The fifth generation of home consoles was a wild time; the mighty Sony entering the ring with their new console, the fires of the first console war was dying down after the early 90s, and the jump was made from 2D to 3D for most of gaming’s stalwart franchises.
It’s arguable that, even if Playstation didn’t have the best games of the fifth generation (it definitely had a few of them at least), it did have an incredible amount of titles on the system. In amongst the Tomb Raiders and Resident Evils though, was a rough cut gem – Nightmare Creatures.
The game is set in a fantastical, dark and gothic London, with two protagonists to adventure as – Ignatius and Nadia. Their goal is to defeat an undeniably evil guy with a penchant for black magic that wants to unleash a wave of hideous demons upon the city. As such, he wants to essentially recreate a Friday night out in present day Shoreditch.
However, unlike the present day, you are a decently adept slayer of these things that go bump in the night. So, after a gloriously dramatic opening cutscene that shows all of the Playstation’s graphical capability, and with the best narration of all time, you pick your character and begin your journey in – of all places – Chelsea.
Each character has their own moveset, but largely revolve around two different playstyles: either guarding and avoiding attacks from the demonic brood, or smacking them about with your bladed staff (Ignatius) or sword (Nadia). The moment-to-moment gameplay was enjoyably simple, even when you include the various sub-weapons at your disposal.
The demons you encounter run the gamut from werewolves, to harpies, to Lovecraftian monstrosities, and each one comes with a different method of taking them down whether that be relentless assault or careful countering. There’s also various boss encounters, testing the player in larger, puzzle-based set pieces, even if they’re kind of easy to defeat.
Where the gameplay of the game stood out though, was in the optional Adrenaline Bar. This little blue bar on the screen would slowly tick down as you explored and could only be topped up if you killed a creature. If you let the bar run out, you would slowly lose health over time until you resumed slicing stuff up, so this made for some tense moments.
Speaking of the combat, another great thing about Nightmare Creatures was that the amount of violence and blood that was on display in the game was wonderfully high for the time, with deathblows on the enemies resulting in limbs flying, total upper body dismemberment and, of course, copious gallons of blood everywhere. It was visceral, and we loved it.
As this was the era of the cheat code, we can’t go much further without talking about the dumb nonsense you could do in the game, and little is more dumb than the ability here to actually play as the demons themselves. This wasn’t a mere skin over the playable pair though, as these playable creatures actually had the full movesets from the game.
This is, after a normal playthrough of course, where we spent most of our time playing Nightmare Creatures. There’s just something so gratifying about tearing all over London being a general menace and danger to all living denizens therein. It’s kind of like a London taxi driver simulator, only without a car, or the attitude problem.
Admittedly, Nightmare Creatures has aged incredibly poorly from a visual standpoint, with arguably bland and uninspired locales and some of the most grating sound design we’ve ever heard (the sound of footsteps is just such a monotonous noise in the game). However, if there’s one thing this game does quite well, it’s the overall atmosphere.
It might not look great, or sound great, but the game just oozes with an unmistakable brooding atmosphere despite all its shortcomings. This can be best seen in Stage 7 (we think), where the rain, thunder and lightning combine with the dark streets to create an incredibly foreboding feeling. Also, the music that it does have is actually fairly decent and sounds great even now.
Nightmare Creatures was a great game for its time, and it received the praise for it back in 1997 when it landed. But really, this is a pretty good game to play now too with some solid (if simple) gameplay, some gruesome demons, and heaps of atmosphere. If you slept on this game back in the 90s, you really shouldn’t have done.