From Halloween to Friday the 13th - how horror franchises evolved in games

How horror franchises evolved in gaming through the ages - characters from Aliens, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead

How horror franchises evolved in gaming through the ages - characters from Aliens, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead

While it might sound surprising to some, tie-in horror games are not a new idea. Forty years ago, when franchises such as The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre still had not turned into full-on cash cows, they already had tie-in games coming out on Atari VCS and home computers. Much like the games of today, they were trying to take elements from the movie and make them fun to play. How do these ol’ creaky horror games stack up against the modern titles from the same franchises?

Friday the 13th is a classic slasher series which never took itself that seriously. Most home computers from the mid-80s, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, got axed with an interesting open world game. The player has to identify the one camp counsellor that Jason is hiding behind and then kill the bastard. Yeah, somehow the huge hockey-masked killer is able to disguise himself as a tiny girl with bare midriff. Don’t ask, please. It also was one of the first games ever to feature gratuitous jumpscares.

how horror franchises evolved in games - Man gets a machete to the head in Friday the 13th
expand image
One of the two jumpscares in Friday the 13th

Many would also remember the classic NES game, the original featuring the beloved Jason in a purple outfit. In the LJN game, you control a series of camp counsellors trying to defeat the masked maniac while going around Crystal Lake and facing off classic enemies of the franchise, such as wolves and zombies. Yup.

Honestly, the 2017 Friday the 13th game has definitely more in common with the original 1985 Commodore 64 than the later NES action adventure. IllFonic designed it as a multiplayer experience where you can play both as Jason and the campers, whoever survives at the end wins the run. Indeed, if it had been possible to design the original Friday the 13th computer game as multiplayer, the 2017 game would have probably been a straightforward remake.

how horror franchises evolved in games - Leatherface in a field
expand image

The Leatherface-starring Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie series only got one game in the 80s and, yes, it was quite awful. In 1983, on the Atari 2600, it was possible to play as Leatherface running around in a bare field, mowing down whatever female he happens to meet with his trusty chainsaw. Definitely not much meat on its bones but hey, this was Atari. Still, the most interesting thing about it is that, as soon as fuel runs out, Leatherface gets kicked in the butt and sent off to the big redneck heaven in the sky. Best ending to a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie we’ve ever seen, honestly.

The recent 2023 Texas Chainsaw Massacre game definitely goes in a different direction, taking cues from the recent Friday the 13th formula. Control Leatherface or one of the many people trying to escape his grasp and survive as long as possible. Nothing more than a classic multiplayer experience, but it is a formula that seems to work for most slasher movies. Still, we can’t help but miss some of that lovely deranged narrative from the movies.

how horror franchises evolved in games - the Powerloader in Aliens' Konami game
expand image

And what about Alien? Well, the series had more games than movies, if you can believe it. From the 80s and 90s, there are around twenty different games from the franchise, not counting the Predator ones. While some of them were pretty decent, such as Alien Trilogy on Psx or the Aliens arcade game from Konami, others were quite crappy. This is indeed a case of a series which never really left the gaming world, it’s always been hiding somewhere in the vents. The latest title is the real-time strategy game Aliens: Dark Descent, but we’d reckon the best experience, which does a great job mirroring the experience of the original movie is still Alien: Isolation.

Evil Dead is the zaniest horror series of them all and, surprisingly, also got several games from the 80s to the 00s. The original from 1984 is a quite forgettable, basic top-down arcade game where you control a character in the cabin, trying to survive. Let’s instead jump a few years to have a look at the much more interesting PlayStation era, with Bruce Campbell jumping on board to voice Ash. Unfortunately, this was a bare-bones survival horror title, decent but nothing spectacular if it wasn’t for the license. This ho-hum attempt at a survival horror was followed by the much more interesting Evil Dead: Regeneration. The madness was amped up to eleven, with Ted Raimi joining Bruce to voice Ash’s annoying little sidekick, the deformed Sam.

how horror franchises evolved in games - Evil Dead Regeneration screenshot
expand image

Thanks to the success of the Evil Dead TV series, interest in the franchise was revived, and it got us the 2023 shooter developed by Saber Interactive. While seemingly inspired by both the movie and the TV series, this is another PVP multiplayer experience, with Ash and his friends going up against the Deadites. Unfortunately, the game seems to have died a quick and early death with a dwindling player base and Saber stopping support, despite being out only for a few months. No one wants to play against AI deadites over and over. Also, no Ted Raimi, what a shame.

Still, one can’t help but notice there are many classic franchises missing here. While Nightmare on Elm Street had a couple of tie-in games in the 80s, ranging from forgettable to surprisingly decent, Freddy has not been rebooted for our modern era. Well, if we can make a suggestion, don’t make another PVP multiplayer with Freddy Kruger going up against the Dream Warriors, please. Let us enjoy a brand-new storyline in the Nightmare series, like the original Peter Jackson idea for the final chapter in the series. Kids were purposefully dreaming about Freddy, just to go kick his butt, since he had become a joke.

how horror franchises evolved in games - Freddy without his gloves in the NES game
expand image

Finally, Michael Myers from Halloween. Yes, there is one game from the Atari era again, but that’s about it. Doesn’t the guy deserve to come back, since the series is still going strong in the cinema? We’d love a spooky, tasty slasher game in the vein of Alien:Isolation but with Laurie Strode running away from ol’ Mike, piercing together clues, crafting items to escape his grasp. If there’s one thing that classic horror franchises bring to the table, it’s fresh new ideas, so wasting them with another PVP game would be just shameful.

What other horror series is deserving of the right comeback in gaming form? Let us know on our socials.

This Article's Topics

Explore new topics and discover content that's right for you!

Have an opinion on this article? We'd love to hear it!