Night at the Gates of Hell cover photo

Night at the Gates of Hell (2022) is a survival zombie horror game, developed by Jordan King and Henry Hoare, and published by Torture Star Video – a production company run by American independent game developers Puppet Combo. This isn’t Jordan (Also going by the developer name Black Eyed Priest), and Henry’s first foray into game development, creating the Giallo-inspired Bloodwash in 2021 – also published by Torture Star Video.

The story starts with David’s attempt at having a quiet, normal life. However, any resemblance of peace is interrupted by a zombie apocalypse. To survive this cataclysm, he needs to gather his thoughts, collect weapons, find other survivors, and fight his way through hordes of undead.

Featuring an incredibly lofi aesthetic, Night at the Gates of Hell captures the low polycount graphics of the 90s PS1 era to perfection. The implementation of image digitisation of character faces strewn across their purposely-deformed bodies akin to a Leatherface-esc mask not only fits the style of the era but certainly increases the uncomfortable, uncanny valley effect felt whilst in their presence. Additionally, the game features a CRT filter overlay, complete with vertical scrolling to fully embrace these retro aesthetics. This inclusion is truly the icing on the nostalgia cake, perfectly replicating pre-digital hardware. However, if this isn’t your cup of tea, they can be disabled in the game settings (or increased if that’s your thing).

Proudly worn for all to discern, Night at the Gates of Hell takes heavy inspiration from Italian B-movie zombie horrors of the 80s – specifically the works of renowned Italian exploitation directors Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei. Even the game’s title is a combination of Fulci’s Gates of Hell and Mattei’s Night of the Zombies, better known as Hell of the Living Dead. Although, there is a multitude of references, some more subtle than others, to other notable directors and films of the genre such as Claudio Fragasso, Dan O’Bannon, and The House by the Cemetery just to name a few.

When it comes to gameplay, Night at the Gates of Hell doesn’t stray too far away from the solid basis of survival horror. Featuring expansive levels, full of incredible detail considering the game’s lack of graphics. Each local is starkly different from one another, delivering some fully fleshed-out, lived-in locations that a number of games seem to lack. With the addition of some light puzzle elements that become progressively difficult as the game progresses. The player lacks any health management system, instead, the game implements a one-hit kill method of gameplay – thrusting the player into an automated death sequence if an enemy gets close enough. Although, each level is littered with kitchen knives that can circumnavigate these instakills once per knife carried (limited up to 3 at a time). Furthermore, useful items cannot be picked up whilst a weapon is in hand, causing the player to lower their defense in return for this lifesaving equipment, further increasing their vulnerability.

However, a key aspect that Night at the Gates of Hell encapsulates about the genre is that the game’s horror isn’t tied to any loss of progression. These instadeaths are only ever a minor setback in the grand scheme of gameplay, with the player being reset only moments before their untimely death in an instant – forgoing any unnecessary loading screen that ultimately detracts away from the action.

Even so, this hardly means that Night at the Gates of Hell lacks any tension, delivering an experience that was, in this reviewer’s opinion, one of the most frightening I’ve had in a long time. The main source of these scares is conveyed through jumpscares, however, despite the usual despise of this aspect of horror, these moments lack the cheapness felt in other games and, instead, feel purposeful in their implementation. Furthermore, the game supplements this with impeccable sound design, instilling an undeniably oppressive atmosphere throughout. Whilst lacking any differentiating level or stereo sound design, all enemy sounds play as if they are right next to the player, leading to a heavy feeling of anxiety and paranoia that is rarely experienced in general survival horror.

Although Night at the Gates of Hell is a relatively short game, taking only around 4-5 hours to finish its main story. However, there are some extra features unlocked after completion to give the game a slightly elongated life, with two separate stories independent of the original, The Booty Creek Cheek Freak, and Evil in the House of Dr. Fleshenstein, that feature similar gameplay to Slender: The Seven Pages and Call of Duty: Zombies respectively to elongate the playtime past the initial campaign.

One of the most fearful gaming experiences I have had in a long time, Night at the Gates of Hell is a terrifying love letter to Italian horrors of the 80s and all the tropes that permeate them. With its suffocating atmosphere, engaging gameplay, and Nostalgic veneer; the game encompasses the aesthetics of PS1-era gaming with the smooth gameplay of modern design. Night at the Gates of Hell is the perfect game for people looking for a genuinely terrifying FSP as well as fans of Italian B-movies.

Night at the Gates of Hell is available on Steam now

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