Scary games. Can they keep up?

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It seems like it's becoming more difficult to promote fear in games. Many games that are meant to be scary end up being more action oriented. Why? To make money. And with the not so recent change of the Resident evil series to a more action oriented gaming series I've began to wonder. Can scary games still do well?

Well, the FEAR franchise is still going strong, with the recent release of FEAR Files, and Perseus Mandate. Also, the other half of the team is releasing its own FEAR project, dubbed Project Origin. The developers are promsining that Project Origin will stop treading the line of actual scary and dive in this time.

Condemned 2 was recently released, and after looking at just three screenshots, I can promise that I won't be playing that for a while.

Doom 3 was pretty scary, so perhaps Doom 4 (if it's ever made, which it better be) can continue the legacy.

Resident Evil 5 looks actiony, true, but there may be some actual good scares in there too.

I really hope that true spine chilling, palm sweating, holy-Jesus-I-didn't-know-I-could-scream-that-high, games will continue to be made for years to come.

eh, personally i don't so much care, scary games have never been a high priority to me because its usually only scary so long as you can't fight back. once they give you a weapon it's hard to be afraid of something you can kill

AVP2 was IMO extremely scary because you could often hear the aliens screaming, or their claws skittering on concrete, long before they appeared. I think Monolith did very well in that game to create suspense. Likewise they did the same in F.E.A.R. But both are essentially action games.

Conversely, most of what is intended to be scary is, to me, just silly. Showing severed body parts to a populace raised on slasher movies is never going to work, and most of what is supposed to be scary in games is on that level, just an excess of gore.

I'd love a good, truly suspenseful 1st person shooter survival game, though.

What about Alan Wake? Isn't that supposed to be pretty scary?

It's all in what scares you. Lots of people thought Doom 3 was scary, but the formula of "enter a room/lights go off/monsters appear" repeated through the entire game, and it just stopped working after the first level for me. Likewise, I thought that FEAR had an interesting take on "scary" content, but the fighting was never scary, and the "scary" was almost never actually dangerous. Basically, every time scary stuff started happening, I would relax, because I knew nothing was going to be shooting at me for awhile. Generally, the whole idea behind scary is that I should fear harm.

I thought AvP did a good job with the creepy, thanks mostly to the 180 degree motion tracker, but I'm straining to come up with anything else that's actually been frightening lately. Maybe I'm getting too jaded in my old age.

EDIT: Oh, and Silent Hill 2 was creepy. Not really "scary", but it provided a constant sense of vague unease, which is really much better.

- J

I think with resident evil 4 they could have had it both ways. I found regenerators to be terrifying when I first met them and didn't have the thermal scope (I made it even worse by blowing off the legs thinking this would help me get past them). Unfortunately (if you want to be scared) you get the scope really soon after you meet these enemies. Then you can kill their slow asses pretty easily and they're not scary any more.

These guys were kind of wasted in the game by limiting them to such a short moment in the spotlight. There could have been other enemies like this spread through the other areas in the game in between action sequences. Maybe the double bladed chainsaw guy comes after you in a larger version of the mendez home slicing down doors or walls you approach just as you think you've lost him. Something like that for the quiet suspenseful areas.

werepossum:
AVP2 was IMO extremely scary because you could often hear the aliens screaming, or their claws skittering on concrete, long before they appeared. I think Monolith did very well in that game to create suspense. Likewise they did the same in F.E.A.R. But both are essentially action games.

Conversely, most of what is intended to be scary is, to me, just silly. Showing severed body parts to a populace raised on slasher movies is never going to work, and most of what is supposed to be scary in games is on that level, just an excess of gore.

I'd love a good, truly suspenseful 1st person shooter survival game, though.

I second the vote for AVP2, damned good when it came out.

I'll even admit that Half Life 2 did a few good jobs of making me jump. Are the rabbits in Rayman creepy to anyone else?

I've played few horror games that genuinely frightened me, though F.E.A.R and the expansion packs definitely had moments that made me jump - in fact, one area where the expansion packs are better than the original game is the frequency and quality of the scares.
Still, I've often wondered myself why, no matter how intricate, evil and disturbing a game's setting or atmosphere is, no game has managed to be consistently and genuinely terrifying. I'd have to answer that it's the gameplay itself that is to blame. The early Resident Evils relied on jump tactics, and the sense of helplessness was more the sluggish, imprecise controls and inclusion of an absolutely useless knife weapon than anything else. As for Resident Evil 4, that's about as scary as a labrador puppy. Silent Hill suffered the same fate of wonky controls, despite having some deeply disturbing storyline topics, but that too failed in the scare department as far as I'm concerned. Yahtzee hit the FEAR series right on the head with his review, stating that nothing's too scary when you've got a full arsenal of weaponry to guide you, and the shooting and scare sections occur with an almost audible clunk. And Condemned's scares were once again, jump tactics, and the horror element seem to be more about violence and brutality than genuine psychological threat. Bioshock (not typically a horror game, but scary to some) made the almost unforgivable mistake of having absolutely no long-term punishment for deaths, although made the best decision in horror so far by taking things into the first person.
Which brings me to my personal contender for scariest game ever, System Shock 2. It made you jump without relying too heavily on contrived set-pieces, the weapons would break with overuse, not everything was useful to you as your character only levelled up on certain skills, and nailed the sound effects - by far the most important aspect in a horror game - to great effect.
I always have been, and am always going to be a keen follower of horror games, as they do have a distinct feel to them and I'm sure one day, a developer will nail it perfectly, but for the time being, it seems developers are scared to take chances with the genre in order to create a game that will be renowned for its sheer terror factor. I'm hoping the new Alone in the Dark hits all the right buttons - I doubt it'll be the ultimate brown trousers gaming experience, but I must admit, it's looking incredible.

nightmare_gorilla:
eh, personally i don't so much care, scary games have never been a high priority to me because its usually only scary so long as you can't fight back. once they give you a weapon it's hard to be afraid of something you can kill

Have you played Haunting Ground? You basically play hide and seek with a bunch of freaks and the closest thing you have to a weapon is a dog who won't listen to you half the time. It's a good game. Anyhoo, horror games are my favorite kind of games. As long as they are good and creepy.

Hah. Do you think people will ever stop being afraid of the dark?
We've had millennia to get over these fears, do you think a few video games will cure us of fear, jade us to these things? No.

brazenhead89:

The early Resident Evils relied on jump tactics...And Condemned's scares were once again, jump tactics... System Shock 2. It made you jump without relying too heavily on contrived set-pieces,

Really, jumps are what fear is about. Atmosphere and suspense are the ways they make jumps and spooks and attacks seem imminent. The reason they're good for horror is that they hype the upcoming jump, if there is any, or make you believe yourself mad, which is just another suspense before a jump, the jump being the moment of realisation that you are mad or aren't.
Basically, replace "jump" with "showing the monster" and you've got fear down to a T.
You can't complain about "Jumps" in relation to fear. They're the bricks which build the house of fear.

It seems like most modern "horror" games are much like modern "horror" films, they are only scaring you through shocks and suprise. While this is one way to induce horror, I've always found that suspense ala Alfred Hitchcock was a much more effective technique.

That was the problem I had with Doom 3. While it was scary at first, after the 50th demon jumps out at you, it really ceases to be very scary.

I wish more games would use psychological fear rather than surprise fear.

There were some really tense moments for me in Bioshock. I've walked into a room, I'm looting it...now what? All I can hear is vague Bobby Darin off in the distance. I start to sweat. Surely, any moment now, something is going to pop out, right? But nothing comes. It's amazing when a game can make something out of nothing at all.

I agree with the previous posters. It's all about what you find scary. Also, weakness plays a big part. That zombie is all the more frightening if you know you don't have a chance of taking it down.

This all goes back to my theory that someone needs to get David Lynch to make a video game. Every single one of his movies (and Twin Peaks) had some genuinely disturbing and horrific moments. Yeah, he might throw the gameplay out the window, but I'll take an interactive horror experience made by David Lynch anyday.

Eraserhead still gives me bad dreams.

As long as games don't go so much into the cheap scare or the "The Ring" rip off, then it's okay.

Wouldn't it be a good enough idea if people stopped making the association that fear = monster/supernatural being? How about natural fears? Phobias? I often feel scared with games that don't even have that intention. Take for instance FF7. Back in the days I was scared ******** when Emerald was inside the ocean and I had to go explore around in the submarine, something so tiny compared to a gigantic beast that could slowly materialize as he was heading towards you. Ok, so it goes back to the monster point, but I'm afraid of large depths. Even when Emerald was gone, I felt uneasy during that part. Creating a game that forced you into situations that could cause moments of claustrophobia and common fears wouldn't be bad. Even if you don't have that phobia you'd feel eerie once you notice the tunnel you're going into becomes shorter and shorter until you're left crawling inch for inch in a human sized hole.

In my opinion Resident Evil 5 will try and lean more towards horror, Capcom did'nt anticipate what a success Resident Evil 4 would be but the one complaint most people had about it was that it was'nt a true horror game which I would agree with, save a few scary moments.

That being said I dont think its people attitudes towards scary games that have changed or the idea that people are becoming desensitized to horror.

Put simply there has'nt been a true horror game dedicated to being scary in years, one that has'nt been a half-assed "boo" fest like DOOM3 (Sorry people, but that game sucks ass).

There is a new game called "Dead Space" which I think is hitting the shelves this year which looks like a pretty decent horror game, lets hope that might scratch that itch for being scared, although keep in mind this is coming from a guy who is still scared shitless by the pixelated zombies in the first Resident Evil.

As I look at the screens from Silent Hill 5, it just doesn't look scary. I don't know if it's the crispness of the graphics or what, but it's almost too real. There was a dreamlike quality to the PS2 games that seemed to make it more creepy.

The problem is that "survival horror" has in essence become formulaic, and a genre. When you have this there are certain expectations and it is harder to instill fear in people. It takes a game that is a bit "out there" to create a good sense of fear.

I've always been a fan of fear inspired by the imagination - i.e. why Blair Witch was so initially successful. You never see the actual object of your fear but are forced to imagine it, making it a lot worse. This is why Silent Hill is still pretty good - the fog/darkness/whatever of its locale makes your imagination play tricks on your mind. I still get a little freaked out running through those darkened apartment buildings when I'm replaying the game.

The problem with survival horror is more often than not, it's not so much about surviving as it is about super soldiers thwarting Umbrella.

By definition, the goal of a survival horror shouldn't be to uncover deep mysteries about yourself or uncover some alien conspiracy but rather to NOT DIE. That's it, really. There's a zombie infestations and if you get infected you lose.

Copter400:
There were some really tense moments for me in Bioshock. I've walked into a room, I'm looting it...now what? All I can hear is vague Bobby Darin off in the distance. I start to sweat. Surely, any moment now, something is going to pop out, right? But nothing comes. It's amazing when a game can make something out of nothing at all.

I agree with the previous posters. It's all about what you find scary. Also, weakness plays a big part. That zombie is all the more frightening if you know you don't have a chance of taking it down.

That last sentence actually reminded me of Metroid Fusion. Sure, it's for a handheld, but the scenes in which you encounter the SA-X were INTENSE. You're scared of being noticed by it, not by because of what it is, though. You're helpless, and all you can do is run, run, run.

At the risk of being booed or whatever I have to say that I have no idea why people compare Silent Hill to Resident Evil. SH was created to be our worst nightmare come true, RE is a zombie-slasher. Yes, there are scary moments in RE, but not so many, most of the time you just feel uneasy. For me the ultimate scary level was reached in SH3, with the burning walls, loud noises, monsters hiding in every shadow. I mean come on, even with a flashlight you could barely see a few inches in front of you! The fog was so dense and real that whenever I tried to see what may come from behind it my mind would play tricks on me.

I think that new games can still be scary, but not as much as in the past. True, the graphics should allow games to be way more realistic and thus spooky, but for that you need the all-important element: fearing what you cannot see, but you think is somewhere close. BioShock had that too. I remember spending a good few minutes following a voice without knowing exactly where the splicer was. I started thinking it was just ambient sounds. After I turn around a thing jumps at me, screaming something. Turns out he was exactly behind me.

Personally, I would love to play a psychological horror game. For example, how about a game where you are sent to track down someone, just a normal, everyday person. As you follow his trail, you find pages ripped out of his journal and dropped on the ground, along with a clue of where he's headed. As you follow the clues, you find more journal pages, and when you put the journal pages together, they show a slow descent into madness, and eventually, you find body parts and blood along with the journal pages, in slowly increasing amounts. That would be an awesome game to play, provided they could somehow provide enemies. </hoping a good game developer reads this>

Can they still do scary games? Maybe but as pointed out, you get a weapon, you're fine, no matter what the 5 armed 1 eyed shambling turd looks like.

My idea: Have a SURVIVAL horror game, no weapons, have a decent plot and have the gamer find ways to keep the demons/zombies/monsters/Yahtzee away from them by barricading doors or running like hell. Or if needed finding ways to kill/trap montrosities using the enviroment.

I'd play it if it were well made

I think there's no real way to judge horror games since everyone is not scared by the same stuff. Personally, I find sillouettes and noises much more frightening then some demon-thing jumping up to gnaw at your face. For this reason, I enjoy series like Condemned because they have that element.

In the end, what makes a horror game good, aside from likeable characters, decent story, blah, blah, blah, is what scares you personally.

Minky_man:
Can they still do scary games? Maybe but as pointed out, you get a weapon, you're fine, no matter what the 5 armed 1 eyed shambling turd looks like.

You've never played Dark Corners of the Earth have you?
That games did a good job of being actually scary. You have no weapons for the first part of the game and even when you do get guns there was never enough ammo.

[/quote]You've never played Dark Corners of the Earth have you?
That games did a good job of being actually scary. You have no weapons for the first part of the game and even when you do get guns there was never enough ammo.[/quote]

With a title like Dark corners of the Earth, I wouldn't have picked it up if I saw it. BUUTTT saying that if a game like that exists, it'll be worth it playing it.

Any Silent hill before 4 was great. 4 was..... Bad.

Dark Corners of the Earth was, aside those STUPID FORCED STEALTH SEQUENCES (and equally stupid door-latches that NEVER did what you wanted when you need it!), stunningly scary.

Eternal Darkness. Incredible sanity system.

But yeah. Horrory horror games are becoming rarer, as opposed to actiony games with creepy monsters.
I blame the recent FPS craze. Wait a year or two, real horror will start trickling down again.

1. Fast zombies in HL2 were pretty scary, because you could hear them coming a long way off, they jumped around a lot and evaded your attacks, they could push you into groups of other zombies or off buildings, and they were damn scary looking.
2. System Shock 2 remains the scariest game that I have ever played. It's basically Bioshock+Half-Life. It's relatively easy to get a copy of it online now (look for the HOTU version), just make sure you visit Strange Bedfellows and get all the graphical improvements. It's mostly the sound, though.
3. Speaking of Valve again, Left 4 Dead seems to be survival horror done right.

http://www.left4dead411.com/left-4-dead-preview-index

The only problems that I see with this game is that you almost need to have a friend over playing it with you, and there's no PS3 version :(

There is a new zombie survival were all you do is survive, there are very little guns, mostly melee weapons, you can also combine items to create weapons, like spears, traps, but of course there is a catch, find your girl friend objective, but its optional, but thats better then having to find the cause of the zombies.

http://www.deadislandgame.com/

The horror genre is too important to die out. Take it from Lovecraft, horror is "a composite body of keen emotion and imaginative provocation whose vitality of necessity must endure as long as the human race itself." Its expression will never die out in any particular medium; it just needs to hinge on a proper sense of mystery and a sense of helplessness in the face of a semiotically significant antagonist.

Clock Tower, 'nuff said.

One of the key problems of making a decently scary horror film, which applies doubly to games, is the visible monster dilemma.

A lot of horror films go to he last possible moment before showing you the full "horror" of the monster- witness the monster POV shots, or scenes where a flash of the arm/claw/tentacle/maw at work, whilst the grisly results are central to the shot.

The full appearance of the monster is reserved for a later point not only because of the way that terrible, blatant latex or CGI effects cheapen an otherwise scary scene, but more because the theme in most monster movies is fear of the unknown (or the dark side of the familiar, known world)

I would cite the differences between the first 2 Alien films (Alien3 onwards can go die a lonely death, preferably in a fire of some kind...) is the extent to which the beast is seen. The same beastie, whilst definitely higher quality than many contemporary creations, is simply not so scary when visible, en masse, and opposed by a black ops team in stand-up winnable firefights as it was when it jumped out of hatches and picked off the civilian crew of a spaceship one by one. Hence Alien = Horror, Aliens = Action.

Obviously this is a difficult problem for horror game designers to tackle- without the visual of the monster, players have nothing to aim at and may not even know when they're supposed to be scared unless some other methods are used.

Zombie movies tend to run opposite to the trend- Zombies are often seen from early on, but I think that revolves more around the escalation into a world-of-the-dead scenario- the horror comes not from the individual scariness of the undead (any able-bodied adult can outrun and/or outfight them 1-on-1) but their crushing force of numbers, the isolation from external human contact (and the inevitable thinning of the survivor group, including inevitable "turning" scenes) and the growing despair of the central characters ever getting out alive.

This may explain the popularity of zombie-survival horror games. Personally, I think a game based on the tabletop RPG All Flesh Must Be Eaten or Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide would be good to see. Games like GTA:San Andreas, Boiling Point, Stalker, Just Cause et al. have given us the sort of mechanics needed for a free-roaming game set over a huge expanse of terrain, where the challenge is provided not by the usual arms-race/ firepower inflation but by wiping out supply posts throughout the course of the game, as the infestation spreads. Make it so an individual has to consider the real time spread of the infection (best of all if this is something (s)he can affect through actions- the decision of who to save in real time would make the game horrific and add replayability) and populate the remaining bastions of humankind with interesting, memorable NPCs.

Any designer who makes this is welcome, providing they break me off a free copy.

EDIT: Having looked at the Dead Island site, it's on the way to the sort of thing I had in mind, but without the kind of scale I had in mind: picture that over a map the size of San Andreas or larger with distinct towns which you can watch fall one by one or fight to defend.

Outposts run by biker gangs, survivalists, the National Guard or what have you, where might makes right and you may have to compromise your moral viewpoint to get that safe bunk, box of shells or even tinned food.

THAT'S survival horror

Hats off to the guy who said Clock Tower, I was actually thinking that game the whole time I was reading this. That SNES game was TRUE Survivor Horror. You couldn't defend yourself, just run. No guns, no knives, no breakable weapons. Just running. AND, it even had parts when you were getting chased where your character would be paralyzed by fear and you had to mash a button to get yourself unstuck as this psycho, deformed thing crawled toward you with giant hedge clippers.

If you couldn't mash those buttons, you got to watch yourself die.

SwiftVengeance1224:
What about Alan Wake? Isn't that supposed to be pretty scary?

I was just going to mention that, That looks like something ripped right out of a Stephen King book, and yes it looks scary (hence the developers being Remedy, makers of Max Payne)
I always thought Max Payne was scary, I mean the dreams of course he had.

I also hate the new Silent Hill 5, they made THAT actiony too, with it's more combat based controls. Best scary game for me would be FEAR, just that little girl, pop-up pictures and moments that make you go OMG!

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