The horror genre was once a powerhouse in the gaming world. From games such as “Resident Evil” to “Silent Hill”, horror games filled players with a sense of fear that other games failed to do. Somewhere along the way, the genre just started to feel stale. Survival Horror adopted an action oriented style and jump scares were more common than ever. While there has been some sort of revival in the genre due to Twitch streaming and Let’s Plays, there are a few ways that can make the genre better than ever. Horror is a genre full of possibilities when it comes to scaring its audience. Let’s take a look at how developers can strengthen the horror games in the future.
This is quite possibly the most important aspect of horror. Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere! Many horror games take place in the same type of settings. Mansions, forests, schools, villages, and hospitals are cliché locations. “Dead Space” and “Alien: Isolation” are two games that brought some good diversity involving settings (though they are both in space). One of the reasons both of these games stood out from the pack rested entirely on the perspective of the games. “Dead Space” was an over the shoulder horror game and “Alien: Isolation” was a first person horror game. “Dead Space” is one of the best horror experiences in the last 10 years. With an impressive 86% on metacritic,”Dead Space” did so many things right. From the action to the constant sense of dread, “Dead Space” strived to terrify the player.
Most of the horror came from the atmosphere of being on the Ishimura. Each corridor felt like an entity in itself. Flashing lights, the necromorph sounds echoing through vents and sudden shadow effects kept players on edge. Most of the scares I’ve experienced over the past few years of playing horror games came from the “Dead Space” series. If horror games want to bring fear back for gamers, developers are going to need to try something different. We need to be brought to a location that has never seen before. Unpredictability is a horror game’s best friend and when the scares are effective, the game benefits.
Sympathize With Characters
One problem that horror games seem to have is that the characters aren’t likeable. Sure, Isaac in “Dead Space” kept the game engaging while Claire and Leon made the earlier “Resident Evil” games absolutely memorable. While certain horror genre is fun, these games can’t get by on gameplay alone. We need a reason to want to continue on an adventure with characters. There has to be a motive and not simple “examine this room”, “solve a puzzle” and “defeat enemies” objectives that are so dominant in the genre. Supermassive Games released the absolutely brilliant “Until Dawn” during the summer and it became the game that I think sets the bar for future horror titles that are released. Everything about that game was just phenomenal. Between the stereotypical characters (some likeable and others detestable), a serious threat, scares that catered to an individual player’s fear and some utterly shocking moments, “Until Dawn” amazed me from the first scene until the credits. What worked so well was that the game utilized multiple locations that brought unique scares. It always felt fresh even after multiple playthroughs.
Most horror games follow the same format. Survival Horror usually involves slow burns, walking down corridors and hoping to kill enemies while maintaining ammo. Titles like “Outlast” and “Amnesia” feature players running from a known (and sometimes unknown) entity while your character is defenseless. Plenty of horror games on the market may have a different palette, but the experiences provided are similar. Games like “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and “Until Dawn” both use horror in methods that differentiate themselves from other horror titles. You’re technically defenseless in “Five Nights at Freddy’s”, but the unique aspect about those games is the fact that players must always be on guard. That doesn’t just mean the room you are in. The games in that series require players to oversee multiple rooms while manipulating doors, sounds and lights. One false move and it’s game over. There is a sense of dread to these games that will make players sweat.
“Until Dawn” uses quick time events, but as I mentioned earlier, the use of a player’s own personal fear and an ever changing game makes “Until Dawn” an unforgettable experience. Additionally games such as “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” adopt the survival horror aspect, but terrorize players with “Sanity Effects” that keeps you guessing whether or not something is real. From rooms filled with ammo (that doesn’t exist) to enemies that randomly attack you, “Eternal Darkness” constantly messes around with players. Imagine a hallway that keeps getting longer and longer while something is chasing you. Well, that event actually happens in the game and it made me restless. What about a photorealistic bug that crawls across your screen. “Eternal Darkness” does that to0 and for someone like me with a bug phobia, that was a big scare. I don’t mind developers utilizing the same formula that other games have used in that past, I just ask for some unique moments and not just a generic copy.
Fun With Friends
When people think of the horror genre, a solo journey is usually the mind set that most people have. While that’s mostly true, multiplayer can really escalate the horror in certain titles. I constantly think of “Left 4 Dead” when it comes to a multiplayer horror experience. Though it was action heavy, the game required strategy and coordination. Players couldn’t really venture out on their own. When a witch or a tank would make an appearance, the fear was real. Having to take down a horde alone was no easy feat and when teammates met their untimely deaths, there was even more pressure to succeed. Panic would take over the player (at least that happened when I played with friends) and our mission usually ended in failure.
I feel like horror games seem to be solo experiences because the assumption is that playing with a group will somehow diminish the fear. That shouldn’t be the case. By watching horror movies, a lot of characters have been in groups together when a killer struck. Fear isn’t decreased, on the contrary, fear is heightened because there are more people to look out for.
Horror still has the opportunity to be the genre it was destined to be. I mentioned in my Survival Horror article that the genre has been stumbling, but there is still time to make it thrive. Developers can still make horror feel fresh, they just need to try something new. Are you a fan of the horror genre? What ideas do you have to rejuvenate the genre? Leave a comment below and be sure to follow Xbox Enthusiast on Twitter and Facebook.