7 comments on “Can Horror Games Maintain Fear?

  1. Great post. I do agree, that predictability can occasionally get in the way, however the spontaneity, alongside the violence, ambiance and threat of the unknown can maintain, with subtlety and in your face moments, a continued sense of terror, if used effectively, which I presume is the kicker.
    You mention Alien Isolation, which is probably the last survival horror game I played that effectively terrified me. When using the Kennect, the ability to choose whether or not the sounds of the room you were playing in would affect the narrative (so, as an example, a sneeze could inadvertently garner unwanted attention), efficaciously ensured complete immersion.
    Dead Space used sounds incredibly well, as did (it’s an ancient title now) Quake, however, the promise of raw firepower made even the most gruesome of monsters vulnerable, and when the player has such an overwhelming ability to survive, it kind of takes away from the moment.
    Condemned was another title I felt to be quite effective at producing fear, especially with the breakable weapons – at any moment, the object you wielded in desperation could snap in half and leave the protagonist utterly defenseless, while the continuous darkness, and unnerving lack of assurances to where the next villain would appear from, kept, me at least, on my toes. The sequel however, despite incorporating an additional supernatural element, seemed to drag out the plot through next to impossible situations, infrequent checkpoints, and limited health-packs.
    You yourself Sir touch upon this: players need an occasional reprieve from horror, which can aid in reflecting on the experience, while players ought to adjunctively be praised for their continued efforts with a chance to continue surviving. Without the chance to become healthy once more, or to have access to more than a few save stations, then the game will probably resemble the Evil Within; a collection of fantastic ideas, spoiled by repetition and overly difficult scenarios that prove less terrifying, and more annoying, and as soon as one starts feeling agitated by a game’s difficultly, the suspension of disbelief that kept players rooted in the narrative, is lost.

    • I think it all comes down to subjective opinions too. I’ve often expressed my admiration for games that shake up the genre the way Outlast did. Yet a friend of mine would rather play a game where ammunition isn’t just readily available, but plentiful too.

  2. For some indie horror fun, go download and play Spooky’s House of Jump Scares (free on Desura or Indie DB) and keep an eyeball on Skyhill, a roguelike horror game that’s in Greenlight on Steam. The former is a VERY deceptive looking trip into “WTF!” territory while the latter looks like it will be quite fun on a few fronts.

    I went back to the first Silent Hill game and yup, it still works as an effective freak-out experience. Also, Clock Tower STILL makes me jump into pants-pooping territory. That old PS1 game is so terrifying because it relies on 80’s horror flick cliches that work amazingly well. That music when Scissorman pops up always gets me wanting to run out of the room I’m playing the game in. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is another one that’s still scary as hell thanks to more realistic uses of terror on a psychological level. Well, there’s also that first chase sequence which is completely unfair even if you’re prepared for it…

    • I’ll have to check them out. Judging by your current and previous experiences, there is always something that can induce persperating faeces from every pore.

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  4. This is a pertinent question you explore. I feel that the issue transcends just video games and remains applicable to horror in a broader cultural context. The reliance on tautologous tropes and superfluous jumpscares is symptomatic of horror in other artistic mediums. However, I think you make a great point with regards to the Resident Evil series, where exquistely articulated horror concepts are wasted by a game that is fundamentally unbalanced with regards to a pedantic and impenetrable narrative. I think striking the right balance is key in video games because there are so many features for the developers to juggle. However, I think that well excuted horror games such as the original Dead Space and Outlast attest to horror games capacity to thoroughly scare its audience shitless. Thanks for this great post.

    • The steep decline of the Resi series has continued to vex me. I have such fond memories of this series that it’s difficult to see it reduced to such a piteous interpretation of “other” games. It should be leading the horror genre, not stumbling behind it’s newer compatriots.

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