Torture Star Video, infamous indie developer Puppet Combo’s publishing label, has been on a roll for delivering strange, unique, and often intense Lofi horror on Steam. The latest title from the label, Night at the Gates of Hell, proudly joins the ranks of other games such as The Horror of Salazar House when it comes to delivering a throwback experience with modern bells and whistles. It is also one of the only games I’ve ever played that captures the bizarrely surreal tone of Italian horror films, complete with a nonsensical plot, cheesy acting, and heaping helpings of gore.
Night at the Gates of Hell comes from the creative duo of Henry Hoare and Black Eyed Priest, the masterminds behind 2021’s outstanding walking sim/explorative horror game Blood Wash. Whereas that game focused more on storytelling and exposition by way of exploration, Night at the Gates of Hell is a classic survival horror experience where finding precious ammo and not getting your face chomped off is the key to coming through the other side. The premise is fairly simple: one day, all hell literally breaks loose, and David, our player character and hero, breaks out of his ruined apartment to get to safety.
Despite the fact that this game is played in first person, its roots are very, very firmly inspired by the original Resident Evil titles. Since David is an everyman, his combat skills aren’t very good. He’s not an action hero or a badass and as such, lining up a crucial headshot (the only way to permanently kill the zombies in this game) means he must stand completely still and use nothing but the gun’s iron sights to get it right. The UI in Gates is bare bones; there’s no aiming reticle, no health bar, or anything like that. This simplicity of design lets the game create high but understandable stakes: every bullet counts because one bite from a zombie means game over.
Thankfully, checkpoints are spaced out pretty generously, meaning you’re never far behind from where you died when you reload your save. Additionally, zombies you’ve killed before dying stay dead, so it’s possible for less skilled players to still brute force their way through the bulk of the story. You could argue that this robs the slow, meticulous action of much of its tension, but I think it works well considering how little it takes to kill you. And the slow aiming means that the action is very tense throughout the game’s run time. Even when you think you have a headshot lined up, the mechanics feel loose enough that you can’t be sure until you pull the trigger. It’s a nice balance of giving the player control over their fate while still making them feel insecure. Additionally, the game lifts another mechanic from the remake of the original Resident Evil. You can find knives around the environment, and if you’re grabbed when you have one, you’ll plunge the blade into a zombie’s head in a comically Lofi animation. It’s a nice way to balance the difficulty.
And speaking of zombies, it should be noted that this game boasts 8unique character models for the rotting freaks. The game’s Steam page claims that you’ll never run into the same zombie twice, and I found that to be largely true for the story mode. This staggering amount of character models prevents the game from feeling stale. There are only a few varieties (such as zombies whose heads are bent back, making it tougher to land the headshot) but they all behave largely the same. Even though the game’s graphics are deliberately crappy, (think if Thief: The Dark Project smoked some crack), the variety in zombies lends the game a lot of personality and atmosphere. It helps the player feel like they’re actually going through a ruined community with distinct individuals, lending a weird sense of tragedy to the campy antics of the story.
None of the levels are too long (I think the most time I spent on one was forty minutes) but that keeps the pace up and gives variety to the game’s aesthetic. It opens strong on Dave’s apartment building, which is much more complex than you might think at first (and it holds a familiar face for Blood Wash fans!). This is a shining example of survival horror level design as you constantly peel back layers from the apartment building, and there are some startling revelations like the cultists who lived down the hall from David. Other environments like a few city blocks and a prison are familiar but well done since the major exploration areas unfold almost like puzzle boxes. The more you dive in, the more hidden nooks and crannies you find. It feels constantly rewarding to be as thorough as possible in each level.
Despite the appearance of several levels on the level select screen, this is a fairly short game since each specific environment is considered a level by itself. A few are mere minutes long, such as one that sees you fight off a zombified shark on a boat. You could argue that the game’s price is a bit steep for what it offers, but there are two cool extra modes that unlock upon completing the main game. One is the Booty Creek Cheek Freak, (check out my full review here) and the other is Horror at the House of Doctor Fleshenstein, a wave-based survival title where you must find various clues and puzzles around the eponymous house while taking care of the zombie horde that spawns endlessly. This is a fun way to focus solely on the game’s combat and offers a decent chunk of playtime depending on your skill level and how often you need to die. They’re both great extras in their own way.
Night at the Gates of Hell delivers on its promise of emulating the campy, gory charms of low-budget Italian horror films from the 80s, but it’s also an enjoyable, if short, survival horror game in its own right. It succeeds at making the player always feel vulnerable with its simple combat mechanics, and has a goofy, enjoyable story that directly connects to the developer’s previous titles. It won’t set the world on fire, but it is great for fans of old-school survival horror looking for a humorous, enjoyable fix.