Everyone loves a horror game right. No matter how many times you are thrown out of your seat with fright we always pick up that controller and carry on. But a problem with horror games is that once a successful game is released we are forced to survive a period of copies all trying to be that game. In this article i will point out some things i see in alot of horror games and point out what i think could be in its place every so often.
The first thing i want to talk about is darkness since it is probably in every horror game in existence (or at least most of them). I never really got why people thought this was scary. Anything can frighten you if you can’t see it and it seems to me like one of the lazy things developers put into their games. There are even a few times where i’ve been convinced that the darkness was used to cover up the shitty modeling by making them almost impossible to see sometimes. I don’t get how they don’t realise that they do not need it, a horrible creature trying to kill you would probably look scarier if you were actually able to see it (and you actually put some effort into its design).
The second thing is ‘Jump Scares’ which is pretty much exactly that, something jumping out at you, usually accompanied by a loud noise, in order to frighten the player. I still believe that this method of frightening the player is an utterly cheap way to do it. Its probably just the loud noise that is shocking the player, absolutely anything including a cuddly kitten thrown at your face suddenly would probably shock you (Notice how i said ‘shock’ and not scare). I’m not saying games should be Jump scare free but they definitely should be rare and not overused. If your creature is only scary when its part of a jumpscare then you probably didn’t try hard enough with the design. A creature can easily be scary even when you know they are coming. If the character can see them from very far away then that is great, have them slowly close in on your location with the player character frantically rushing to finish what he is doing to get out of there. It works.
Third thing is the complete lack of weapons in most games, i’m not saying there should be a load of weapons or else it will be more of an action game but that doesn’t mean there should be nothing. I’ve noticed that in some of these games the main character is such a retard that they won’t even fight back with simple punches and kicks even going as far as simply standing there holding a camera as they get murdered. Doesn’t anyone remember when the character was left with a knife and a limited amount of ammo since that in itself is truly frightening. You can even up this by making some enemies bulletproof, something you can’t do in a game that has no bullets. In fact with a little texturing you can make the character feel more helpless, how about making that knife rusty, what about making it breakable as well. And this isn’t even getting close to powers, they’ve appeared in games before and its not like they make you more overpowered. In fact its easy to implement some sort of punishment system with magic if you feel that you don’t want the player to use it that often. What if the characters power came from the fact he had been possessed and every time he used it he comes closer to being taken over, that would surely put people off from using it.
There is something that happens alot when some of the above things combine and that is chases. These are used so unbelievably often that i’m kinda getting sick of them to be honest, it could be seen as an excuse similar to what i said about darkness. Are you frightened that will find problems with your modeling or a general lack of content if they stay in one place too long or something because having you running away for most of the game means you don’t get to have a nice look at the surroundings. Why not have nicely detailed rooms, full lit and full of little clues for players to discover. Its not impossible to allow a player to stay in a room as long as they like and still keep them on the edge of their seat.
In fact since we’re talking about surrounding i’ve noticed that some games have a massive lack of interactivity in the environment (and not just story related things either). Sure, having empty rooms in a game would be boring but if you are going to add things like computers, books, radios etc you should be able to at least do something with them. In fact alot of games these days let you pick up practically everything but most of the time its just a failed gimmick and these picked up objects don’t actually help you.
And to further extend from lack of interactivity there is lack of collectibles. Not only are they seemingly rare in a crazy amount of games these days but even when they are they are not used to their full potential. And the collectibles don’t even have to be physical or to do with the story. It just bothers me that you can play a game filled with newspaper, files scattered everywhere, photos on walls and yet you are usually only allowed to pick up certain ones.
Something that people find scary is the fear of the unknown but thanks to some of the above problems and a great deal of developer laziness it seems to have shifted from its original purpose into more of a ‘fear of the thing that you can barely see’, things that aren’t there or just ghosts because who cares about creativity. Well i care and i believe that an enemy can be seen by the player and still be classed as unknown. If you can create a creature that can make the player think ‘WTF is that thing?!’ while also having it scary then well done, you’re onto a winner.
And i’d like to mention that the enemy doesn’t need to be unknown for the whole game. I absolutely love when games have extensive background information even if it is seemingly unrelated to the story at first. If your creature or person is just an enemy that just happens to be there it will lose some of its potential.
In fact not only may fear of the unknown be a little overused but so is the idea that every horror game must have supernatural connections. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have crazy visual effects to pull the players in though, you could easily pull this off by simply claiming the character is losing his sanity. Although a random crazy guy would be easy to screw up there is also so much potential to make them work incredibly well. Why not give them an expression like the Luigi Death Stare or make them seem really nice… as they are trying to kill you. Most of the environmental thing in games like dead bodies could easily be pulled off by crazy people.
Last subject is the lack of happy endings or to be more precise, the overuse of ‘inevitable or surprise death’ endings. I personally don’t think as many people would play through the game if their efforts are going to be wasted like that. I’m not saying that all endings must be a happy(-ish) one but people would like your games so much more if you had one even if it was tucked away as a hard to get easter egg. In fact, i’d be ok with anything as long as it wasn’t the generic character dies at the end bullshit, even if your character became evil because even then it’d be more interesting. Yes, i totally think Horror games should have more than one ending, inevitable death endings probably already ruin replay value in horror games and it desperately needs more.
To sum it all up by putting all of my thoughts together you could easily have a horror game in a bright yet enclosed space, rummaging through draws, reading documents and collecting items while a crazed madman (or madmen) slowly close in on your location. See what i did there, its probably already been done at some point but it was probably ages ago and gaming has come far since then, they could easily make this better.