Review: Scream 4 (iOS)

Here at Arcadian Rhythms we receive literally tens of emails every decade (predicted), and if there’s a theme that comes up time and time again it’s people asking us whether we are gay and telling us to “learn 2 internet”. We’re trying our best on both fronts, I assure you. However, there’s another strain of emails, asking – nae, begging – for me to write more long, boring and pointless articles that aren’t really about games.

“Dylan,” they say, “I have grown tired of interesting opinions and criticism. I am literally gagging for an unnecessary rambling article that’s sort of about some stuff but not really about anything. By the way, what happened to that review of the Scream 4 iOS game you mentioned in your Saw II article?”

Don’t you worry, dear reader. The message is received loud and clear. I teased that Scream 4 review almost a year ago (I’m writing this on an internet-less laptop so I can’t check how long ago it was. Probably a year or so though), and the incredible roar of response to my coquettish tease has finally worn me down. If the public demand it, I must deliver.

This time one year ago (I don’t need internet access to check this particular stat; I am capable of using my mental arithmetic skills to accurately compare the 30th of October 2012 to the 30th of October 2011) I was annoyed with myself. I desperately wanted to share my love of the horror movie genre with the Arcadian Rhythms readership and it seemed like a good opportunity to start a new tradition for our fledging blog: an annual Halloween special that combined my love of games with my love of scary movies. However, I was dry. I had nothing to write. Time marched on, and the opportunity was lost.

About two weeks ago I started to think about Halloween again. Naturally, my first thoughts were about the special deals on DVDs I could pick up online (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Children, Orphan and Fritt Vilt 1 & 2 are all available for < £5 for smart shoppers and make up the highlights of my haul). My second thoughts were about what film to watch on Halloween night. If I still had a VHS player, I’d go for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers because it’s about time I gave that film some more love, but as I’m stuck with my DVD collection this year I’m planning to go a bit out of the way and watch Babysitter Wanted for its creative use of the Catholic protagonist and the sheer inventive strangeness of it all.

Once these thoughts had run their course, my mind turned to my failure to start the Halloween AR tradition last year. I consider it my unofficial responsibility to represent the horror movie massive on this site, and missing out on the witching night still stings me. I set to work trying to create the inaugural 2012 Halloween Special.

First I started working on an article about how to prank your friends by recreating classic scares from the videogame world. Unfortunately, a dog jumped through a window in Resident Evil and that’s about the only universally-recognised individual moment of terror from all of gaming history. That article’s head was found in the fridge before a single word was written.

Next I turned my attention to Stephen King’s foray into the video gaming world circa the year 2000 with F13. If the tagline ‘Ctrl, Alt… Shiver’ hadn’t already turned me off slightly, the wikipedia entry put the final nail in the coffin with the fear-destroying precis “The title is a reference to the non-existent function key on standard PC keyboards, despite the fact that a F13 key exists on Macintosh keyboards in the form of a screen capture button.” Not only is it boring, but technically speaking it’s not strictly accurate. Imagine a penis becoming limp. This is a metaphor for the possibility that I could ever find F13 scary after reading such shocking information. Apparently it’s a minigame collection which comes bundled with ‘Screamsavers’, ‘Bump and Thump’ sound effects, and ‘Deathtop backgrounds’. I couldn’t put myself through the disappointment.

Other ideas came and went, none of which bear recapping. At this point, Halloween approached ever nearer. Not a word had been written. In desperation I read back over old horror-themed articles I’d written for AR, and there I saw that Saw II article in which a younger version of myself promised a review of the Scream 4 iOS game. It was a lead. At this point I was looking for any possibility, so I took it.

Admittedly a Scream 4 article is not especially topical. The film came, the film went. It didn’t set the world on fire, and neither did the over-priced ‘game’/marketing app that accompanied it. Yet my love and respect for the film pushed me through to that £1.50 download.

Yeah, that’s right. I loved Scream 4, divisive yet ultimately negative reviews be damned. I thought it was the best of the sequels and, if given a willing audience, I could talk at length about its smarts, its depth and its relevance. I like Scream 2 of course, for all its flaws, and to the best of my knowledge there’s no such depressing fucking travesty as Scream 3, so I don’t know why you even brought it up. But Scream 4 is great, and the first and only true successor to the original classic.

No part of me imagined that the iOS game would capture any of that brilliance and, frankly, it doesn’t. It’s a cynical product, a simple and pedestrian exercise in mind-numbing repetition seemingly aimed predominantly at the armchair psychopath – the app store description lists “You get to play as the killer” twice in its list of key features. You play as Ghostface (back in my day the Scream fanbase used to refer to him as ‘Father Death’, but that name has apparently been lost to an age since passed) as he pointlessly slashes his way through a number of classic slasher movie scenarios, very few of which have appeared in any entries of the Scream franchise.

In each level Ghostface has to off a number of teen archetypes as quickly as possible. These teens pose no threat to the player; they are just there to be killed off with context-sensitive swipes. If any of them see him (which they will because the control system is the only thing about the game which is truly horrific), cops will randomly spawn into the level who are capable of shooting the player. Assuming the player approaches the cop in question and stands still, waiting to be shot.

Some care has been put into fitting the game into the film’s ‘postmodern awareness’ mold, with extra points given to the player for recreating different types of scene (‘Condomed’ is awarded for killing the Slut while the Cheerleader and Jock are still alive, ‘Munchies’ is awarded if the Stoner outlives the other archetypes). This might have been a more interesting mechanic if these were mandatory requirements, but as optional points bags there is little motivation to chase them.

At its barely beating heart Scream 4 is a stealth game, but with one finger on the screen at any given point the lack of depth reduces it to much less than it could have been. Stealth is a game genre which requires finesse and immediacy to be engaging, I’m not convinced that any touchscreen game could do the genre justice, let alone one pushed out the door in time to advertise a movie.

It is what it appears to be: banal and not worth playing. If we’re all honest with each other it wasn’t really worth writing about either, which is why it got four paragraphs out of sixteen. But I got the AR Halloween tradition started, so I’m happy with that at least. Stay safe kids – see you next year.