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Dreamweaver avatar 2:28 AM on 02.11.2013  (server time)
Horror Story: How Co-op Games Can Be Scary

Videogames like Dead Space 2 and F.E.A.R. 2 are meant to be scary... In Dead Space you run around being chased by reanimated corpses that's been horribly mutated into terrifying creatures whilst, in F.E.A.R. 2, a creepy ass little ghost girl is so hent-bent on raping you that she'll fuck up the world just to get some... No, she is NOT hot, and no, that isn't the scary part.

Anyway, these two games built their success on their abilites to sell you on the scare factor, like the sudden jump scares that Alma impose on you throughout the game or the beautifully haunting moments like when the mother at the daycare is blown to bits after prompting her Necromorph baby to come to her. Both of these games worked because they created a spellbinding atmosphere that places you into their worlds all alone to fend for yourself. However, both of these games spawned a sequel that features co-op into their series, and that threatens the series' main attraction of trying to scare the pants of their players.

After all, how can you be scared when there's a buddy by your side? Well, read on for a couple of ways that, I think, can make co-op scary.

How I Believe Co-op Can Be Scary

Words of Wisdom right there

After hearing much praise about the indie game Slender, based off the "legend" of the Slender Man, I decided to head to the website and see what it's about. As the game downloads in the background, I recall hearing things about how it's such a scary game, about it plays the way a horror game SHOULD play like, that I couldn't resist shaking my leg in anticipation at giving it a go. Once did I finally open the file and start up the game did I find it to be a frightening treat; being chased by a faceless, humanoid figure in some creepy, dark woods with only a flashlight is such a thrilling experience that I couldn't help but get my friends into this.

And get into it they did; the game is addicting because not only does it does it scare you (because, as my girl Pinkie Pie puts it, "sometimes it's just really fun to be scared"), it goads you into trying to "beat" it by tasking you with the objective of trying to acquire 8 pages of notes before your inevitable capture by the hands of the Slender Man. So, even after my friends screamed or are left rendered breathless by the static "game-over" screen, they keep reloading the game and forcing themselves back into it at a shot of getting just one more page. Eventually, I had to kick them off my laptop after losing my patience waiting for my turn; at which point they would download it onto their own laptops to enjoy. I certainly didn't mind them wanting to play it on their own laptops, but I was a bit skeptical about them wanting to play Slender together at the same time, as if we were doing some kind of makeshift, or "ghetto," co-op.

I mean, playing Slender side-by-side is an odd request to hear... After all, this is a game that's meant to be scary; how scary would it be if we were both trying to play the game together? Nevertheless, after taunts about how one of us would last longer than the other (now that I think about it, were we still about about the game?) I decided to give in and play the game with my friend by my side. Now, for those of you uninformed about this game, this is a solo adventure through the woods; there is NO form of multiplayer whatsoever, not even a leaderboard. So, instead of playing with one another, we played alongside one another; we decided to enter the game at the same time and see who can get the most pages as well as who can outrun the Slender Man the longest.

Obligatory "you're gonna get raped!" comment

In addition to starting the game at the same time, we also turned off the lights and rotated our laptops away from each other, aligning them back-to-back like a game of Battleship, so that not only could we not see anything in the room, we also couldn't see what the other person was seeing. Despite not wanting to see each others' screens, we still kept the sound up and loud so that, when the Slender Man is in the vicinity for either of us, we could both freak out at the sound cues and wonder which one of us is he after; only when we see the strobing flash of a bright, white light do we know the answer to that, though it usually isn't long until the Slender Man gets his hands on the other.

Though we were laughing up a storm, we were both legitimately scared playing the game despite being in the same room with one another. That got me thinking: a lot of people like to blame co-op for ruining the scare factor in games, but why is that exactly? I mean, when we go to the theatre and see a horror movie, do we not still get scared even as we sit with hundreds of other people? See, I don't think that it's the co-op that makes the game less scary... I think it's the way the game is handled AFTER incorporating co-op, and as such, I can think of 3 ways to remedy that:

3 Ways to Make Co-op Scary
1 - Divide and Conquer!

To quote Lee from The Walkind Dead: The Game: "Where are your legs, man!?"

Yes, the game has co-op, I get that. What I don't get is why, in a horror game, are we always together? I know games like Dead Space 3 and F.3.A.R. have the option to play through the game solo, but when you play co-op, you're always within reach of your buddy. I mean, I understand that it's mostly due to technical limitations, but level designers could make it so that we're separated from each other, or at the very least not attached to the hip. I mean, I know that, in order to advance we're going to have to meet back up, but you know what they say:

"Absence makes the heart grows fonder."

Putting that into context, by having the game separate us, you can have players freak out through separation anxiety. Think about it: usually in these kinds of games, your co-op partner is not only a second pair of eyes, and a second pair of guns I might add, but also a medic; in Dead Space 3 and F.3.A.R. death is almost non-existent as you can be revived within a blink of an eye. By having the players part ways, we are now forced to survive on our own after being accustomed to having the other guy around: no one's going to cover you while you're reloading or pick you up when you're down. That gives a bit of fear in trying to make it back to your partner as soon as you can, especially if the game is stingy with health pick-ups, since you'll likely die on your own.

Speaking of "on your own," while F.3.A.R. was adecent game, the supernatural teammate idea was horribly underplayed... While this was before Dead Space 3 I think that they should've taken a page out of their book and make Fettel invisible to Point Man so that whoever plays as Point Man can't see his co-op buddy. That way, whenever Fettel executes someone in a bloody way, Point Man just sees it as kind of like a supernatural event, a sign of a "guardian angel" of sorts.. Even better, you when you play this game's co-op online, they could've had the Guest player drop-in and drop-out without notifying the Host to surprise them.

2 - Don't Scare One Player and Not the Other!

"Step by step, heart to heart, left right left, we all fall down... Like Toy Soldiers..."

Speaking of Dead Space 3, that game did the whole "co-op isolation" thing kind of well: those segments regarding Carver's delusions are very interesting because his perspective is locked to someone playing as Isaac; the delusions themselves are also a doozy because they are a bit scary to play through. However, while Carver is having one of these delusions, he is unable to fend for himself in the real world, hence needing Isaac to watch his back... So while the second player is going through a creepy experience, the first player is stuck with defending him from various Necromorphs like an escort mission.

I don't know about you, but that's not as fun.

Hence my second suggestion: why scare one player, when you can scare them both? Seeing a cut-scene through Isaac's perspective and not understanding what Carver's seeing is a good idea because you're like an outsider wondering what's wrong with Carver. However, that novelty wear off after only a bit; they should've done it to more extremes, especially regarding Carver in the real world. Take this for example: what if, during Carver's delusions, he's still functioning in the real world instead of just shaking his head around, mumbling to himself? For example, everything he's doing in the delusion is the same thing he's doing in the real world?

That would mean, in Isaac's perspective, Carver's walking around in a daze, shooting his gun about and alerting Necromorphs to his position. Heck, maybe for this segment, friendly fire is turned off and Carver could actually shoot Isaac; why not go a step further and "influence" Carver to shoot at Isaac through the delusion? Not only that, in the game, Isaac could be telling Carver to snap out of it or "fight it" whilst in the real world, the player has no way to communicate with his buddy because the game cuts out the mic to simulate that Isaac's words aren't getting through to Carver... especially if he's telling him to "stop shooting me!" Carver, for his part, just plays through the experience normally; it's fun enough as it is already, and the player can tell his partner what he went through afterwards just like anyone would in that situation.

3 - Don't Turn Your Games into Action Ones!

We're not in Raccoon City anymore...

Carver's delusions are nice and creepy, and proves that Dead Space 3 is capable of building an atmosphere that could leave people creeped out despite incorporating co-op into the system. That's because, as I said, co-op isn't the thing that ruin the fear: it's the lack of atmosphere. While it's certainly true that co-op can ruin the atmosphere, and by extension fear itself, that's something that's more-or-less determined by the players; as for the game itself, some of the horror games that features co-op are games that really weren't scary in the first place or were only scary in certain sections.

Let's delve into Resident Evil 5 for a bit: a lot of people say that it isn't as scary as its predecessor and some would say that it's due to its inclusion of co-op. However, could it be that, for the beginning of the game at least, it just wasn't a scary game? I mean, the game starts out with Chris and Sheva being saved by a helicopter's missile after being holed up and overrun in the marketplace by a couple dozen angry majini; heck, even the enemies aren't as creepy, going from the robe-loving cult-like group Los Illuminados to the standard citizen looking Majini. Even Isaac's opening level of Dead Space 3 veered off the fear factor by replacing stabby Necromorphs with gun-tooting Unitologists.

Now, I realize that, even without co-op, the games might've still gone down the same route. But come on game developers, when we want to play a horror game with a buddy, we want to play it because we both want to get scared, not blow things up like a buddy cop action movie! I mean, we already got games like Army of Two and Gears of War to fill that void; we don't need some franchises, that I will not name, getting turned into action games... For the record, while I did enjoy Resident Evil 6, that doesn't exclude it from the list, especially after the treat that was the Resident Evil 5's "Lost in Nightmare" DLC.


This would make an epic Dark Souls x Resident Evil crossover...

Actually, let's get into that: Lost in Nightmare is a good example about how a co-op horror game should play like: the level is stingy with items such as health and ammo so you don't have an abundance in supplies, you're constantly needing to separate in order to solve puzzles, and you're up against enemies that can soak up a lot of bullets and dish out enough damage to make them a threat. The atmosphere is also perfect as the design of the mansion is creepy with long hallways and traps everywhere with the camera angles building tension; not to mention the overall look of the lower areas, which are filled with rusty metal and pointy objects.

It even does the three points I brought up: it seperates the two of you for some separation anxiety (especially in that trap room with the needle), it does it best to scare both players by having multiple monsters go after the both of you, and despite RE5's generally action-orientated gameplay, especially the Desperate Escape DLC, you aren't encourage to spray bullets into the enemies as they are tough to kill and you have low ammo (though it's actually easy to kill them if you know how).

If you don't believe that a game can't be scary and fun with Co-op, I say try out the Lost in Nightmares DLC and see for yourself. If not, you could try out the way my friend and I played Slender if you're not feeling too weird about being alone in a pitch black room with your buddy.

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