Zealous gaming completionists may not be the target audience for Haunted PS1 Demo Disc.
In his preface to The Book of Imaginary Beings, Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges cautioned avid readers that this was a text “not meant to be read through; rather we should like the reader to dip into these pages at random.”
This is worth remembering because, just like the blind fabulist’s bestiary, this video game from another timeline – that somehow ended up, all shrink-wrapped, in your mailbox – is meant to be sampled in small doses.
Otherwise, its strangeness might overwhelm players and transport them to its own alternate dimension. The value in this anthology of in-development games and half-abandoned projects doesn’t come from obsessively playing each one to the end, but rather in following the wild tangents and curious possibilities they present to you.
There are no instructions to guard the player against the compilation’s pure otherness. It’s a collection held together by the twin principles of antiquated design sensibilities and 32-bit aesthetics.
Take the pithy description of each game on the menu screen, for example. They function less as explanatory notes and more as cryptic ramblings, establishing a tone that typically phases between surreal whimsy and mounting unease. “Sauna warming simulator. Feel Finland. Finland feels you,” reads the one for Moya Horror’s Sauna 2000. Let’s see that turned into a battle royale game.
Many of these experiments, like Effigy, a fast-paced Quake homage, and Killer Bees, an atmospheric, creepypasta-inspired haunted house romp, wear the trappings of pre-millennial first-person shooters with distorted audio and textures as flimsy as cardboard movie sets.
But there are other guises, as well: Dead Heat reimagines Resident Evil as a futuristic, noirish adventure; the unclassifiable Erasure brands itself onto your brain like a glitchy wetware fever dream; while Tasty Ramen is 3D Pac-Man, only you’re chased around a supermarket by a broth with an acute sense of hearing.
Not everything in here is a diamond in the rough – several offerings cling a bit too warily to familiar video game conventions. But there are also glimpses of true brilliance to be found among the more pedestrian inclusions, the retro shooters, and the moody explorers.
The woods around Ode to a Moon’s rural town are painted in such a dazzling kaleidoscope of otherworldly colour that the game’s Lovecraftian apocalypse pulses with sublime beauty. And Dread Delusion’s imposing fortress holds mysteries that stick with you long after the audio-visual novelty factor has worn off.
In fact, judging each game on their respective individual merits might be missing the point altogether, because the overall impact of Haunted PS1 Demo Disc benefits immensely from its variety. It’s a poignant reminder of what our industry of sprawling open worlds and 4K visuals has been missing.
It’s a wondrous artefact from a neighbouring universe where games got stuck in 1999 and Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all went out of business, leaving only a few creaky PlayStations and some seriously eccentric developers to cater for these dying consoles. They probably live in lighthouses, too.
Play Haunted PS1 Demo Disc free, right here.
What if, instead of Resident
Evil 8, we were eagerly anticipating the next Dead Heat instalment? What if the industry had been transformed a decade ago, not by Dark Souls but by Dread Delusion? The collection’s most fascinating aspect is the way it compels you to visualise a radically transformed gaming landscape.
Uneven, like all anthologies, but overall an essential experience for anyone interested in the medium.
Format: PC (tested)
Release: Out now