I’ll level with you: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror films, but I absolutely love horror video games. It is a genre that I feel most people overlook. Naturally, some people don’t enjoy being scared, and thus would be disinterested from the genre. Others however might not be willing to pay the 60 dollar price tag to be scared (as noted by Cliff Bleszinski), or feel that they won’t be sufficiently scared, and thus a horror game is not worth buying. What happened to the best selling Silent Hill games? What about Eternal Darkness released on the Gamecube? Or how about the original Resident Evil? Have horror games lost their way? My answer to this question would be yes.
The current market of “horror” and “survival horror” games is relatively slim compared to the FPS or RPG market. I’ll list off some recent popular releases: Dead Space 3, ZombiU, and Resident Evil 6. All of these games were listed upon release as either horror or survival horror. Now when I put horror and survival horror in quotations above, I did this purely because I am not able to consider these games as true horror games. While yes, they all have horror elements to them, you the player never get that true feeling of terror instilled in you. For instance in Dead Space 2 and 3, the game focuses more on the combat as opposed to horror elements. The developer gives you a plethora of guns, and allows you to mix and match how you kill the enemy necromorphs. By doing this, the developer prepares you for anything you might come across, and in doing so takes more than half of the fright and fear out of any given situation.
One response to my example might be that the original Dead Space was the same in terms of giving you tools you needed to kill the necromorphs. The difference however is while the developer, Visceral Games, prepared you with equipment, they didn’t prepare you for when the events would occur. In both Dead Space 2 and 3 you could pretty much count on any open area or room, or moment that included your friends yelling that “they’re coming your way!” , to contain enemies and action. Other places however such as connecting hallways, elevators, or tram rides, were relatively safe. Both Dead Space 2 and 3 kept to that formula. In the original Dead Space however, there was no such thing as a safe place. You were constantly on your feet, not knowing when the enemy would strike. Elevators? Death capsules. Narrow hallways? Choke points. Literally, they were choke points. There were rarely ways of guessing when something was coming at you, and that in turn created a level of fear because you were rarely prepared for the oncoming hordes. This brings me back to the point about preparedness, and games that recently have done this correctly.
One game in recent memory that truly did horror right was Amnesia, and I have yet to find anyone who can argue the opposite. It sticks out because of its implementation in the genre. The game gives you no way to fight back against an enemy, and almost makes you feel completely helpless to control anything in a given situation. For instance in any other game, if you hear a sound you may or may not be tempted to find out what said noise was. It’s up to you whether or not to investigate. In amnesia however, you might hear a noise, and the camera will forcibly turn your character around towards the source of the noise regardless of what you want to do. This lack of control, along with a lack of combat or weaponry does not allow for any form of preparedness in any form other than keeping your light sources oil level at a constant place. You truly feel helpless and ill prepared against the forces that be, a feeling that other horror games have seemed to throw to the wayside. Begotten from the times of the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill 2, games that truly made you feel alone, helpless, and scared.
The final question: can we fix this problem, and do we have hope? The answer is also yes. The Big developers are slowly regaining consciousness to what made the original horror games so great as they watch these independent developers have such success in the genre. For instance, we have games coming out this year such as a sequel to Amnesia, a new game called Among The Sleep, and a new AAA title called Outlast, which will provide a survival horror experience with elements of parkour. All of these games, from what’s been shown, have the main characters being ill equipped to face their attackers and are just as scared as you are at any given situation based on the fact that they are not prepared. I’m unbelievably excited at their potential. Here’s hoping that 2013 brings some of the best horror to date, and that I’m as poorly prepared for every spine-tingling moment as my in-game character.