Forget Dark Souls and Resident Evil: Enemy Zero is the most terrifyingly difficult horror game you will ever play.
Let’s be real for a second: Enemy Zero is a slow, plodding adventure game that moves at a glacial pace, its story is clichéd, its puzzles rarely make much sense and are arduous to solve, and its cast of 3D puppets are terribly written and performed. Its action sequences are unforgiving, requiring absolutely perfect timing on the player’s behalf while also limiting the player’s ability to both save and load, making it quite possibly one of the most difficult games ever made.
And yet, somehow, I kind of love it.
But let’s back up a bit: Enemy Zero is an FMV-FPS horror title set on a sci-fi spaceship, where a horde of invisible alien monsters has gotten loose and is killing off the crew. Your task as the ship’s co-pilot Laura Lewis is to rescue as many of your comrades as possible and make it off the ship in one piece. Half of the game takes place in interactive FMV sequences, where you can collect clues, talk to other survivors, and solve puzzles. Though the other survivors’ acting is mostly terrible, Laura herself gets to emote quite a bit despite staying mute, and some of the plot twists can be real gut-punches, even if you can see them coming a mile away.
The other, more infamous half of Enemy Zero consists of first-person maze sequences inside the ship’s corridors. Since the enemies are invisible, you have to depend on a sound-based radar to spot them, and if you let one of them get close enough they will kill you instantly. Thankfully you have a gun to defend yourself, but it only works at close range, and must be manually charged for every shot. This means you have to use the radar to figure out the enemy’s location, charge the gun, and wait for the enemy to get in-range before firing, making Enemy Zero‘s combat encounters incredibly tense – and also extremely difficult. Worse yet, you can only save and load the game a finite number of times, meaning that every shot counts and every death will cost you valuable resources.
Some will undoubtedly consider Enemy Zero‘s punishing combat and unforgiving save system as legitimately bad design, and they’re not exactly wrong. But you have to remember that those are deliberate design choices, and it’s thanks to its difficulty that Enemy Zero can stay tense right up to the end: The game establishes early on that even its “safe spaces” aren’t always safe. Its unconventional design allows Enemy Zero to stand in stark contrast to modern horror games, which are hardly as intimidating by comparison: In Enemy Zero, there’s a very real possibility the game won’t let you finish at all. When the credits rolled after about six hours, I could finally let out a sigh of relief, but at the same time I already started to miss it.
If horror games are a prime example of games that aren’t conventionally “fun”, then I cannot think of a truer distillation of that idea than Enemy Zero. If you think modern horror games are too sanitized by user-friendly design and want a true challenge, then this game was made for you.
Developed by: WARP
Published by: Sega
Platforms: Sega Saturn (tested), PC
Release date: December 1997
ELSPA rating: 15+