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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Night At The Gates Of Hell - Video Nasty (Review)

Night at the Gates of Hell

Released: September 14th, 2022 (PC), September 8th, 2023 (consoles)

Developer: Black Eyed Priest, Henry Hoare

Publisher: Torture Star Video, Puppet Combo

Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed), Switch, Xbox Series S/X

Puppet Combo and their publishing label Torture Star Video have made a name for themselves producing provocative retro horror games moonlighting as sensory nightmares.

With names like Power Drill Massacre and Murder House, their titles deliberately evoke the kind of B-grade exploitation movies disparagingly labeled “Video Nasties” in the 1980s. The screen filters in which they’re drenched hammer the point home, bestowing upon each title the visual qualities of an overplayed VHS tape.

I’d played a few games under the Torture Star Label before, and certainly had mixed feelings.

Night at the Gates of Hell has proven a more consistently enjoyable experience, not least for the fact it’s significantly more playable. I actually finished this one, rather than confusedly put it down after getting killed to the sound of deafening screeches within two minutes. That may be due to the fact that Puppet Combo only played the role of publisher with this one, the game itself developed by Henry Hoare and Black Eyed Priest.

Like other games of its stripe, Night at the Gates of Hell is a first-person horror game with graphics so horrifically dated they border on genius. Unlike most of them, you don’t just run away from a ghoulish stalker that’ll inevitably (and loudly) wreck your shit. There's something approaching real combat this time, armed as you are with just enough firepower to face down a menagerie of zombies that manage to be nauseatingly grotesque despite how low-poly they are.

With Night at the Gates of Hell, I've definitely found the charm I’ve been searching for with these games, to the point of going back to try the developers' earlier title, Bloodwash, and finding it equally entertaining. These two creators in particular are nailing it.

It’s a mess, it’s puerile, and its weirdest moments have left me fucking speechless, but I kind of love it. I couldn’t put it down, transfixed by the stunning disaster from beginning to end.

The work of filmmaker Lucio Fulci is not just invoked but explicitly namechecked. Gates of Hell even goes so far as to lovingly recreate a certain notorious scene from the legendary schlock that is Zombi 2. That scene, in case you were wondering. The one with the sharp bit of wood. Yeah, that one. If you know, you know.

So anyway, some sort of cult has opened up a portal to hell and now zombies are all over the shop. After an introductory scene featuring glorious polygonal nudity and a misogynist's quest to fetch a condom, you’re thrust into an apartment building beset by undead. Thus begins a journey that’ll include murderous ballerina kids, a giant zombie shark, and a little boy with the face of an old man who’s obsessed with his mother's breasts.

The words I’m saying do not do justice to this game’s delirium.

Separated into modestly sized levels, progress follows a fairly typical horror structure - you find keys to unlock doors, use items to solve simple environmental puzzles, and encounter plenty of zombies along the way. Nothing revolutionary, but all pretty solid in its straightforwardness.

Our mundane protagonist gets his hands on a revolver pretty early on, and with the exception of two bosses, everything goes down in a single shot. The catch is that they must be headshots, as any other impact's absorbed without so much as a pause. There’s no targeting reticle, and you can’t move while aiming down the sights, which itself takes quite a bit of time to do. While accurately lining up shots against casually beelining enemies isn’t too difficult, each one remains a risky prospect thanks to the time required.

Oh, and if a zombie so much as touches you, you’re dead. At least if you don’t have a knife or two on hand.

Taking a cue from contemporary Resident Evil games, knives are a collectible defensive measure, able to instantly and automatically kill any zombie that comes too close. They don’t grow on trees, but they’re not so rare as to feel precious, and given the low speed of gunfire, these single-use blades are downright essential. Electing to just let a zombie grab you so it gets juicily skewered is sometimes favorable to fumbling a shot.

Still, knives aren’t limitless and there are moments when zombies come at you in such quick succession that your sluggish guns simply won’t stop them in time. Luckily, Gates of Hell is considerably more forgiving than its peers, as death respawns you a little ways back with all progress retained. Only the bosses and final level feature more traditional checkpoints. This mercy goes in no small way towards Night at the Gates of Hell’s digestibility.

That said, it’s still an audiovisual assault.

And that assault is without mercy.

I have to wear headphones if my family’s around, since it’s legit unbearable to relatives with audio processing issues. That means I’m trapped with it, a distorted cacophony screaming directly into my brain while garish colors tear my eyes to devastated ribbons.

The vicious squealing audio can certainly be startling, but it pales in comparison to the sound of feminine crying recorded too close to a microphone, or wet gurgling zombie moans so disgusting I was genuinely disturbed when the sound oozed through a single earphone. Those latter examples are effective at inspiring a sense of true horror, offering some quality scariness amongst the less subtle raucousness.

Night at the Gates of Hell is visually hideous, and it’s a shame I played it in the middle of a weeklong migraine, because that legit hurt. However, I’ve preached for a long time that horror’s at its best when it’s ugly, and the fact these visuals can be so gross and ghastly despite all the weirdly proportioned, borderline undetailed character models is really quite impressive. The distorted photos of peoples’ faces wrapped around the heads of NPCs is plain hilarious, and I’ll say one thing for the eye searing color scheme - it’s astoundingly distinct.

If the retro filters aren’t your thing, they can be turned off, removing the CRT and VHS effects. Or you can turn them up. There are a few filters to choose from, and you can make the graphics almost incomprehensible to the human eye if you want to seriously harm yourself.

Oh, and there’s some nice music. Not much of it, but the tracks that are present really slap in a retro kinda way.

Upon completing Night at the Gates of Hell, you’ll gain access to two smaller titles - Evil in the House of Doctor Fleshenstein, and a game with one of the best names I’ve ever heard - The Booty Creek Cheek Freak. The former is a rudimentary wave-based shooter using assets from the main game. The latter is so absurd, so infantile, so deliciously stupid it could be a pitch on Boston’s Favorite Son.

Not to go into too much detail, but... you’re being pursued by an entity with an ass for a head who cuts off peoples’ butts if they take a shit on the floor of the bathroom he died in when his plump dumper got stuck in the toilet bowl and he starved to death. I can certainly sympathize with the Cheek Freak’s victims since I laughed my ass off witnessing this thing in action.

Sadly it devolves into gameplay similar to Slender: Eight Pages, a concept I’ve only ever found annoying and dull instead of frightening. Everything leading up to that, though, is just fucking glorious.

Night at the Gates of Hell is made for a very particular type of person, and that person will utterly love it. Its inherent freakishness and sensory attacks on the player will prove offputting to anybody else, but as someone who has tried to love this type of fascinating trash and often been unable to penetrate the gameplay, I can say that the (comparatively) increased accessibility drew me in here and I count myself among the loving.

This is a game that features the line, “It’s quieter than a mute nun’s pussy on Christmas,” and by the time you hear it you’ve been exposed to so much wildness it’s simply par for the course.

The score I’m giving this game is highly conditional, relevant as it is to a particular niche of player. Those outside the niche won’t get it, and I’m not saying that to be smug - they’re right not to get it.

Just this once though, I’m happy to be wrong.



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