Monday, August 16, 2010

Editorial : Adventure Horror Games?

When you think horror games, you usually think of games like F.E.A.R. or Doom, right? If so, you're probably familiar with traversing unusually dark and claustrophobic corridors peering out the sight of your scope. Perhaps you just enjoy the survival side of things, like having to preserve your holy water so you don't get overrun by zombies. Or maybe you fancy those spontaneous frights or just enjoy fighting off scary beasts. For me, none of that stuff gets the job done.

The scariest games I've ever played are often the ones that are the most low-tech and made by companies far from the reach of the spotlight. It's a shame, really. It should be the other way around. Unfortunately, our fetish with pretty graphics and insane action normally gets in the way. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not saying that those games aren't enjoyable, because they can be, but I have strict standards for what makes a good horror game. To me, the less you can interact with the horror, the better the scares will be. For this reason, adventure games usually make the best horror games. Here's a list of, what I think, are the most important features/qualities of an adventure horror game that make it a good one. Be sure to leave a comment below telling me why I'm wrong or right, but preferably the latter.

An ominous hallway in Penumbra: the Black Plague.

1. No Weapons or Self-Defense
Out of the many things that provide comfort to a nervous and scared player, a weapon to fend off the enemy that is causing their fright provides some margin of relief. For this reason alone, weapons ruin horror games: it is a proven opinion that I stand by to this day. When you are defenseless to something you are undeniably more afraid of it.

2. Fewer Hostile Encounters
The less familiar you are with an enemy, the more scared of it you will be. It's human nature to be afraid of the unknown. It's far more probable you'll know less about how an enemy looks or acts the less encounters you have with it, therefore making the antagonist as scary as you can imagine it. Also, I seem to find that the less enemies that are in the game, the more effective they are at posing as realistic threats. It's scarier to go up against one unknown demon rather than forty headless zombies that you know how to deal with.

3. More Detailed Environments
I find that the best environments can make a scary game even scarier. When something is so detailed that it feels realistic, it really helps further the cause of immersion. Some of the best environments I've seen are in 2D panoramic games such as Scratches or Darkness Within. The photo-realistic qualities of their environments make you feel as if you're in the same position as the main character; helping the game share the character's experiences as well as their frights.

The house in Scratches.
A surreal room in Darkness Within.

4. A Convincing Storyline
Once again, a convincing storyline plays a role in strengthening game immersion. I fondly remember the intricate storyline of Scratches and how it was able to entice and interest you with the history of the environment and characters. A good storyline or backdrop can sometimes be the most important, especially when you're dealing with horror games that have smaller environment sizes.

5. Solitude & Isolation
Being or feeling alone is one of the scariest elements that make up a good horror game. Just like having a lack weapons or confronting unknown enemies, solitude in horror games helps take away any feeling of comfort that the player could have. With nobody to run to for help, you alone are responsible for your survival. In my experiences, solitude in horror games makes the player feel edgy and nervous; helping to make the most of frightening situations and creating a lingering sensation of horror.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. When I bought my new gaming PC, the first game I picked up for it was Amnesia. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is one of the scariest games I have ever played. A large part of this fear derives from the fact that you aren't given weapons so your only defense is running or hiding. I think the last game to scare me this much was System Shock 2. Even though you had weapons in that game, you spent most of your time without ammo and even though you had a wrench, bludgeoning enemies was far from ideal.