HORROR GAMES: When Publishers Attack!
- by Ninja Ross, 24 July 2013
Horror games have been somewhat absent from the mainstream in video games lately. They were never the most popular genre, as horror never is, but they’ve definitely seen better days. Right now, the best horror games are indie ones like "Amnesia: The Dark Descent", "Penumbra" and "Slender Man". So what the heck happened?
Well, publishers happened. Video games became more popular over recent years and publishers are trying to grab as much cash as they possibly can. To do this, they try to appeal to the wider audience. Horror, action, shooting, exploration and angry men are things that have sold well on their own and publishers have convinced themselves that games would sell even better if they were all mixed together.
Unfortunately, this tends to backfire. "Resident Evil" 5 and 6, "Silent Hill: Homecoming", "Silent Hill Downpour" and "Dead Space 3" all turned out to be bland games, earning a lot less money than the publishers had hoped for.
By putting the action and shooting in these games, they ignore what makes horror great. In Silent Hill 2, my limited ammunition was constantly on my mind. Running around a monster and saving half a clip was always a better option than putting a monster down. I had to decide if killing a monster for the shiny item at the other end of the room was worth the bullets or the risk of using my pipe to try and knock the monsters down. Did I have enough health to rush past and find out what that item is? Can I spare the ammo? But in Dead Space, I had too much ammo! I had to constantly upgrade my inventory size just to accommodate the vast amounts of ammo the Necromorphs dropped.
Dead Space is by no means a bad game. It’s actually a very good one and the series itself is one of my favourites. But it’s not exactly very good horror. Action with horror elements, sure. But not horror.
The horror genre relies on a few things, with the most basic elements being setting, protagonist and antagonist. I wrote about that a couple of years ago, but here’s the basics:
Setting: There needs to be no escape, or at least it needs to seem like that. The protagonist cannot be in their element, they need to learn from their surroundings in order to survive. You create atmosphere by coming up with a good setting. Silent Hill is set in a small town with a dark history. Resident Evil 2 takes place mostly in a police station. Claustrophobia is often the key, even if it’s only in the hero’s head.
Protagonist: A hero that’s relatable and interesting. The audience needs to be able to put themselves in his or her shoes and FEEL THE FEAR!!! The protagonist is just another version of us in horror. We need to care about them; we cared about Ripley in Alien, Macready in The Thing and Kennedy in Resident Evil 2 and 4.
Antagonist: The evil thing that shouts “BOO!” It’s not always a monster, of course. Sometimes it’s a man or a vegetable. But they always represent something that scares us. It’s fear made flesh, most of the time.
But with video games, we need to take into account the interactive side. It’s all well and good to have a likeable hero and a scary monster but in video games, you’re in control. Well, more or less. Horror games are pretty unique in that poor controls and terrible camera angles can be a good thing. The fact that James Sunderland, Heather Mason and the rest of Silent Hill’s heroes were useless with weapons, especially guns, made the whole experience more realistic. Why would some guy with no experience in firearms or hitting things with planks of wood be able to kick the crap out of monsters? The terrible controls made running away the better option at all times.
Even the more modern games, with fewer limitations on budget and technology, use these aspects. Resident Evil 4 is one of the best modern horror games but still kept the frustrating camera angles and the inability to move and shoot at the same time. The problem is, this can be frustrating if done wrong, like Redesign Evil 5. Being forced into combat is the last thing you want in a game with terrible controls.
But horror is slowly creeping up on the mainstream. Games like the already mentioned Slender Man, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and the upcoming Evil Within could be the start of a return to the genre.
The Evil Within especially could bring horror back into the mainstream. Since it’s developed by Tango Gameworks, with Shinji Mikami as director (the guy responsible for the best Resident Evil games), and published by Bethesda it’s already getting a lot of attention. If it’s as true to the horror genre as the creators believe and if it’s as successful as Bethesda hopes, we could be seeing more horror games with a focus on survival and psychology in the future.
And if The Evil Within fails to live up to the hype, the indie market is always producing great horror, thanks to a love of the genre and lack of publisher interference. So the future of video games will always look a dark and horrific!
Are you a fan of horror games? Looking forward to seeing the future of the genre? Let us know!
Tagged: video games.