I'm a big fan of horror games, because they are genre that works fine in film, but simply works a hundred times better in interactive form. I can say with certainty that no movie will ever be able to scare me the way Fatal Frame 2
has, and none will be able to create a sense of atmosphere as perfect as that in Silent Hill 2
. Oh sure, movies might be able to do better jump scenes, (more on that later,) but when it comes to sheer pants wetting psychological terror, film will never be able to hold a candle to the potential of the interactive medium. It's like a haunted house, but with all the pacing of a horror film and all of the infinite potential of animation. Until virtual reality comes around, nothing will be able to deliver scares as well as video games.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that I love the horror genre so much, I happen to be a world class pansy. Horror games and films always freak me out, and frequently keep me up with nightmares. This is especially true of works in the zombie sub-genre, (even stuff like Zombieland
sometimes,) which is even more unfortunate considering that I absolutely adore zombie fiction. Now, a lot of this probably stems from the traumatizing events of my first foray into hardcore gaming, (which you can read about in the bio on the right side of my blog,) but there is no denying that even before then I was a bit of a scaredy-cat. When I was 5 I had nightmares about the snow ghost from Scooby Doo
, so suffice it to say that I have never been the bravest of souls.
But my crippling, sleep depriving psychological issues are not the only reason I have a love hate relationship with the horror genre. There are also a number of things that flat out annoy me. For one thing, almost all horror games have horrible control schemes. Running around is usually a pain, especially in games like Silent Hill,
the old Resident Evil
games, and Fatal Frame
, and don't even get me started on the combat. I realize these are supposed to be ordinary people, not soldiers, but last I checked most ordinary people don't have parkinsons. Fighting in these games is usually an awkward clusterfuck that makes you wonder how your character can be the only survivor when he can't even figure out how to swing a baseball bat effectively. The only game that gets a pass on this is Fatal Frame
, because using an old fashioned camera is about as awkward as is depicted in the game.
Another issue is that a lot of these games rely far too much on jump scenes to scare you. Scenes where a zombie jumps out of a closet beside the main character in a movie work well because they give the audience a good fright and occasionally serve to give the story some progression. They don't work as well in a video game setting, however, because when a player gets jumped by an unseen enemy and it kills him it feels cheap. It's even worse when save spots are few and far between, because then you have to replay up to an hour of gameplay just to get back to the spot where the jump scene killed you. When the game dumps a surprise instadeath on the player, it's not scary. It's not fun. It's just agitating.
The thing that bugs me most about horror games is that most of them are just shit. Not only are games like Siren
and Alone in the Dark
not scary, they exemplify bad design. With fucked up story progression, horribly confusing level design, and absolutely abysmal play mechanics, most of the horror games coming out these days are simply not worth playing. There is hope, however, as more developers are finally starting to get how to make horror games scary. A perfect example of this is Dead Space
, which manages to maintain a fucking scary atmosphere the whole way through while having above average combat mechanics. It's a game where you're constantly paranoid, checking “dead” bodies and vents everywhere you go to make sure nothing gets the jump on you. When the enemies do show up, it feels like a bit of a relief. The developers understand that the scariest stuff is the stuff not on screen, and they frequently fuck with your head to keep you on edge. Of course, the story is a bit of a letdown, but it just goes to show that you don't need shitty play mechanics to make a game scary.
Despite all my gripes about the genre, I still love it, (the big goof,) and I'm gonna keep playing horror games as long as I can. I'll probably lose a lot of sleep, I'll probably smash a lot of controllers in frustration, and I'll DEFINITELY need some spare underwear, but at the end of the day I'll still have a great time. Here's to many years of psychological scarring. WOOOO!