Daily Dosage 23/08
Hello, and welcome to Game Overdose: Daily Dosage. We’ve got gaming news, releases, deals and more! Our Current Topic is a Glossary of Gaming, and today’s subject is “Horror”.
Still nothing! We’re in that period between summer-releasing and autumny/wintery ones. There’s a massively awesome line up coming soon though!
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News from around the Web:
Gamasutra: id’s Carmack is pushing for framerate over fidelity. Makes sense. What’s more likely to break immersion? A pebble that looks a little too square or a game that jutters and stutters while you play it?
Horror is a bit of a weird genre. After all the insanity of me trying to explain the core of an RPG (xp and levelling up) and how games that have those might not be an RPG, but merely a game with RPG elements Horror’s both easier to define, because it’s less defined!
The thing is, there aren’t really any mechanics that are solely restricted to Horror, and as such I suppose you could argue that it isn’t really a Genre in its own right. It’s more like a flavour, a particular narrative that is delivered with the mechanics of other games.
Basically, a horror game tends to be one that trys to either scare or unsettle the player. This can take a variety of forms. Whether it’s a zombie-shooter or some deep introspective psychological mystery, they could all be defined as “horror”.
How you actually invoke the sense of horror is entirely down to the particular game designer…
“Surivival Horror” tends to revolve more around the desperations. The “hanging on by the tips of your fingers” aspect. This could be constantly being chased by big nasties, limited resources (eg. Ammo) with which to fight them off or survive with, or some other unthought of way.
“Psychological horror” tends to be more about unsettling the player. It revolves more around things that “aren’t quite right”. The Silent Hill series is probably the best example of a psychological horror, with near-humanoid forms convulsing in not-quite-humanoid ways, the world shifts around you and everything drips with this sense of “odd”. When something genuinely scary does happen it’s had all this lead-up and delivery making it amplified a thousand fold, even if the encounter itself wasn’t actually that bad!
I can say this about Horror though. Leave it to the Japanese and the Europeans, keep it the hell away from the Americans!
Most American horror tends to be buckets of gore, infinite number of enemies and big booming weapons with which to take them on. It’s focussed on the action. This is almost a direct flip of what I was saying earlier with “horror not being a genre” where the horror is merely the setting for the third-person shooter/action/hack’n'slash fest. It lacks subtlety, and is all about more gore and more action, and as such tend to turn into a generic action game that just happens to have zombies/mummies/werewolves/other stereotypically scary trope. Normally the main character will also be a dude in the army, someone with combat experience, some rough and tough rebel or basically anyone that can turn their hand to any number of weapon, with or without explanation.
As any horror enthusiast will tell you, it’s not so much the scary thing itself as it is the anticipation that invokes fear. Not knowing when something will strike in a film tends to be far worse than when the creature does.
The Japanese and Europeans tend to be more about the subtlety, building up this dense impenetrable atmosphere of despair by making things not quite what they appear. Conversely to the American protagonist they might be an every-man, limited in their skills and athleticism and just genuinely trying to survive in these adverse environments. Not to say that all Japopean games are survival-horror, they’re also pretty much pioneer the psychological aspect, as the thoughts in the game tend to be more than just “get gun, shoot zombie”, something the Americans are mentally handicapped with. I’ve experienced extreme desperation and paralysing self-pity through-out these sorts of horror games, but let me explain this more eloquently…
I mean, if we take a look at the general attention to horror… The Ring was originally Japanese and is still one of the better horror films of the last 10 years, mostly because it had deep involving characters, and played around with your expectations as much as built up this intense atmosphere of surrealness. It never really confirmed if what was going on was genuinely supernatural until towards the end, and everything up to that point could have just been a strange and highly unfortunate series of events.
Conversely the Saw series, or the Hostel series, or even things like Scream all tend to be “here’s some blood, here’s a gory scene… BOO! haha, scared you for a second with a cheap shock-tactic!”. They’re not really scary, they’re just a bit unpleasant to watch, but the American market seems to prefer juvenille “gross-out” blood-fests more than a genuinely challenging introspective experience.
Basically, Japan and Europe kick the crap out of American horror.
So what to play? I’ve got a major soft spot for Resident Evil 4. Prior to this the resident evil series were mostly scary due to cheap tactics like dodgy camera angles that prevent you from seeing what might be coming, and a combat system that was completely terrible. Resi 4 changed it for the better. It was a healthy injection of action that added to the desperation of survival, you were more likely to be fighting swarms of zombies (or “Los Plagas” as they were known in game) than in the earlier ones, but it just played and felt better. More a light horror action game though to be fair.
Silent Hill 2 is still heralded as a triumph of horror games. Genuinely it is, deep, psychological, elements of survival. Brilliant narrative delivery, PHENOMENAL use of sound to invoke atmosphere. All in all good stuff!
However, probably the best horror game I’ve ever played ever is Amnesia: The Dark Decent. First person horror. No weapons, limited means of defending yourself and a constantly lapsing sanity. You encounter an enemy, you run and hide and hope they don’t find you! Utterly Sublime.
And if you get it on Steam you get a free extra mini-campaign! No saving in this one so it’s a pretty brutal experience, but that just adds to the intensity!