Any lifelong horror fan should be familiar with the name Clive Barker, the mind behind Hellraiser and Candyman, who has also worked on (or had adapted) several video games – most notably Clive Barker’s Undying. A cult classic mix between shooter and nail-biting horror, Undying certainly deserves a modern reboot or sequel, but many fans may not be aware of how many Clive Barker video game projects exist in the lower part of the iceberg, released (or not) since the 1990s. In addition to pushing the boundaries of horror literature, Barker also saw a lot of potential in the medium of video games, and produced or wrote some of the strangest in the industry.
Clive Barker’s stories routinely revolve around the struggle between fragile humanity and the dark, all-powerful forces of the supernatural underworld. This is part of the reason that Undying continues to garner a cult following – an overwhelming sense of dread and perverse horror is baked into the DNA of the game, revolving around a supernatural detective investigating a haunted family. The atmosphere of the creepy horror mansion is the stuff of nightmares the first time one plays through.
Clive Barker gave Undying a narrative flair unlike any other horror game of the time. Where Resident Evil relied on putting the player into claustrophobic, stressful scenarios, Undying gave the player lots of freedom to roam its mansion and piece together the story, with a variety of gameplay tools to deliver both horror and fast-paced action. Unfortunately, it’s the only project of Barker’s that was ever backed by a major game studio (EA), and his other projects, while equally ambitious, were never able to achieve the same level of cultural significance.
Clive Barker’s Jericho Is A Unique Horror Shooter
Clive Barker’s Jericho is one of the better-known of Barker’s attempts at working within the gaming industry, releasing for seventh-generation consoles and PC in 2007. It was developed by MercurySteam, which at the time had less experience overall. While now most famous for developing the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games for Konami, and the terrifying Metroid Dread with Nintendo, MercurySteam at the time was a rather different studio, but it’s worth noting that it honed its horror chops first with Clive Barker’s Jericho, the underrated military horror shooter that was pushed out into a crowded October release schedule, likely a bit too quickly.
Jericho followed the eponymous team of supernatural Special Forces operatives – something like Ghostbusters with big guns – as they fought their way through a host of monsters to stop an ancient evil from entering the world. Its ambitious gameplay was augmented by Barker’s narrative quasi-religious flair, working closely with MercurySteam to shape the final product. For example, the squad’s leader is killed early on in the game’s story, but survives as a ghostly presence able to possess other members of the squad, which gives way to Jericho‘s ambitious squad-switching mechanic. Each character has a unique ability, from blood magic to resupplying the squad through time-travel. Jericho is one of the more interesting, if not classic, FPS horror games in concept even now, but MercurySteam’s lack of experience resulted in some underbaked gameplay and polish, and not every narrative element survived its transfer from the page in the most compelling form, demonstrated at the outset by a cheesy setting summary with some questionable voice acting. The game was relegated to obscurity quite quickly, and Barker hasn’t worked on another game since, which is a shame since despite Jericho‘s significant flaws, it’s still intriguing.
Clive Barker’s Weird Nightbreed Horror Games Were Cut Short
In addition to literature and games, Clive Barker has directed a handful of films based on his works. The original Hellraiser – which got a lost NES horror game that never saw the light of day – as his crowning achievement. His followup, however, was the lesser known but equally revered Nightbreed, which revolves around a man falsely accused of murder who finds refuge among a tribe of monsters. These were accompanied by some of the weirdest horror games of the early 90s: Nightbreed: The Action Game and Nightbreed: The Interactive Movie. These were part of big plans Barker had for a Nightbreed trilogy of films, as he hoped to expand the idea into a franchise of sorts.
Why Nightbreed needed two separate video game adaptations is a mystery to all but Clive Barker, but they couldn’t play more differently from one another. The Action Game is a Castlevania-style platformer game where the player controls Boone, the movie’s protagonist, as he fights his way through levels of enemies. The stylized art style and UI set it apart from other examples of the genre, and immersion seems to be at the forefront of the design philosophy. The Interactive Movie continues this immersive trend by adapting the material into a series of mini-games that retell the events of the movie, and the emphasis here is clearly more on the narrative than the action. Believe it or not, a third game (an RPG) was planned in the Nightbreed trilogy, but due to poor performance it was eventually canceled. Still, the two Nightbreed games are weird, uncanny, and unlike any other – for better or for worse.
The Cancelled Hellraiser Games
As for Barker’s most famous franchise, there have been multiple attempts to release a Hellraiser video game, but they have all inevitably been stuck in development hell. As detailed in an article from Bloody Disgusting, a studio known as Color Dreams acquired the rights to the Hellraiser IP and planned to produce a very ambitious Hellraiser game for the NES, one that would require the development of a “Super” cartridge to even function. However, the game was undone by numerous problems, including the fact that Color Dreams didn’t have Nintendo’s authorization to sell games on the platform. However, Color Dreams would later re-purpose their work on the Hellraiser game into a Christianity-themed Doom clone throwback: the legendary, infamous Super 3D Noah’s Ark. The irony of a Hellraiser game becoming one of the most notoriously bad religious games of all time should be lost on nobody.
Around the same time in the mid-90s, Magnet Interactive Studios announced that it would be developing Hellraiser: Virtual Hell for the PC, which would have apparently used the Build Engine made famous by Duke Nukem 3D. The details around this game are thin, so an official interview with the game’s developers at Entertainment Weekly is the only major record available on how the game would have functioned. Here, even the developers seem unsure exactly what the game was:
Here’s how the game works: As a facsimile of your computer monitor morphs into Pinhead, the Cenobite opens his hook-spewing maw and your partner gets sucked in, trapped in a red-misted, sulfurous Hades. “It’s up to you to free him and yourself from eternal damnation,” says Barnett [lead designer].
Whatever Virtual Hell was going to be, it never saw the light of day, despite footage of Doug Bradley as Pinhead, the Hellraiser killer who appeared in Dead By Daylight many years later, having been recorded for the game. Magnet Interactive haven’t published anything for decades now, but the thought of live-action footage being used in a Build Engine first-person shooter sounds like the definition of a cursed video game. “We have such sights to show you” indeed.
A common theme of failure runs through all of Clive Barker’s video game projects. If they ever made it out of development, they were commercial flops. With hindsight, some failures seemed inevitable: the inexperienced team that worked on Jericho tried to tackle the modern military first-person shooter while it was getting its footing (and being done better elsewhere); the Hellraiser games likely couldn’t have survived controversy, and had narrative issues that made game versions difficult to begin with; and the Nightbreed games tried to adapt an esoteric tale into a multimedia franchise. The legacy that Barker leaves behind, however, is the multitude of fascinating stories that come from digging into the history of these projects, a poetic fate in gaming for a man who made his name from writing memorable horror, which did at least give us Undying, a game that remains elegant and playable even today. The Hellraiser games, however, might be best left in the pit.
Source: Bloody Disgusting, Entertainment Weekly
Next: Why Clive Barker’s Undying Deserves A Modern Reboot Or Sequel