Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition is an important game that’s worth experiencing. It’s just not a particularly good one.
There’s never been a game as undeservedly infamous as Night Trap. Plenty of releases have attracted controversy over the years but the furore surrounding this early 90s Sega CD game was astonishing. Going by the press coverage and the outpourings of various self-appointed moral bastions, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a previously unparalleled festival of depravity; a monstrous, youth corrupting gorefest that had you butchering and dismembering teenage girls while a special attachment fired chunks of warm offal into your grinning face.
The reality was rather more mundane, though it probably wouldn’t have sold anywhere as many newspapers; the game containing barely a drop of gore. Now, with the release of Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition, a new generation of gamers can uncover the truth behind the controversy. The shaky premise behind this full-motion video adventure is that college students have been going missing in and around a lakeside resort. Surprisingly, Jason Voorhees is nowhere to be seen; the guilty party instead being the Martin family who have kitted out their property with a range of cameras and lethal traps.
Despite having actual footage of the Martins straight up murdering people, the authorities decide to send a Special Control Attack Team (SCAT… yes, really) in to investigate. Oh, and to let another group of co-eds blunder into the mansion. This is where you come in. You’ve been given direct control of the traps and video cameras and, sitting comfortably behind the monitors, it’s your job to keep them safe from both the Martins and the shambling black-clad “monsters” that roam the property.
This ludicrous set-up, and the associated lack of common sense, will be instantly familiar to any horror aficionado. Night Trap is pure shlock and while the acting is surprisingly competent, the writing is crammed full of clichés and corny dialogue. But that’s no means a bad thing, and I found myself laughing like a drain on multiple occasions. If the game doesn’t give you a few chuckles you might want to check that you’ve still got a pulse.
Equally gratifying is the way you can flick between any of the eight cameras in the mansion, many scenes taking place simultaneously. During one playthrough you could follow the girls upstairs and listen to them talking about how cool the house is. Next time around you might choose to observe the Martins and catch them discussing their sinister plans for their would-be victims. This non-linear approach is surprisingly effective, serving to further immerse you in the admittedly cheesy narrative.
Should any of the students’ lives be in immediate danger from either the Martins or the black-clad “Augs”, you can dispatch them using the traps which are, initially at least, gleefully entertaining to watch. Once the attacker wanders into the appropriate area of the room you hit the trap button and a hole will open in the floor; they’ll either fall directly in or be pushed in by a moving bookcase or some other contraption. In the latter case it’s patently obvious that they could move out of the way in time but Night Trap requires you to suspend your disbelief. A lot.
Were this all there was to Night Trap, it would be a rewarding, if silly, outing. You’d alternate your time between watching the plot unfold and ensuring the girls were safe, any one of their respective demises resulting in a game over. However, the game has a massive, fundamental flaw that robs the game of much of its playability and which, bafflingly, segregates gameplay and storyline.
The Augs, looking less convincing than your average fifties-era movie monster, don’t just crop up to menace the girls. Instead, they wander round the house, shambling in and out of empty rooms. You’re required to trap as many as you can, the game giving you a special end-game reward if you catch every single one. But Night Trap is ludicrously unforgiving and will boot you out at several points if you’ve left more than ten Augs uncaptured. You can observe the Augs on the small camera screens, but there are occasions when you’ve got all of five seconds to jump between cameras in order to catch an Aug.
There are 100 Augs to be captured which, spread over the game’s 25-minute run time, means you’ve got a lot of trapping to do. Flicking between cameras was par for the course in Five Nights At Freddy’s but with so much effort being put into telling a story, this mechanic punishes you for wanting to engage with the narrative. And though making an Aug disappear in a plume of smoke will give you a rush the first few times round, the trap footage is so heavily recycled that it quickly loses its appeal. It’s also something that could easily have been fixed with the addition of difficulty levels to let you get away with capturing fewer Augs. You’d still be faced with the challenge of protecting the girls themselves.
The lack of difficulty levels seems doubly absurd when you consider how much effort developer Screaming Villains has put into this port. Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition sports a randomised Aug-trapping Survivor Mode, behind the scenes footage and interviews, a theatre mode (though you do have to play the game at least twice to unlock videos) and even the prototype game that inspired Night Trap.
Night Trap is not a great game. It could be a good one were the difficulty tweaked but the constant need to break with the game’s plot does it no favours. It’s not gory and it’s certainly not scary. It is, however, important and, on its original release, showed that games didn’t have to be child-friendly. Night Trap is also partially responsible for ushering in a games rating system which enabled more “adult” games to be released.
There are moments when Night Trap is actually fun, such as when you manage to trap one of the game’s primary antagonists or eavesdrop on a particularly pertinent conversation, but all too often it’s back to the Aug-catching grind. Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition has more value as a curio, as a piece of gaming history than it is as an actual game. It’s worth playing to gain an understanding of what all the fuss was about and to appreciate how important and revolutionary it was. And it will make you laugh; you could even get a few friends round to share the experience. Just don’t expect it to live up to the hype.