Jon Gracey's

Games That *SPOOKED* My World – #16: Gregory Horror Show

In PS2 on October 31, 2012 at 11:41 am

Title: Gregory Horror Show

Format: PS2

Released: 15th December, 2003

Box_art

You approach a corner. A floorboard creaks. The frenetic blood pump of a heart beating faster. And then, what’s that? The sing-song of a middle-aged lady? You breathe a sigh of relief, and turn to leave. Then a pink crocodile in a nurses’ outfit hurtles round the corner and stabs you in the eye with a syringe.

There were many games I could’ve looked at for this incredibly spooky Hallowe’en edition of Games That Rocked My World. But despite all the Resident Evils, the Silent Hills and the Siren: Blood Curses in this world, there’s one title that really, truly deserves your attention.

Gregory Horror Show (or Gregory Horror Show: Ghoul Collector, as it’s known in Japan), is, despite appearances, genuinely, lastingly scary. And not quite in the way you think. It’s full of a bunch of strange, misshapen characters, sure, but it’s what the game makes of you that scares.

You awaken as an unnamed boy or girl, in a creepy hotel, having been lost in the woods. After the owner, Gregory, the first character you meet – your entry point into this game – is Neko Zombie, a cat who used to be glossy and black, until one night someone took a needle and thread and sewed his everything up. I KNOW, RIGHT.

Neko_zombie

Things only get weirder as you progress, and the residents of Gregory Hotel are an amazingly odd bunch of nightmarish, uniquely Japanese creations, like Pokemon on horrible, horrible acid. It’s based on the anime of the same name, which I can’t tell you anything about BECAUSE I WILL NEVER WATCH IT. Largely because of Lost Doll, a cute, sad little girl who can’t find her precious childhood dolly. Except when you approach to comfort her, her head spins around to reveal her demonic other face, the doll she’s been searching for all these years.

Don’t even get me started about Hell’s Chef.

The real kicker for the game is that, in order to escape this limbo of a hotel, you have to collect the soul of every resident, for the rather cute version of Death (ironically the least scary character in the game) who visits you in your sleep. However, in Gregory Horror Show, as in real life, the only way a character will truly show their soul is when they’re at their most vulnerable.

In order to steal their souls – a pretty bloody morally questionable goal in itself – you have to trick, cajole, and otherwise bully these confused and disturbed guests into letting their guard down, at which point their soul will appear. It’s genuinely harrowing to have to work the desperately protective Clock Master into a psychotic frenzy by stealing his most treasured possession – his screwdriver. Then, once he’s collapsed in exhaustion from the chase, to have to press-gang his son, the confusingly named My Son, into going to his aid, leaving the precious soul they share between them behind.

Clock_master

Remember how playing Monkey Island always made you feel like kind of a dick? Having Guybrush Threepwood lie to and trick people into giving up their stuff? Or better yet, just nicking it? Gregory Horror Show is like that, but with an important twist: repercussions. Once you steal a guest’s soul, they’ve got nothing to lose. And if they were pathetic and scary before, now they’re just flat-out terrifying.

Seeing Lost Doll gliding, Woman-In-Black-style, horrifying quickly down a darkened corridor to destroy you is truly chilling. Once they are bereft of their precious soul, guests go from running away from you, to seeking you out, with one goal on their mind. Hunter turns hunted, when what begins as a quiet, methodical stake-out of your target’s routine slowly becomes an awful gauntlet around the increasingly crowded hotel, as more and more guests begin seeking your demise.

Dining_room

You see, what Gregory Horror Show understands, is that you have to understand someone to truly destroy them. The game is all about spying, finding out someone’s weaknesses, then probing them until they snap. And snap they do. Whenever you’re caught, a “Horror Show” occurs. Consider these an imaginative and colourful interpretation of Mortal Kombat‘s “fatalities”, which involve your character being humiliated and beaten by the guest that has caught you. Catherine jabs her huge syringe into you, Cactus Gunman peppers you with bullets. Hell’s Chef…I don’t want to talk about Hell’s Chef.

It’s a uniquely disturbing dynamic for a game. As the protagonist, you expect to have your own interests at heart: this is the case with most single-player games. But what do you when your only chance of escape involves the systematic downfall of everyone else? There’s something far more sinister about the methodical, bespoke torture in Gregory Horror Show, that shooting a thousand identikit dudes in Call Of Duty cannot possibly compare.

Chased_by_catherine

Let me be frank, though: the game is by no means perfect. It’s tough, for a start; requiring timing and patience to truly get a handle on each guests’ daily routine. It’s slow, too; plodding around the house, whilst atmospheric, is a leaden experience. But the game understands horror like few do, and makes the all-too-rare decision to legitimately build up its characters, before having you tear them down. For an experience with little gore, no swears, and a modest budget, it’s amazing how it sticks with you.

I’m not sure you can even get a hold of it, now. It was an obscure Japanese oddity that got limited release in Europe, and sold poorly. But it’s one of the most psychologically interesting and downright creepy games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, and deserves to be talked about in the same breath as…well, not much actually. It borrows from a lot of games, but this little gem has a style and gameplay all of its own. It’s part stealth, part survival horror, part psychological torture. And it’s bleedin’ ace.

Final_image

If you’re feeling experimental this Hallowe’en, you could do a lot worse than looking this up. Just, stay away from the kitchen. I fear Hell’s Chef is cooking up something quite…delicious.

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