Horror is a tricky topic to talk about. What is classed as ‘scary’ differs between different people, for example I’m terrified of spiders (even the tiniest ones) but I love snakes and reptiles, whereas one of my friends is petrified of snakes. You can say I’m somewhat of a horror fangirl, ever since my dad sat me down in front of the tv and had me help him through Resident Evil. I think it was the puzzles, the thought of one decision meaning life and death and, of course, the zombies that set me in love with the genre. So it’s with a heavy heart that I ask: are the latest horror games really horror? Are they scary? Remember, this article is just my opinion – it doesn’t reflect the opinion of VGU as a whole.
So let’s have a look at some of the recent “horror” games, shall we? The main 2 I was really looking forward to were Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and Resident Evil 6. Both had a great concept and a well established base in horror, the original games actually gave me nightmares about a zombie outbreak. But I think it lost its ability to scare when you realised it’s more of an action-shooter. Seriously, you’re armed to the teeth with grenades and guns galore and the zombies become incredibly predictable: you know if you turn a corner there’s going to be something attack you, so you’re ready. It became frustrating when the Hunters were involved and you realised the AI were exactly that – stupid AI. They seemed to perform the most idiotic of actions, which might be true of people in a real apocalypse but you think for AI they would be a little more… intelligent. I thought it would redeem itself with the introduction of Nemesis, who was quite the terrifying character back in his day. He would relentlessly pursue you, whether you doused him in acid or set him on fire, and would always come back with the audio accompaniment of “STARSSSSSS”. Instead you have to help him here by fixing him, and until then he’s just another mindless killing creature. You have to fight zombies and deal enough damage to get him down, which just doesn’t make him seem as badass as he used to be.
I must admit, it’s pretty brave only using a knife Vector…
Resident Evil 6 was just as bad. It seems to miss a huge chunk of what made the old Resident Evil games scarier, and that is action horror. Instead we get ‘shooter-horrors’, where ammo and weapons are thrown at you through waves of predictable and annoying enemies, usually zombies or some offshoot of them. They still have the creepy lighting and the sound effects designed to scare you out of your boots, and Capcom games have always done the build up pretty well. There’s nothing scarier than being led to believe something is coming, with creaking and footsteps around you, flickering lights and the increasing heartbeat of your character, and then having it go deadly silent and nothing happening. One area I think it goes wrong in is adding quick-time events. The point of a horror is that you’re meant to be drawn into the world, expecting another creature to come through that window or through the grate. If you’re that immersed in a story, adding a sudden quick-time event will not only break that immersion but will generally result in the player’s death. It makes it a lot harder to get back into the game, making whatever comes after it a little pointless.
A game that has done it well and continues to receive good reviews is Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Scary isn’t the word for it. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with a friend and watching them play through it, laughing at their every scream and each time they ran out of the room refusing to continue. With no cut-scenes it means that whatever happens will happen to you, in real time. Creatures can lurk around every corner and, without being armed to the teeth like other games, it’s up to your wits to survive. Slender was also like this. While it isn’t a huge release, it’s one of the only games to really scare me in a while, and all it involves is collecting 8 pages in a forest. At night. With only a flashlight. While being stalked by the creepy creature of legend, Slenderman. Sounds pretty simple, right? Knowing what is coming doesn’t really help with this game, in fact it actually seems to make it worse – as soon as you pick the paper up, you know Slender will appear next to you and you’ll have to run your little butt off in any direction other than his. The worst bit is that all he does is comes closer to you and the screen fuzzes up before you die. I think it’s partially this disarmament that helps make a horror scary, which is where the latest two Resident Evil games went a little wrong.
Who thought a guy in a suit with no face could be scary? Honestly?
Even the Silent Hill series is suffering a bit lately. The recent release Silent Hill: Book of Memories plays more like a hack and slash RPG with hints of the Silent Hill world thrown in for identity. There’s nothing to really scare you as you’re armed with an infinite flash light and weapons are thrown about the area. The best part is that the weapons break over time, so that adds more of a survival element to it, but you can generally find a new one pretty quick. It’s less survival and more ‘get to the weapon!’ While I haven’t played Silent Hill: Downpour the reviews have said that it recaptures the “classic Silent Hill style”, so I’m definitely going to give it a chance before casting an opinion.
It just seems that horror games are a dying breed recently. While I’m not slating any of the games above (just because they aren’t scary doesn’t mean that they aren’t good games!) I’m beginning to miss the days of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis or even Doom 3. These games gave you something to be afraid of: Nemesis used to be a hulking behemoth that would relentlessly pursue you and nothing you did would kill him (granted this was scripted but it was still pretty terrifying at the time!) and Doom threw demons and creatures at you like there was no tomorrow – pretty terrifying when you’re younger. Games like Dead Space have kept aspects of the genre alive, with nerve-wrecking audio and terrifying gameplay that leaves you wondering what goes on in the mind of certain designers, but overall horror games seem to be turning into action-shooters with zombies thrown in the mix.
That was a little dig at the zombie games out there and Call of Duty. The market has become saturated with that many zombie games that they just don’t seem to be scary anymore. Take Left for Dead as an example. While it’s a game I enjoy, the zombies aren’t scary. They charge at you like possessed people who you blow away with an army of guns, and the mutated creatures like Tanks are just another obstacle in the way. The Walking Dead and Day Z, while they may be good games, are just zombies and personally I can’t take them seriously anymore. Give me a Xenomorph any day. The human campaign of Aliens Vs Predator scared me more than most of the games I’ve mentioned here, just because we know the Xenomorphs prefer darkness to make them effective killing machines, and you’re in a lovely dark settlement with a tiny flashlight and quite limited ammo. The anticipation of checking each vent, each tiny hole for an acid-bleeding monster was more scary than an army of zombies.
If I were this guy, I’d use a bigger gun
Perhaps it’s just me that thinks this. I have played horror games for a long time, so you could argue that I’ve just been desensitised to horror, but desensitised or not if you show me a game that is actually scary I will still probably get scared. Because that’s what horror is meant to do – horror is meant to take your worst fears, throw them in your face and say ‘face up to it’. Whether this be the flesh eating undead, giant mutated creatures or something as simple as a tall guy in a suit, a horror should make your skin crawl and your pulse jump. I just haven’t been feeling it with any of these recent games.
Do you think the latest horror games are actually scary? There will probably be a different opinion for each person, so leave us a comment below. I love a good conversation about horror games (maybe you’ll even get to hear my zombie plan) and my opinion probably won’t agree with everyone.