Guest Post: Spooky Games To Learn From

Image by JBLivin

Image by JBLivin

This week the awesome Hatm0nster of My Two Caps and one of the admins over at United We Game has written an extra spooky post for all you CTVG readers to celebrate Halloween. This also concludes Simul-Tober, the month long post swapping between me, Hatm0nster and other fellow contributors Chip, Duck and Cynenway. Remember to check out their blogs for the rest of the posts in the series and many other awesome gaming articles for you to peruse. I hope you guys enjoyed our horror themed blog swaps and remember to check back later on in week for the post I wrote for UWG. Happy Halloween everyone!  

Awkward camera angles, jump scares, deformed creatures, and good old-fashioned explosions. There are so many things a survival horror game can throw at its players in to order to deliver the thrills we’ve come to expect from the genre. Indeed most horror games are very capable of delivering thrills, but not always the right ones. A true horror game’s goal isn’t just to excite and wow its players; it wants to scare them, to fill those poor unfortunate souls who dared to play it with an almost unbearable sense of dread as they wander its dark passages and fend off its twisted denizens.

Halloween for all intents and purposes is a celebration of everything that causes us to shake with fright. So why not take a moment to venture a glimpse behind the curtain at the dark secrets of those games that inspire that true, spine-tingling terror that we love so much about the survival-horror genre. It is these games that the future generation of horror needs to learn from if they’re going to keep those horribly-awesome scares coming!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

This teaser actually gets the idea of Amnesia across pretty well. You’re a man; just a normal, frightened little man, who quite literally finds himself right in the middle of a haunted castle. As he makes his way through the empty, yawning halls, it becomes more and more apparent that unspeakable things have taken place within the castle’s dark and imposing spaces. More than that, the castle itself has taken on the bloodthirsty aura of those who performed those horrid acts; its vile nature having spawned infernal aberrations to stalk the now-vacant halls. These are creatures that our “hero” cannot hope to resist, and so must cower in the darkness in the hopes of escaping their gaze.

Atmosphere and lack of power are the strengths of Amnesia. The castle is dimly lit, filled with hints of detestable acts and signs of encroaching madness, and is populated by unsympathetic fiends that the player has no choice but to fear.  The story is good and adds to the horror of it all, but it’s the utter lack of control in a foreign space that inspires the terror the title has become so famous for. It may be a simple idea, but so far only one game has managed to get it right; let’s hope others follow it’s example more closely than the sequel did.

Dark Souls

“I remember the first time I died.” Is a quite fitting tagline for this trailer (which, if one looks closely, is comprised almost entirely of player-death scenes). It’s a statement that likely rings true for many a player of this purposefully difficult game. Dark Souls manages something that very few, if any, horror games can claim. It allows the player to have what would normally be considered a very powerful character. A character that follows the normal growth arc of the action RPG until, under normal, gaming circumstances, they would be an unstoppable juggernaut. It then proceeds to mercilessly destroy that character again, and again…and again. Even though there is an immense amount of power available to the player, death is always around the next corner.

It’s likely not the scariest game in the traditional sense, but from a gameplay perspective, there are few games that manage to keep the tension a very present and real part of the game even after one’s character has reached their peak. Hopefully someday a game will be able to maintain this kind of gaming tension without making it almost punishingly difficult. Until then, best do as the tagline says and “Prepare to Die”…a lot.

Silent Hill

Silent Hill is a fixture of the horror genre. It and especially its sequel, Silent Hill 2,demonstrated a mastery of horror in the gaming medium that even the series itself hasn’t quite been able to live up to since. And though Silent Hill 2 would eventually perfect the now trademark series formula it is the original that deserves special consideration. Silent Hill was produced at a time when video game visuals, while vastly more expressive than they had been, were still not very effective tools for building atmosphere. So, in addition to its macabre plot and population ghastly, static-generating monsters, its designers decided to use the Playstation’s weaknesses and use them to the game’s advantage.

Since graphics could only go so far, instead of going the Super Mario 64 route and trying to build a fully 3D world, the game was instead developed with a mix of 3D environments and pre-rendered scenes, both of which were handled in a way that made sure the player’s field of vision was limited. The low draw distance in the 3 dimensional town streets gave the town its iconic and otherworldly fog (which was usually hiding monsters) while the fixed, indoor angles ensured players would be easily caught unawares by stray monsters. Combine that with a deliberately slow and awkward combat system to emphasize the character’s lack of combat experience and reinforce the idea that they’re just a regular person just trying to stay alive, and we have a chilling game where the tension is hard-wired into the gameplay itself rather than reliant on the story.

In this age of cinematic visual quality, we would do well to remember that a horror game doesn’t (and honestly shouldn’t) rely on said visuals to deliver an intense experience. Not when there is ample opportunity to use good gameplay design to achieve the same effect.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Featuring Lovecraftian –horrors, claustrophobic spaces, paranoia, madness, and even some 4th wall breaking surprises, Eternal Darkness was truly one of a kind. A game that truly lived up to its title, Eternal Darkness constantly kept its players questioning which things that happened in the game and which were not. It threw curveball after cureveball; villains would turn out to be heroes, other heroes would die, and those that lived would be reduced to blabbering madmen. Even when removed from the stories contained in the “Tome of Eternal Darkness”, players would encounter ghosts, find themselves in upside-down rooms and indeed find the so-called real world descending into the very same madness witnessed in the book.

The game is scary because it operates on the principle of madness. The plot revolves around the return of unfathomable evil, no one in the game is safe, and the world works according to its own rules. In short, the game is unpredictable. And it is by being unpredictable, that it keeps its players on edge. Since there are no established safe zones and we know that anything could happen at any time, playing the game becomes a truly tense and even frightening prospect.

It doesn’t take long for a gamer to recognize the formulas and patterns in plots and level-design. It would truly be a breath of fresh air (albeit a likely horrifying one) for a future horror game to throw out all the establishments of games and try instead to keep us on our toes rather than letting us get comfortable.

There are many more successful horror games out there besides these, but these are the paragons. They’re the ones that, by one means or another, sear the experience into the player’s memory rather than give them a short-lived thrill. If future horror games take away anything from these paragons of horror, we may just be in store for a new golden age of horror gaming!

What was your experience with these games? What horror games would you want future entries in the genre to take inspiration from?

Happy Halloween all!


One response to “Guest Post: Spooky Games To Learn From

  1. Yeah, I agree. I think this is a pretty good start at the definitive core of horror gaming. I especially like how you touched Dark Souls since its atmosphere and gameplay do lend it to be pretty damn terrifying in its own right.

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