Sunday, 22 April 2018

Gaming's Best Levels #4: Highgate Cemetery - Nightmare Creatures

A journey through some of video gaming's greatest levels. Or, the ones we like at least.

By Sam Graham

There are lots of games that follow the ‘kicking ten bells out of X’ archetype.  Streets of Rage was ‘Kicking ten bells out of hoodlums’; Arkham Asylum was ‘Kicking ten bells out of the mentally ill’; Shadow of the Colossus was ‘Kicking ten bells out of pretention monsters’.  With that mindset, it’s fair to say that 1997’s Nightmare Creatures was ‘Kicking ten bells out of Victorian London’.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a soft spot for gothic horror.  So much so, I sometimes wish I wore a cravat and wrote with a quill before reminding myself that this is 2018 and I’m not actually a massive tosser.  I’ve read the greatest hits of the generation and seen all the films that don’t even bother to follow the source material.  So when I saw Nightmare Creatures in Playstation Magazine way back when I was eleven years old, I couldn’t wait.

Highgate Cemetery was the perfect level to show off the highlights of the game.  It was past the intro levels where it goes easy on you, but before it proceeds to let you know just how bad at it you really are later on.  There was actually a demo of the level we’ll be discussing today that a lot of people had back then, so when people recollect this game, they tend to think of this section. 

You choose your character: man or woman (Christ, imagine the shitstorm if this came out today), but the choice really comes down to staff (man) or sword (woman).  There is some back-story to the game, but the short version is this: Cloaked man creates monsters in Victorian London.  Here’s a weapon, off you trot.  The stage begins at the front gate of the cemetery.  Darkness is all around, enveloping all.  Snow falls on the tombstones and the ground crunches underneath your feet.  It’s the only sound save for the wind whispering ominously, giving the place a feeling of hollowness. Of cold loneliness. Of the finality of death.

Then a werewolf jumps out and you kick the crap out of it. And that’s Nightmare Creatures, boys and girls.

You make your way through the cemetery battering werewolves, flying vampire women, and zombies.  One interesting mechanic is that like any zombie worth their salt, they’ll resurrect infinitely unless you cleave them in half.  It’s always satisfying to do so.  Other stages have more monster variety, but this is a cemetery in Victorian times, so let’s pull out the classics.

The path is fairly linear with occasions for you to nip off and plunder a mausoleum for flintlocks, but for the majority it’s a straight path.  Overall goal is to reach the mausoleum of Samuel Pepys (the real Samuel Pepys), because although he never mentioned it in his incredibly detailed and candid diary, according to Nightmare Creatures, the MP was an occultist.  Who knew eh?  Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if all MP’s were in league with the occult.

For those who haven’t played Nightmare Creatures, or are too young to remember it, try to imagine Bloodbourne 20 years ago.  Sure the frame-rate was as slow as pensioner sex and the graphics were like regurgitated Lego, but you know what?  You could shoot a werewolf’s head clean off with a flintlock and carve up zombies with a staff.  What’s not to love?

Enjoyed this piece? Then 'like' The Crusades of A Critic on Facebook. Sam also has a Tech Noir novel, 'An Inside Joke', which can currently be viewed here; a horror short story, 'We Must Never Found Out', published here; and finally, his first novella 'Iron Country' is currently at the printers and will soon be available. Phew.