This is one of those reviews that kinda straddles a line between media: I first heard about the retro PC game Corril Slayer through Edward Douglas, founder of legendary Halloween horror band Midnight Syndicate, who provided the soundtrack. Being a long-time fan of the band, I knew they'd be a perfect fit for any horror-themed game, and signed up to try it out. Bear in mind I'm FEARnet's music guy, and only a casual gamer – not a grand master like our resident game guru Carl Lyon – but I predicted this one would be a lot of fun, especially since I dig vintage games, and I just had to get in there and find out how Syndicate's sounds enhance the onscreen action. Read on for an overview...
Developed by Pure Bang Games founder Eric Ruth – designer of retro "demake" versions of Halo and Left For Dead – Corril Slayer is a vintage 2D side-scroller (think the original Castlevania) where the player takes on the role of a genetic engineer named Samuel Asherton. Sam's backstory finds him in on the wrong side of the Jersey mob, who work him over and give him an amateur lobotomy – an act which unintentionally grants him the ability to see ghosts and other creatures traveling on other planes of existence from our own. Sam begins his quest in New Orleans, where he joins forces with a powerful psychic to seek out and destroy evil spirits and guide lost souls to peace. Like a character from an H.P. Lovecraft tale, Sam's new ability works both ways: not only can he see supernatural beings, but they can see him too... and they're all over the damn place. But while he may be horribly outnumbered, bear in mind that in this world Sam can blow ghosts and demons away with high-caliber weaponry.
As Sam, the player has the ability to jump back forth between the spirit realm and the "real world," and can revisit any of the five play stages (which include a cemetery, the woods, a haunted mansion and lighthouse) and in order to retrieve hidden items, which can then unlock story clues and power-ups – but only if revealed in the correct numerical order. Each level's Boss (including the creepy "Slender Man," who looks a little like David Cronenberg's homicidal therapist in Nightbreed) can only be defeated by learning a pattern that is unique to that villain.
The graphics are genuinely creepy and very well done (especially if you can remember a time when 8-bit was state-of-the-art), depicting everything from hovering Jack O'Lanterns to Cenobite-like abominations to Japanese ghost girls. Game play is totally old school – by which I mean you can run, jump, shoot, get out of harm's way and that's pretty much it. It's also really tough to survive, especially if you're just a casual player like yours truly (no game-saves here, either; three strikes and you're coffin-stuffin'). But the action here is accompanied by CD-quality sound design that beats anything available back in the day – not only a rich musical landscape, but some unique and genuinely creepy effects that make for an eerie immersive experience.
Midnight Syndicate's score is one of the game's many strengths, and you'd definitely maximize things with a decent sound system. Play opens to the chilling strains of "Haunted Nursery" from the album Out of the Darkness, the Tarot card-type stage selection menu and the bulk of the game stages themselves are accompanied by tracks from the band's excellent 2000 release Realm of Shadows (including "Noctern Aeternus," "The Summoning," "Black Woods" and "The Night Beckons"). Other tracks include "Time Outside of Time" from The 13th Hour, "Blackest Rose" from Vampyre Symphonies and "Unrest In The East Wing" from Gates of Delirium. Players who may be new to the band's output will get a great overview of their atmospheric catalog, and I predict they'll pick up a few new fans among the gaming crowd with this one.
Corril Slayer would have been fun enough with the appropriate 8-bit sound effects and music, but the designers wisely opted for a soundscape that morphs those feelings of nostalgia into a very real sense of terror. Combined with a fairly challenging level of play, it makes for a night of sweaty-palmed suspense... which for me is exactly what horror games should provide.
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