Artwork by *mashi.
With Halloween coming, I figured it is a good time to discuss how horror games were over the last 20 years or so. To start with more recent games, survival horror is starting to become more and more action oriented with co-op gameplay and taking the scare out of it despite there still being monsters. The games have given up their tank controls and fixed cameras to help push the genre toward a age group that is growing up in the Call of Duty era, with high paced action and more explosions than a Michael Bay film. While most of the veteran gamers complain about it, the game sells like hotcakes on a cold day. This is heavily noticed in games like Resident Evil 5 and 6, and more possibly Dead Space 3 with the horror aspects almost completely removed in favor of big guns and big action. Now not to say this is a bad thing for the new generation, it leaves the old generation a bit angry and fuming.
Horror games, from what I've noticed, still have their strengths in two particular types of gameplay. First Person Action/Adventure and Point and Click Adventure. Both of these take focus on the more atmosphere and less on the action and fighting your way out. In a way, these two styles of gameplay have been around for ages and have only recently been revived over the last few years in popularity. The two most notable games being Indie titles that have blown up in popularity: Amnesia - The Dark Decent, and Slender. Both games are in the FPS perspective and have you running around AVOIDING monsters or monster and collecting items for puzzle while looking for a way to escape. You don't fight them, you run away, there is no way to kill the beast... you survive.
I mentioned above, these helped revitalize the genre of horror games, and by far these were not the first to use this style of gameplay. Back in the days of DOS, Sierra had a nice grip on the point and click adventure games, especially those focusing on horror. A few particular games stood out from the most and pushed the gore or atmosphere to amazing limits. The one I'll be discussing here is Phantasmagoria.
I actually still own this game, though I would need some sort of DOS emulator to run it... I would love to find the time to actually sit down and play through it since I never did get the chance to as a child. It was too scary even for me when I was young, but my Father played through both it and the second one. However it was the first one that always caught my eye, especially when I would stand near by and watch my Father play the game. It was also one of the first horror point and click games I noticed in which the main character could actually die if the wrong decisions were made. Now from what I remember a lot of the aspects of horror came from the background of the story itself, with a crazy magician is possessed by a demon and begins to kill wife after wife in gruesome 'accidents' before finally getting sealed/killed himself. The new owner of the house accidentally releases this demon, and allows her new husband to get possessed by such. As the 'days' go on in the game, things become more and more creepy as the story behind the demon gets out there, leading to some more of the scary parts of the game. While, to be honest, the game uses the shock factor of the gore during its cut-scenes to bring the horror to the front it was the story and the atmosphere of the house that led to quite a few scares.
Of course PC didn't have all the good horror games, consoles had quite a few that stood out, with a few even showing up on the old Nintendo Entertainment System all the way up to the survival horror days of the PS1 and PS2. Now on the NES, the first game to scare the bejezzus out of me wasn't even that good of a game, but the suddeness of the main enemy would always catch me off guard as a young kid. Friday the 13th.
I don't know why this game scared me so much, when you were playing the outside portion of the game you really didn't get the feeling of needing to be scared. The music was high beat, the gameplay was action-filled though incredibly repetitive. You fought zombies, picked up weapons and potions, and then the annoying alarm goes off. Oops some kid is getting killed by someone or something, TIME TO GO SAVE THE DAY.
Then you enter the house.
The music changes dramatically, it becomes more of a searching and finding clues sort of game when you enter a building. And for each corner you turn around you don't know whats going to happen... then suddenly BAM! JASON! FFFFF.... the music screams at you and you literally jump out of your pants. Even if you know its coming, you don't know where he is and you still jump. Even playing it today, he still gets me... no matter how much I play it.
Then the genre of Survival Horror came along. How I see it, Horror and Survival Horror are two different styles of gameplay. Survival Horror is more focused on using the gameplay itself to scare you than the atmosphere, though this can be argued with games like Silent Hill which uses both, it has been mentioned that the use of Tank Controls and Fixed Cameras help add to the aspect with a extra added bonus of getting to actually fight what you are afraid of. Games like Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil set it up for people to be scared by their surroundings and the possible idea that they could be in the same room as a zombie or hunter. Of course, as we all know, as the years went on and more gamers were born into this world, gameplay changed to fit the needs of the younger generation and left the old gamers angry over how they were not scared anymore.
In any case, the horror games themselves have not really changed all that much. Survival Horror itself has, but horror games in general have stayed the same and continue to scare the daylights out of people, even the new generation is starting to get involved with the introduction of Slender to the mainstream. Survival Horror may have died down, but Horror itself is still alive.