Night: Beyond was released in Japan, North America, and Europe.
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Rule of Rose

Rule of Rose ScreenshotJennifer is a 19-year-old amnesiac in the 1930s wandering through a dreamland of warped and abusive memories.  She is lead to an abandoned mansion by a small boy and eventually finds a grave in the mansion’s courtyard, in which she is buried alive by a group of little girls known as the Red Crayon Aristocrats, who become the game’s sadistic antagonists and revel in torturing Jennifer and each other, depending upon their societal rank.  So begins Jennifer’s disturbing and symbolic journey to recover her memories and discover what has happened to her.  Along the way she enlists the help of a dog named Brown, who can find items and growl to deter enemies, though he doesn’t actually fight.  Enemies meanwhile are bizarre flights of fancy, such as legions of little rat men in children’s clothing.

Unfortunately combat is the game’s weak point.  Rule of Rose is a third person horror title using preset camera angles to view the action.  Over the course of the game Jennifer gets her hands on a variety of weaponry, ranging from a dessert fork to a syringe.  But Jennifer isn’t exactly used to combat, so she wields them with little skill.  Brown helps by growling, but the enemies can also beat him into exhaustion, at which point he becomes useless.  So instead of combat, it’s usually better to run in Rule of Rose.  Because of some of the games references to child sexuality and cruelty, the game was released to considerable controversy in Europe.  So, despite seeing release in Japan, North America, and Europe, it may be difficult to find in the EU, especially in the United Kingdom where it was canceled.
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Kuon

Kuon ScreenshotSet during the Heian period, Kuon focuses on the unnatural goings on in a secluded Kyoto mansion.  The exorcist Doman has vanished in the area, and now several groups of people are visiting to find out what happened.  Along the way they’ll encounter a twisted ritual, a pair of cryptic twins, and more than a few demons and wicker baskets.  The game begins with players selecting between two characters, Doman’s daughter Utsuki (the Yin phase) and Doman’s student Sakuya (the Yang phase).  Once both sections are completed, a third chapter as Abe no Seimei begins (the Kuon phase).  All three sections must be completed to reveal the entire story of the game.  If certain items are collected during these three phases, a Sugoroku mini game is unlocked.

Kuon plays in the third person, with combat split between physical melee weapons and magic spells.  Spells are the only ranged weapons available to the three characters, and they perform a variety of effects ranging from shooting fire to summoning creatures to fight alongside the player.  Running in the game is a dangerous choice, as it attracts monsters, causes your lantern to dim, and can even kill you if done through bad spots, though meditating can heal your character slowly.  Kuon uses the same pre-set camera angles that are common in the genre, and fans of the older tank style controls from Resident Evil can even choose to use them over the analog stick.  While there is an English dub track, considering the setting of the game the Japanese voices with English subtitles is really the way to go.  Kuon was released in Japan, North America, and Europe.
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The Thing

The Thing ScreenshotThe Thing is a continuation of the plot from John Carpenter’s film The Thing, but this time it follows a team of soldiers sent into Antarctica to determine what has happened at the Outpost.  What follows is a return to the locations of the film filled with freakish mutations and biological nightmares.  The player must command his team and keep them working together despite the fear and suspicion that begins to pervade them.  Gameplay is done in a third-person style, but instead of preset cameras the view is centered on the main character at all times.  Enemies range in size and scope, from hordes of mini monsters which can generally be mowed down with machine gun fire to hulking visages of horror.  The bigger they are, the more difficult to kill, generally requiring the player to weaken them considerably before barbecuing them extra crispy with the flamethrower.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is well known not only for its grotesque monstrosities but also because of the paranoia that builds throughout the film, and the game features a squad mechanic meant to follow in its footsteps.  This mechanic is based around a fear and trust system for each of the soldiers.  Over the course of the game, squad mates can be turned into mutant creatures pretending to be your friends.  You can attack and kill your former friends to make sure, but if you make a mistake, your squad may turn and frag you for your poor decision.  But if you are correct, your squad will like you more for having saved their lives.  Squad members can also become scared from the gore, wreckage, and monsters they’ll encounter, which can result in their fleeing in terror, going crazy and indiscriminately firing at anything that moves, or even committing suicide.  The Thing was released in the US, Europe, and Japan.
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Cold Fear

Cold Fear ScreenshotA poor man’s Resident Evil 4, the game features some gameplay similarities with Capcom’s flagship title while appearing well before its PlayStation 2 debut, despite following its Gamecube launch by several months.  Both also suffer from the debate over whether they’re really survival horror or action games.  Players take control of a US Coast Guard member named Tom Hansen who is sent to investigate a Russian whaler, the Eastern Spirit, adrift on rough seas in the Bering Strait.  Once on board, he finds the ship is loaded with panicking Russian soldiers and zombie-like monsters known as Exocells.  Hansen has to discover the mystery behind the Exocells and find out what has happened aboard the Eastern Spirit before even more senseless death occurs.  But he’ll have to navigate treacherous waters, nasty infestations, and sporadic gunfire if he is to make it.

Cold Fear plays like a third person shooter but has an over-the-shoulder view for combat, where players can aim for specific targets using a laser sight.  Hansen’s pistol also comes equipped with a flashlight to illuminate darkened areas it’s aimed at, a real benefit when searching for Exocells through the darkened portions of the ship’s underbelly.  For an extra atmospheric touch, controlling Hansen is much harder when he is on the ship’s rocking deck, and the player has to watch out for obstacles like swinging chains or raging waves.  Adding to the difficulty, zombies do not die in Cold Fear unless they have their head’s blown open, so players must make sure they drop their enemies and then run up to finish the job quickly.  Cold Fear was released in both North America and Europe.
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Lifeline

LIfeline ScreenshotLifeline (Operator’s Side in Japan) is…well, a little different.  Instead of the player being put directly into the fight against hordes of monsters, he’s instead wounded and trapped inside a security room of a space station.  To make matters worse, his girlfriend is trapped someplace, and despite having access to all the station’s security cameras and computer terminals, he can’t find her.  But that’s ok, because there’s a cocktail waitress named Rio locked in a detention cell for him to guide around the ship.  Gameplay in Lifeline revolves around the PlayStation 2 USB Headset, requiring the player to control Rio by giving her verbal commands.  Rio can understand about 500 commands, though the game suffers from difficulties surrounding the enunciation of words.

Since the player (known as the Operator) is only able to interact through security cameras, the game uses fixed angles to portray the action.  The player does have control over the inventory system, security controls, and detailed maps, so he’s not completely removed from the game, but Rio must do all of the legwork.  Combat is quite interesting, with the player telling Rio when to dodge, what enemy to attack, and even what body part to aim for.  Other interactions include telling her when to run, where to turn, and even to bark like a dog.  She won’t stand for creepy voyeurism though, despite the strange connotations of playing a game in which you’re sitting at a computer monitor and telling someone else what to do.  The game was released in Japan and the United States.
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Extermination

Extermination ScreenshotExtermination was the first survival horror on the PlayStation 2, and as a result it started a long tradition resulting in this article.  While the plot, focusing on a U.S. Marine Special Forces Recon soldier trapped in an alien-infested military base in Antarctica, seems like standard fair for this genre(resulting in comparisons to Resident Evil, Carrier, The Thing, and more), the game actually had some interesting ideas to help separate it from the pack.  Players spend the entire game using only the base rifle, but due to its modular design it can be equipped and customized with a variety of fittings to better suit a person’s play style.  Combat can be handled by switching between either first- or third-person perspectives, again allowing more freedom to accommodate to a chosen play style.  The third-person perspective even uses a laser sight a la Resident Evil 4, albeit not as well and several years before.

Unfortunately Extermination is hurt by some terrible voice acting and dialogue, a poor camera, and stiff gameplay.  The game’s auto-aim is also a problem, as it almost never targets an enemy’s weak point, instead causing the player to waste ammunition in a nearly futile attempt to kill whatever monster is hounding him.  The health system is also interesting, though clunky: the player must contend both with his base health and his infection rate.  If his infection raises high enough, he’ll become slower, his max health drops to 60% of his max, he takes damage over time, and so on.  It wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s actually a lot harder to heal your infection rate than it is your health, since items to do it are relatively rare.  This element adds a level of difficulty, especially in some of the longer boss fights.
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The X-Files: Resist or Serve

Ah, The X-Files.  Despite its late release two years after the end of the series, Resist or Serve is meant to be three episodes set during the 7th season.  It’s actually the second game based on the series, the first having been a point-and-click released in the late 1990s.  Agents Mulder and Scully are asked to investigate some strange murders in a small town hidden away in the Rocky Mountains.  From there the game travels to the frozen wastes of Russia and then to a partially submerged alien spacecraft.  The game plays very much like a classic Resident Evil title, with fixed cameras and the tank controls survival horror is famous for.  Because gameplay is done episodically, the player can choose between either Mulder or Scully each time, with different puzzles and areas to explore for each.  Fans of the show will appreciate the voice acting from the series stars, the numerous cameos, and the bonus materials included.
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RLH: Run Like Hell

Nicholas Conner, a war hero-turned-mining surveyor and voiced by none other than Lance Henriksen, has just returned to his home space station, when suddenly aliens attack!  Sure, it’s been done before, but to change things up RLH also incorporated chase sequences where you have to flee for your life down some tight corridors to escape a raging alien nightmare from making you its dinner.  Unfortunately, RLH also suffers from issues with gameplay as part of its lurid history of development.  The game spent five years in development, where it changed from a full-blown survival horror to an action game before having its programming scrapped just 10 months before its release!  The resulting game is a bit off-kilter and repetitive, resulting in poor reviews despite the obvious work into the plot and characters.
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Curse: The Eye of Isis

Set in 1890, the PS2 port of Curse was released only in Europe.  The game centers on events in Great Britain’s Natural History Museum, where a mysterious yellow fog is filling the corridors after the Eye of Isis was stolen.  The game focuses heavily on Egyptian mythology, making it one of the few survival horror titles that focuses on mummies as the monsters.  Players control either museum curator Victoria Sutton or her friend Darien Dane, whose father was possibly driven mad by the Eye’s curse, in a Resident Evil-style adventure complete with limited supplies and fixed camera angles that will take them from the museum to the coast and eventually to the pyramids to defeat an evil and ancient curse.  Both characters play exactly the same, though Sutton has a jewel which glows when danger is near.  The two share equipment, which can lead to players getting killed by giving all their gear to the other character.  The game does implement a Curse Meter, which will fill up as the characters are exposed to the yellow fog.  The higher the meter, the more damage the player will take.
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Phase Paradox

The sequel to the shmup Philosoma happens to be, of all things, a horror game.  After the destruction of Planet 220, the ship Gallant is damaged and much of the crew turned into zombies by an unknown alien lifeform.  To find out what’s going on and escape the disaster, the player must switch between three characters in different sections of the ship to solve the mystery.  Despite being a Japan-only game, all the voice acting is in English, so importers unable to read Japanese will at least have some understanding of the plot.  Gameplay is handled mostly by choices made during cutscenes using the circle or X buttons, with some third-person sections on pre-rendered backgrounds splitting between sequences.  The end result feels more like an interactive movie than a game, and the multitude of cutscenes are unskippable.  The game’s also fairly linear; make the wrong choice and you’ll most likely end up with a Game Over screen.
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Michigan: Report from Hell

Despite the title, this horror game from Suda51 actually takes place in Chicago, Illinois.  The title comes from Lake Michigan, not the state.  Released in both Japan and Europe, Michigan follows the news crew of ZaKa TV.  As a result the game is played entirely in first person, and the player will lose if the camera runs out of film before the end.  The crew has been sent to Chicago to investigate a strange mist which is turning the city’s denizens into leech-like monsters.  Gameplay is like a cross between Lifeline and the camera in Dead Rising, with players tagging objects of importance for the reporter to investigate.  Tag a creature and she’ll attack it.  Points can also be earned in three categories, “Suspense,” “Erotic,” and “Immoral.”  The number and type of points will affect the plot of the game, as will the player’s actions.
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Hungry Ghosts

In Hungry Ghosts, you are dead.  In life you happened to kill a lot of people, so you’re pretty well slated for damnation.  But judgment has not yet been passed, and depending on your actions you may as yet save your soul.  Hungry Ghosts wants you to make choices while you wander the World of Death, so to that aim there is no central plot for you to follow.  Your goal is to wander and make decisions, and the game will judge you based on that.  Hungry Ghosts is also entirely first person and uses your right analog stick to control your right arm.  It may seem cumbersome but allows for some more cinematic moments of snatching your arm out of harm’s way as a ghost tries to clamp its jaw around it.  Unfortunately Hungry Ghosts is text heavy, so for those without the ability to read Japanese, it can be more than a little daunting.  The game was never released outside of Japan.
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The Fear

Ah, FMV games.  You’re such a guilty pleasure.  With over 1200 video clips, Enix’s Japan-only game The Fear isn’t something to sneeze at.  Players take the role of a cameraman who has to guide a group of actresses out of a haunted mansion.  Unfortunately the game is dialogue heavy, so unless you happen to be fluent in Japanese, you’ll probably mostly just be making stabs in the dark.  Still, you will be rewarded regularly with close up shots of gorgeous Japanese women being cute.  And since the game is viewed through the limited lens of a camcorder, there are some interesting perspective shots when the player moves around or is attacked by the mansion’s monstrous denizens.
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Kyoufu Shimbun (Heisei-Han) Kaiki! Shinrei File

This Japan-only game from Konami is based on Jiro Tsunoda’s manga “Kyoufu Shinbun” about a newspaper which foretells of disasters and murders but shortens the lifespan of anyone who reads it.  The story centers around a high school student whose friends and teachers end up dying in terrible ways after being told about the newspaper by a ghost.  Gameplay changes between first- and third-person exploration, a la Fatal Frame.  The game also claims to possess the second-player controller, which serves as a radar system for incoming enemies.  Sometimes this title is known as Kyoufu Shimbun Heiseiban Kaiki! Shinrei File.
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Survival Horror for the Younger Crowd

That’s right, any folks interested in getting their kids into horror games, here’s your chance.  The PlayStation 2 featured a handful of “kid friendly” games designed with a younger audience in mind, though admittedly by younger audience I mean they’re generally rated for teenagers as opposed to adults.  But just because these titles are ok for a younger crowd doesn’t mean they can’t be played by older folks too.

Gregory Horror Show

Developed and produced by Capcom and based on the computer generated anime of the same name, Gregory Horror Show saw release in both NTSC-J and PAL regions, though sadly there was never any US release.  This survival horror title revolves around a hotel, Gregory House, which the player has accidentally wandered into while lost in the woods.  To escape, the player must collect souls from the hotel’s inhabitants for Neko Zombie.  But they’re not happy about the prospect of giving up these souls and become violent once it’s been taken.  Instead of being able to fight, the player must use stealth to bypass the angry guests or risk going insane and becoming a permanent guest.  The game was principally developed by Capcom Studio 3, which also produced Clock Tower 3 in tandem with Sunsoft.
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The Haunted Mansion

Despite being based on the Disney film and ride of the same name, you don’t have to be a fan of Eddie Murphy to enjoy this game.  The Haunted Mansion takes place in New Orleans in the late 19th century and follows a young man named Zeke Halloway.  In his quest to obtain employment, Zeke accidentally winds up being asked by six ghosts to find the 999 lost souls hidden throughout the house.  It turns out the spirit of a man named Atticus Thorn has arisen and plans to use these souls to conquer both the Afterlife and the Land of the Living.  To beat him, Zeke has…a lantern.  Good luck, Zeke.
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Ghost Vibration

Released simultaneously with the Game Boy Advance horror game Ghost Trap, Ghost Vibration featured more cinematic sequences and fewer puzzles than its handheld little brother.  Artoon’s game follows George, a ghost hunter, and Alicia, a scientist and friend of George.  The pair are searching a mansion for ghosts, which George hunts with his special spear gun.  The game action switches between third and first person view for combat, a la Fatal Frame.  Unfortunately this title never saw release in the NTSC-U region, though it received an NTSC-J release.  The PAL release was supposedly cancelled.
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Honorable Mentions

These titles vary in how far their connection to survival horror goes, but their themes and gameplay styles may interest fans of the genre.

  • 0 Story – Pronounced “Love Story”, this Japan-only FMV game centers around a ghost who has six days to find true love.  To do this, he has to complete minigames, make choices, and read his love interest’s mind.  Sure, the love-simulation isn’t generally a popular genre, but horror fans may like the chance to play a ghost.
  • Castlevania Series – While it’s not exactly horror, titles like Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness do feature hordes of evil monsters in the service of their undead lord fighting it out with the lone hero in gothic settings reminiscent of The Castle of Otranto.
  • Constantine – Based on the film based on the horror-themed comic, this third person action game features freakish monsters, but never quite makes the jump to survival horror.
  • Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse – This vampire-fueled hack and slash is more of a mediocre Diablo clone than anything, but horror fans of that kind of gameplay might enjoy it.
  • Darkwatch – A vampire cowboy fights off undead hordes with six-shooters in this horror-themed FPS.
  • Devil May Cry Series – Despite starting as a Resident Evil title, the Devil May Cry series rapidly transformed into its own stylish monster.
  • Disaster Report – It’s not a survival horror!  But it certainly has its moments in this tale of nature kicking humanity’s butt via an earthquake.
  • Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick – Play as Ash from the Evil Dead series as he relates his travels through time battling Deadites with a chainsaw for a hand to some Asian guy.  Seriously.
  • Evil Dead: Regeneration – Again play as Ash, but this time in some strange alternate universe in which he never traversed the portal in Evil Dead 2 and has a sidekick named Sam.
  • Fahrenheit – Known as Indigo Prophecy in the US, this game starts as a murder mystery where you play the murderer and ends as a strange Mayan apocalypse tale.  The game plays like a mix of Simon Says and a Choose Your Own Adventure book, making for an interesting but unusual experiment.
  • Galerians: Ash – The sequel to Galerians, the game follows a grim glimpse into the future as a psychic young man named Rion as he fights a genetically-engineered group of superhumans who want to kill humanity.  It’s like Scanners, gone horribly awry.
  • Ghost Master – Similar to such evil strategy games like Dungeon Keeper and Evil Genius, this title has you controlling the undead in an attempt to scare humans.
  • Ghostbusters – Play as the fifth Ghostbuster, battling spooks in New York City while putting up with Venkman’s ego.
  • Ghosthunter – A wonderful parody of survival horror that in some ways is actually more effective than those claiming the genre’s mantle.
  • Glass Rose – An eerie mystery game where a rookie reporter travels back in time to analyze a serial killer’s methods and solve a series of murders over the course of three days, Glass Rose is sometimes labeled a survival horror.  Either way, PAL and NTSC-J horror fans should look it up.
  • Hayarigami Series – Proof that Nippon-Ichi can make something besides RPGs, this series of horror-themed adventures are heavy on text and puzzles.  Too bad none have ever made it out of Japan.
  • Hunter: The Reckoning: Wayward – The follow up to Hunter: The Reckoning and based on the tabletop game of the same name, the Hunters find themselves up against an evil cult.  Its two-player coop is perhaps the biggest reason to pick up the game.
  • Kaerazu no Mori – Translating to Forest of No Return, this Japan-only title is a horror-themed text adventure.
  • Manhunt Series – This violent stealth-based murder-fest series goes above and beyond to disturb its player, combining excessive blood and gore, sadism, voyeurism, and a bevy of other tactics to make one feel more than a little uncomfortable.
  • MegaTen Series – Atlus’ long-running horror-themed RPG series saw no less than 7 games for the PS2 spread across its multiple sub-series.
  • Onimusha Series – Starting life on the PlayStation, the Onimusha series began as a feudal Japan survival horror title.  As the series progressed it distanced itself from the survival horror feel, but kept its limited items and undead monster designs.
  • Raw Danger – The sequel to Disaster Report focuses on a city being hit hard by a flood, which then develops into an ice storm.
  • Shadow Hearts Series – This series of RPGs combines Lovecraftian mythos with alternate history.  The three PS2 games were preceded by the PS1 survival horror RPG Koudelka.
  • Shadow Tower Abyss – This dark fantasy RPG may interest both horror fans and fans of the Demon’s Souls and King’s Field series.  A pity it never made it out of Japan.
  • Simple Series – This series of budget titles put out by D3 Publisher houses the entirety of the bikini-clad, zombie-massacring OneChanbara series (4 of which appear on the PS2), as well as the horror-themed text adventure The Renai Horror Adventure ~Hyouryuu Shoujo~, beat ‘em up The Splatter Action, known as Splatter Master in Europe, zombie FPS The Kyonshi Panic, called Zombie Attack in Europe, the zombie-fueled ambulance driving title The Zombie vs. Kyuukyuusha, known as Zombie Virus in Europe, and the FMV title The Noroi Game, as well as more than 100 other non-horror titles.
  • Trapt – Known as Kagero II: Dark Illusion in Japan, this game focuses on weak Princess Allura, who is being hunted for supposedly murdering her father.  To save herself, she has to manipulate a variety of traps to slash, rend, maim, burn, crush, and generally murder her pursuers.
  • Vampire Night – A light gun game focusing on two vampire hunters gunning down their foes in an alternate history 2006, where the world hasn’t seen much technological progression beyond the 1800s.

What Could Have Been: Cancelled Titles

I don’t typically include these sections, but the number of canceled horror games on the PlayStation 2 is large enough to rival some consoles’ entire horror library.  So here’s a list of titles to make you wax poetic about what could have been:

  • Fear Effect Inferno
  • Carrier 2
  • Zombies
  • Asylum
  • Deadlight
  • Dead Rush
  • Resonance

18 Comments

  1. Hemppa says:

    I had no idea there’s so many for the PS2, holy crap. I really gotta get into all this at some point. Did survival horror die down for most part after the PS2, by the way?

  2. Jan says:

    Ghost Vibration was definitely released as a PAL version, at least in Australia, Germany and France.

  3. pakopako says:

    A very encompassing article! Good show!
    But you guys need more editors. 😛

    “And instead of just one killer, there’s now a time traveling tail of a lost British girl running for her life from a variety of mass murderers with extreme death counts”
    v v v v
    “And instead of just one killer, it’s now a tale of a British girl lost in time, running for her life from a variety of mass murderers with extreme death counts”

    “This can mean some awful things can happen, such as randomly falling all over yourself while trying to scramble down a hallway. Then again you might also run for half the game without ever falling down. If a murderer manages to get you, instead of draining health, Alyssa will start to panic, at which point she becomes easy pickings. There’s also a hint of the Echo Night series throughout, with Alyssa finding ways to appease the spirits of the murderers’ victims to advance in the game.”
    v v v v
    “This means some awful things can happen, such as randomly falling all over yourself while trying to scramble down a hallway (Though you might also run for half the game without ever taking a tumble.) If a murderer manages to get you, instead of draining health, Alyssa will start to panic, at which point she becomes easy pickings. There’s also a hint of the Echo Night series throughout, with Alyssa finding ways to appease the spirits of the murderers’ victims to advance in the game.”

    “Enemies meanwhile are bizarre flights of fancy, such as legions of little rat men in children’s clothing.”
    v v v v
    “Enemies, meanwhile, are bizarre flights of fancy; such as legions of little rat-men in children’s clothing.”

    (WTH is up with the scoring “Michigan: Report from Hell” — suspense, erotic and immoral?)

  4. Hazerd says:

    Never heard of alot of these, but it seems alot of them are PAL/JAP only, which makes me want to import almost.

  5. Alf says:

    DINO CRISIS?????

  6. Alf says:

    ah sorry those were on PSone and other platforms but not on PS2… you could still play them there though 😛

  7. SlayerBlade says:

    Nice list. I always like seeing stuff like this for PS2, just because there are so many games that got released in PAL / JP regions but not the US, so there are always plenty of games I’d never heard of. Anyway, here are a few more “honorable mentions” to consider:

    Ghost Rider
    Van Helsing
    Spawn: Armageddon
    The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge (Good choice for the “younger crowd” section)
    Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds
    Primal
    The Legacy of Kain series (Soul Reaver 2, Blood Omen 2, and Defiance all got PS2 releases)

  8. CRTGAMER says:

    Great roundup. Some import titles I never even heard of! Thanks a lot now I have some more games look for. An OCD collector’s work is never done.

    I’m still trying to figure out the story of all the Fatal Frame reprints that came out some months back during Gamestop’s first Buy 2 Get 2 Free on PS2 games. All three Fatal Frames appeared at numerous Gamestops, priced at 29 bucks used.

  9. Ryan says:

    Fantastic write-up! A guide to PS1 and/or PC horror games would be an insane undertaking, but wonderful 😉

  10. J T says:

    Wow! Really impressive list. I expected to read through this and just be nodding my head at the choices, but there are quite a lot of these that I had never heard of. Most of those were Japan-only titles, but even some of the US releases were new to me. Great work Ack!

  11. mastuex says:

    I dont think there’s so many survival horror title in ps2. Some games i ever played, some other are look unfamiliar to me. But anyway this is an awesome list to add into my ps2 game collection. Too bad some title (that look good in my opinion )are japanese only.

  12. odie182 says:

    Thanks for the list! I love exploring old survival horror during the fall every year. Also, there seem to be a lot of hidden gems in this genre.

  13. Elwood says:

    I always knew Greg House (the M.D.) had a nasty childhood, but who could have guessed he used to be a haunted hotel?

  14. Dylan says:

    A great kid’s horror game I’ve found is Monster House, based off the movie. It plays quite a bit like a simpler version of Resident Evil 4, and is appropriately creepy without being too scary for kids. Bonis, it includes a fully playable version of Thou Art Dead, the retro horror platform arcade game featured in the movie. It’s an 8-bit throwback that plays like a cross between Ghosts ‘n Goblins and the early Castlevanias.

  15. Ola says:

    Which one of those (besides the one mentioned) has coop mode?

  16. Brewpub420 says:

    Michigan : Report from hell lol. Most disappointing title ever. I live in Michigan. Just north west of a town called Hell in the upper peninsula. We even had a major horror comic book done about the town. Bought the game , was badly let down when I fund it neither involved the town of Hell or Michigan. Probably would have liked it with any other name though 😉

  17. Facelord says:

    Thank you very much for the article, Ack, I appreciate it greatly. I’m also very happy you just made it one page instead of dividing it into multiple pages, you get less advertising views that way but we get a better experience. Totally respectable.

    I’m gonna try a few of these out, and I’ve actually got Vampire Rain but I’ve never had the chance to play it. One of these days I’ll get a nice lightgun setup and a working PS2 and I’ll blast through it, some of my favorite games are House of the Dead and CarnEvil so the genre’s totally up my alley.

  18. Shadab shah says:

    These games really make us scare while playing alone or in night even with someone.