A built up, technologically advanced setting in which traditions and spirits are integral, and the odd juxtaposition of a totally empty street or apartment block are far more skin crawling than a typical haunted house or graveyard scene packed full of screaming zombies or monsters; normality steeped in an unknown and untraceable uneasiness is far more terrifying than a skeleton popping out of a cupboard, or a maniac running around with a knife. To me at least, that is the essence of modern Japanese horror; and while I am a huge fan of Hollywood productions like The Thing or The Shining (and more recently It Follows), what excites me is the notion that older, more powerful things exist in our world that have the ability to circumvent our technology and scare the living shit out of us.
With this in mind, let us turn our attention to Asmik Ace Entertainment/Infogrammes' 2000 Dreamcast game The Ring: Terror's Realm. Based loosely on the tale spun in the 1998 movie, Terror's Realm introduces us to a whole new set of characters and a whole new location but keeps the familiar plot mechanism by which some form of ancient evil is killing people through their use of modern-day technology. Here though, the focus switches away from JVC's Betamax-murdering home video format and instead focuses on a cursed computer program.
Legend of Zelda cartridge' creepypasta for instance. I don't know why, but the same air of mystic just cannot be afforded to a DVD, Blu-Ray or GD Rom. But a VHS tape? That shit is scary...and not just because someone might tape over your collection of adult material with episodes of Eastenders or E.R. without you even knowing. Man, I hate VHS tapes.
Anyway, let's get back on track. Imagine that the scary VHS tape macguffin has been substituted for a creepy computer program (and I'm not talking about Windows 8), and that several scientists from the local Centre for Disease Control have all died mysteriously - at the same time - while using it. Not just keeled over in a nice peaceful way like a good corpse does either. No, they've all perished under very strange circumstances, their badly rendered early 2000s CGI bodies contorted into grotesque and equally pathetic CGI renders with protruding foreheads and bulging, unblinking eyes. Not that they blinked when they were alive either...but you get the idea. This scene setting is all played out in one of the worst, most embarrassingly bad pre-rendered intro sequences ever pressed onto removable media too, so my earlier comments about disc-based media not being as scary as VHS tapes? Null and void, I'm afraid.
You start the game as Meg Rainman, a new researcher at the CDC and coincidentally the girlfriend of one of the deceased scientists, Robert. Meg starts the new job so soon after her boyfriend has died, that when she gets to work in her lab, Robert's old laptop is still on the desk and the battery hasn't even run flat yet. Compassion? Bereavement counselling? Nope - just get back to work and start rummaging around your dead boyfriend's private laptop all the while grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Seriously - look at Meg's face. She could have auditioned for Heath Ledger's role in The Dark Knight:
"The question must be asked: What's with that smile? Regardless of the situation, Meg wears a disturbing, Jokeresque leer throughout every scene of the game. Her boyfriend died the day before? She's all smiles. She's faced with a slobbering apelike creature? Big dopey grin. It's disturbing."
- Brad Shoemaker, GameSpot Review (July 2000)
Smile aside, once you get past the hilariously bad intro and painfully slow explanatory text (there's no voice over work in the main game, it's all text based), things get even weirder...and not really in the way you'd want a game based on The Ring to get. Upon booting the computer, Meg is met with the aformentioned program, oddly stylised as [RING], and is instantly transported to some alternate reality where she is a soldier/cop/security guard armed with a laser-sighted gun and a flashlight and must run around shooting badly animated, shambling zombies. Once the zombie things are dead, you return to reality and must then wander around the CDC facility speaking to NPCs and going back and forth between the alternative reality (which - you've guessed it - is inside the computer program) finding keys, interrogating scientists, unlocking rooms and opening draws that have nothing in them.
I really wanted to like The Ring: Terror's Realm and so I purposely didn't read any reviews or research the game at all before playing it for myself. All I knew was that it had something to do with the 1998 movie...but as soon as I saw the laughable intro I knew something was amiss. Confirmation of my fears was received once I actually took control of Meg, and it was drilled home that Terror's Realm was going to be a slog. The controls are pretty laborious, as you have to use the d-pad to move around...and Meg moves like she's trudging through waist-high treacle. You can run if you hold the X button down at the same time, but this just means you'll be running along corridors bouncing off the walls as the camera switches its viewpoint. I suppose this is a flaw that can be levelled at all 'fixed camera' survival horror games of the era (Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark etc), but you know what those games have that Terror's Realm doesn't? Polish.
Quite why the developer felt that they had to use a franchise as highly regarded as The Ring and bolt it on to a desperately poor Resident Evil clone is beyond me - if it had been released as a standalone game, maybe it would have relieved some of the expectation heaped upon it and the adventure could be enjoyed (I use that term loosely, by the way) for what it is. I went into this expecting a game drenched in atmosphere, with at least some link to the events of the movie...but what I got is something else entirely: a slow, lumbering Resident Evil rip-off but with not one iota of the finesse of Capcom's title. In case you wondered, the mimicry doesn't end with the fixed cameras either. You have almost identical map and inventory screens, limited slots for equipment, a familiar combat scheme (aim with trigger, fire with another button) and the usual 'safe rooms' complete with radios (in lieu of typewriters) for saving progress and boxes (instead of chests) for storing items that you don't have inventory room for. Hell, even your health is monitored in a similar way. The Ring: Terror's Realm lifts almost every idea it has from Resident Evil, but somehow makes it seem cheap...if that makes sense. The door opening animations, the 'there's nothing of interest' dialogue that pops up when you try to investigate a desk clearly strewn with items. The combat where you can't move and shoot at the same time, the atrocious awkward conversations and downright weird interactions with NPCs.
|I'd rather watch the cursed VHS than play the game...|