Halloween is finally upon us and you know what that means! Sweatshirt weather, pumpkin spice everything and spooky video games. The Horror Genre has been one of the most important genres of the games industry as a whole. Gamers have been scared out of their pants by games like Resident Evil, Until Dawn, Silent Hill, Dead Space and everything in between.
Horror games have been around longer than most gamers know. Starting all the way back on the NES, SNES and MS DOS, games like Castlevania, Maniac Mansion and Clock Tower tried to create a scary feeling for their games even with the console limitations of their times. Simon’s Quest, as most gamers know, had a message pop up while playing that notified the player of the day turning to night. “What a horrible night for a curse” the prompt read, as the sun went down and terrifying spiders and skeletons came out.
While most don’t consider these games to be “scary”, almost everyone can agree that the horror genre really took off when 3D rolled around. Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and Alone in The Dark all terrified gamers during the mid to late 90’s. While the boom for horror games started strong, it quickly petered out. There were still hidden gems like Fatal Frame or Eternal Darkness but the industry was moving away from horror due to dwindling sales.
Enter the Indies. Titles like Amnesia, Slender and, yes, even Five Night’s At Freddy’s took center stage as a rise in popularity quickly spiked. The Triple-A studios took quick note of this and we’ve recently gotten games like The Evil Within, Alien: Isolation, Until Dawn and P.T. (RIP). What makes all of these games great is the real human emotion of fear.
Fear is one of the most potent emotions we have as human beings. Your heart goes out of control and your “Fight Or Flight” instincts kick in. When it comes to entertainment, Films have been doing it for decades. Movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho or John Carpenter’s Halloween struck fear into the hearts of millions. While frightening movies or TV shows can give audiences a thrill, Horror games add an extra spooky layer of immersion that can’t be matched.
For example, in your typical horror movie, there will always be a scene where the main character has to descend into a menacing area as the audience collectively screams “Don’t go in there!” Since you have no control of the situation, there is less stress about the outcome of the scene. The fear is inevitable due to the direction of the film. In a video game it’s a bit more hands-on. Take Dead Space, for example. You see a long, dark corridor barely lit by the sparks of a destroyed elevator door. You’re given a task you yourself have to complete. You have to defend yourself from whatever lurks down that hallway and the scenario is different depending on how you played the game up to that point.
In a movie, the scene is laid out the same and will always be the same (obviously) but in a game it can change dramatically. Going back to Dead Space, you can arrive at that very same corridor with a ton of ammo, ready for any battle that awaits you or you could have three shots left in your pistol with low health. The scenario can change every time you play which can make it exponentially more scarier and create a terrifying atmosphere.
Atmosphere is the most important aspect of any good horror game. Sure you can have creepy monsters or jump scares galore but if the atmosphere isn’t on point, the game will suffer. Games like Silent Hill 2 and Alan Wake nail their atmosphere, creating a pants-wetting experience. A dark and dreary environment in combination with excellent sound design, score and presentation can culminate in atmosphere drenched in dread and fear which is the first step in making a good horror game.
The Horror Genre has had it’s ups and downs over the years but it’s one of the strongest out there. Where as most other genres like Shooters have been over saturated, horror games trickle in every so often making the announcement of one more exciting than predictable. It’s also one of the most versatile genres out there. Where shooters or platformers have you doing one thing, shooting or platforming respectively, horror games can have you all over the place. You could be shooting in games like F.E.A.R, using melee weapons and C.S.I tactics in games like Condemned or taking pictures of ghosts like in Fatal Frame.
Some of my favorite horror games aren’t the ones you may expect. The previously mentioned Condemned series are great games that have sophisticated A.I that keep you on your toes while treading through broken down crack houses and abandoned cabins. ZombiU, one of the best Wii U titles to date, has stupendous atmosphere and the use of the Wii U GamePad is one of the most potent and real horror experiences you’ll ever have with a game. The original Bioshock was one of the most immersive yet terrifying experiences I’ve had with a game to this day. Even Luigi’s Mansion, while not your traditional horror game, had superb atmosphere and sound design that created an isolating feeling that gave me the creeps despite the Mario charm.
So this Halloween, pop in your favorite horror game and give yourself a scare in the spirit of the holiday. Let us know which games gives you the creeps @RestartReplay and have yourselves a Happy Halloween!
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