Ginger Nuts of Horror
Unlike most games in this series, Night Trap is not one I suggest you make any effort seek out or play, on the grounds that it's simply not very good. At all. It wasn't any good at the time of release and it isn't any good now.
It is, however, historically significant, owing to the contrived media frenzy that the likes of The Daily Mail and other morally minded (and odiously myopic) quarters whipped up against it.
A specimen of the (mercifully) short-lived FMV or “Full Motion Video” era, Night Trap is a game that, rather than utilising drawn sprites and pixellated graphics (as was the pervasive style of video games at the time) instead utilised actual sets, actors and (very badly compressed) video footage. The trend originally marked early experiments in CD technology; a sort of transitional fossil between the more standard cartridges and floppy disks of the era to that format. However, being transitional, it was far from perfect: whilst some studios (such as the behemoth Sierra) had some limited success in this format, the vast majority of FMV titles are over-produced, absurdly expensive tat that is barely watchable, let alone playable.
One of the flag-ship titles for the Sega-CD peripheral for the Sega Megadrive, Night Trap began courting controversy even before it was released (and often on the basis of little more than hearsay, most of the self-proclaimed “journalists” who opined on the work not only never having played the game, but having little to no connection to the medium or its then burgeoning culture whatsoever).
A rare example of an attempt to hybridise a horror film and video game, Night Trap is a weary and turgid little affair, in which you play the part of some vague “special ops” team member sent into a suburban US neighbourhood to monitor a particular house for signs of...unusual activity. From a van parked (more than conspicuously) not very far away, you monitor the interior of the house through various cameras, activating a series of (idiotic to the point of slap-stick) traps that the team have apparently installed throughout the house whenever something ghoulish turns up. Meanwhile, a group of actors clearly in their thirties but pretending to be teenagers throw a slumber party, invited to the house by the family that resides there, who, I'm sure you'll be shocked dumb to find out, are actually vampires, who preside over a brood of shambling, more-funny-than-scary vampire thralls who, if you are not fast enough, pick off the girls one by one and drain their blood via a series of instruments and devices. Even that is far, far less graphic than it sounds; there is next to nothing in the way of actual gore or graphic violence, the most you generally see the creatures cornering one of the girls in some area of the house and dragging her away. To horror film fans, the game is tame beyond belief; more comic than frightening, with some of the worst acting, direction and special effects you're likely to see. For children, whom the video game market of the time was largely aimed at, well...there were scarier and more graphically violent cartoons readily available on broadcast television, and frankly more disturbing scenes to be found in soap operas at the time.
As is the case with most FMV titles, there is next to nothing in the way of actual game play; the limitations of the format truly do betray themselves here, as what the player can actually do and the degree to which they can engage with the game are profoundly truncated by the number of scenes and actions that could be filmed and compressed onto the disc.
Most of the “game” is spent passively flicking between the various cameras, watching events inside the house until something occurs. Then, the game essentially becomes what would be termed a “quick time” affair in present day video game parlance; you have to activate the right trap at the right moment by pressing a button when the vampire-beasties are properly positioned. Success will cause walls to swivel and seal them away, floors to open beneath them, stairs to become slides into suddenly gaping pits (yes, it really gets that stupid) and so on and so forth. The only real challenge of the game comes from monitoring the various areas and trying to cope with multiple incursions at once; it is entirely possible (if you have the damn patience) to get through the night without losing a single girl to the vampires. That said, it is marginally more fun to just let the vampires take them, if only to see some of the worst, B-movie acting, direction and effects you are likely to ever experience.
So, as a game; nothing much to say: it's a terrible example of a terrible era that buried more studios than you can count (owing to the exorbitant costs of producing FMV games at the time, coupled with the fact that hardly anyone bought them, because they were dreadful).
However, as an historical artefact, Night Trap occupies an almost mythic status: here in the UK, but also throughout Europe and the US, the game garnered the kind of moral lash back that hadn't been seen since the Mary Whitehouse days. Before the game was even released, tabloids and popular press were rife with articles on its apparent graphic gore, sex and misogyny (this last at least somewhat true, in that the largely female cast are treated as little more than mild, adolescent eye-candy and as victims for the vampires to chow down on), wider conservative hyperbole concerning the video game market and its “corrupting” effect on youth and so on and so forth.
Once again, hardly a one of these commentators had even seen the game, much less played it through. If anything, there exaggerations lent it wider acclaim and advertisement than it would have ever had otherwise. In all likelihood, the game would have been little more than another of the damp squibs that pervaded the Sega-CD (the vast majority of the system's games piss poor ports of arcade shooters such as Mad Dog McCree, Ground Zero Texas, Tom Cat Alley etc). As it was, Night Trap became far more than it ever warranted or than its developers might have dreamed.
Along with the likes of Mortal Kombat, which garnered similar reaction a few years earlier for its cartoon, exploding-ketchup-bottle splatter and hilariously over the top “fatality” animations, Night Trap became one of the key titles that resulted in the establishment of ELSPA (Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association), whose advisory age ranges and synopses of potentially offensive content can still be found on video games to this day. The situation became so heightened at one point, the matter was even discussed on parliament and there were even calls for the developers of Night Trap to face legal proceedings.
I know, right?
If you are masochistic enough to play the game now (or, preferably, just watch a long play of it on YouTube), you'll find yourself wondering what the Hell the fuss was about; not only is the game lacking in any and all of the (often highly specific and gruesomely detailed) scenes of gore and graphicness that the tabloids of the era claimed, but it is so banal, so boring, not to mention clearly more comedic in tone than horrific, that the only way even a child could be disturbed by it is if they've been exposed to no other media in their entire lifetimes.
Here's the irony of Night Trap: were it not for the media furore cultivated by those who would rather the game didn't exist (I'd rather it didn't exist, quite frankly, but because it's just an appallingly dull piece of work, rather than any finger-wagging reasons), it would have been long, long forgotten; I doubt anyone would remember it as more than a sad and baffling moment in video game history.
As is always the way with censorious souls, its detractors have ensured that its myth sustains to this day, as an artefact in the ever evolving history of video games and their relation to wider culture.
is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.