Horror is a film genre that is hard to get right. It takes the perfect mix of writing, performances, set design, and cinematography to elicit scares from the audience. If any of those elements are not up to snuff, the film would generate laughs or groans instead of screams. Horror games are the same way except that technology gains greater importance in generating a terrifying atmosphere. Surely no one could expect true terror from the limited technology of the Atari 2600, but that didn't stop the ever-ballsy Wizard Video Games from releasing games based on slasher flicks, one of which is Halloween.
The game is based on the 1978 John Carpenter movie of the same name. For those who have been hiding under the bed for the last 35 years, the movie was about a teenager named Laurie Strode who, while babysitting on Halloween night, had to protect her charges from the psychopathic, larger-than-life serial killer Michael Myers who had just escaped from the psyche ward. The movie to this day is considered the godfather of the modern slasher genre, originating the clichés that were used in almost every subsequent slasher film and effectively mocked in Scream. While I recognize the film's place in movie history, I'm not a fan of it (or any other slasher flick not directed by Wes Craven for that matter).
The game actually managed to match that one-line film synopsis perfectly. The player controls Laurie who must lead an infinite number of kids to safety while being stalked by Michael Myers. The game plays like a relay race. The view is split between both floors of a house with doorways connecting the two floors. Only one kid is present at any given time, and pressing the fire button close to a kid allows Laurie to lead him to the far right or left “safe” rooms.
The gameplay is okay for the time with a few issues. The knife which can be picked up to fend off Michael is problematic as the kids can't be led while Laurie is holding it. It becomes even more redundant because the game is WAY too easy. Even when leading a kid, I literally made Laurie run circles around Michael. Even when I he got the drop on me by popping out of a doorway, I still escaped with absurd ease. At least the movie made it look like Jamie Lee Curtis had to TRY at least a little! The only times I got to see the cool image of Michael beheading Laurie was when I got tired of running and let Michael catch her.
Yeah, beheading. Like with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wizard had no problem letting the blood spray in true 8-bit glory. The death scenes are better looking than before; when boredom allows Michael to catch Laurie, her head comes off with red spewing from her neck like Old Faithful. The rest of the visuals are decent for the system though it is kind of funny to see that the teenage babysitter is actually bigger than the larger-than-life psychopath. The game does do a decent 8-bit rendition of the classic movie theme, but I got sick of it since it played EVERY SINGLE TIME Michael comes on screen.
Halloween was one of those Atari games that did a decent job recreating the experience of the film. However, it had not aged well, and any horror game from Resident Evil onward blows it away. If you're in a VERY nostalgic mood, have an insanely low tolerance for difficulty, and don't want to watch The Thing From Another World again, plug this in and bask in the glow of 8-bit blood-spray. Everyone else should just watch the movie.