Developing a horror game is certainly no easy task. Most games in this genre tend to sell poorly. They’re often overlooked by younger audiences and casual gamers, just like most horror movies are overlooked by kids and casual moviegoers.
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t tons of horror classics out there. The Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dead Space, F.E.A.R. and Eternal Darkness games are all great examples of critically and commercially successful franchises that are not only considered good horror games, but good games in general.
Sadly, we live in a day and age in which not many horror games are released, and among those the good are few and far between. Sure, we have some good exceptions such as Resident Evil VII, The Evil Within 2, and Detention, but we’re also getting a ton of games completely plagued with lots and lots of frustrating horror game clichés.
The list below names most of those clichés, but I’m pretty sure I’m missing other ones. There’s just too many things done wrong in the horror gaming world nowadays.
We all know that people are generally afraid of what they can’t see. This is the reason there aren’t many horror games and/or movies set in Ibiza beaches at 1 o’ clock in the afternoon. What isn’t enjoyable, however, is when horror games mistake fear-inducing reduced lighting with pitch black darkness that doesn’t let you see a single inch in front of you.
Some blatant examples are Rise of Insanity, The Long Reach and Layers of Fear. Some moments in these games are so downright dark you don’t feel scared at all, you actually feel incredibly frustrated with the fact you can’t see anything in front of you, therefore not being able to proceed with the plot. If you want to go full pitch black, at least have some decency and go the Outlast route: give players night-vision equipment, or a flashlight, or let us see a little bit in the dark! You know, our eyes tend to get used to darkness after just a few minutes!
You know you’re doing something wrong when it’s easier to guide yourself in a game like Perception, a game in which you control a blind woman, than trying to guide yourself in games where your eyes (supposedly) work just fine.
Excessive Use of Jump Scares
Jump scares are the worst thing present both in modern horror movies and horror games. Good horror is all about subtlety, about buildup, about providing you with a sense of discomfort. Jump scares, for the most part, do absolutely none of those; all they do is provide the player (or moviegoer) with an annoying shock, something that, if overused, becomes a nuisance, not a scary thrill.
One of the main modern gaming offenders is Outlast 2. I swear I can’t go ten minutes in this game without seeing a jump scare, almost always accompanied by a loud noise. Weirdly enough, one of the games that actually best implements jump scares due to their buildup and scarcity is the first Outlast. They certainly weren’t “subtle,” but boy did they know how to make my heart jump out through my esophagus.
Don’t even get me started on the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise.
The main goal in a survival horror game is to, well, survive. It’s absolutely crucial that you need to feel some kind of connection with your main character in order to feel like helping him/her survive throughout the whole game.
Think about the best horror games out there and you’ll notice they all had characters worth caring for. James Sunderland in Silent Hill II. Leon in Resident Evil 4. Heck, even the main character from Detention was sympathetic enough for me to care about her and make me want to help her overcome her troubles.
If the game has a terrible protagonist, caring about him/her and trying to help said character survive becomes a bigger challenge than it should be. Every single character in The Long Reach was so downright unlikable, all I wanted was for whatever force of nature to kill everyone as soon as possible and put ME out of my misery. And don’t even get me started on Edward Carnby from the Alone in the Dark reboot. You know, the “I don’t have your stone and f*** you anyway” guy…
Subpar Switch Ports
The Switch is currently the hottest piece of tech everyone and their mother either owns or wants to own eventually. Developers aren’t fools, they know that console already has a big audience and that Nintendo is being super supportive about letting more violent games come to its new system. Releasing horror games for the Switch is a no-brainer. The problem is, this isn’t a powerhouse of a console.
I know that porting games to a weaker console isn’t an easy task, but both Outlast and Detention turned out to be decent thanks to some decent coding and dedication. While not a horror game at all, Doom is absolute proof that you can port pretty much anything to Nintendo’s new console if you dedicate yourself enough.
That’s the main reason I find it unacceptable when piss poor ports like Layers of Fear, Don’t Knock Twice and Hollow show up. Suffering from terrible graphics, bad frame rates, and even faulty sound design, those games are completely devoid of any semblance of a scary atmosphere their console and PC ports might have had. Don’t even mention Vaccine around me. . .
Being Defenseless For No Logical Reason
I understand that making your character too powerful strips away a good chunk of the “horror” in a horror game. You end up being like one of the more recent Resident Evil games, like Revelations, for instance. The problem is there’s also little logic in making your character completely defenseless when there’s a clear way for him/her to actually do something against his/her opponents.
One main example is Outlast 2. I get why you couldn’t defend yourself against the mutated freaks in the first game, but not being able to fend off against a bunch of malnourished rednecks when there are tons of sharp farming tools hanging around everywhere is just plain stupid.
Resident Evil VII Biohazard was a great example of how scary a game can still be even though you’re still equipped with pistols, shotguns, grenades, and the like. Playing Outlast 2 after Capcom’s fantastic return to form felt like taking ten steps back at times.
Walking Sims Disguised as Horror Games
I have a very bittersweet relationship with walking simulators. Some of them can be pretty good, like The Stanley Parable or the thrill-fest that is Observer, but a good chunk of them were among some of the most boring experiences I’ve ever had with video games. Especially when you’re just looking at footage of a story that had previously happened without your involvement (Tacoma and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture come into mind).
Whenever I see someone announcing a new “story-driven horror adventure,” I tend to be quite cautious. That means it’s a walking simulator disguised as a horror game. Sure, there are times in which a game like this can turn out to be good, like the already classic P.T. or SOMA, but those are exceptions to the rule.
When you know a game like this is a walking simulator, you can already figure out that there won’t be many stakes, there won’t be much of a survival aspect. It will basically be a walking simulator with some loud noises and a jump scare every now and then. Layers of Fear, Rise of Insanity and Don’t Knock Twice are good (or, in this case, bad) examples. You go from point A to point B, take a look at some creepy and definitely not scary scene, and then move on until the game tells you to stop.
Shocking Imagery For the Sake of It
Horror imagery is a great way to scare people, that’s an obvious fact. Remember that one Resident Evil cutscene which showcased a zombie for the first time? Or the first time you saw a Pyramid Head hump the living heck out of other monsters in Silent Hill II? What about that spine-chilling eye needle section from Dead Space 2? When well done and convenient to the plot, shocking imagery can be extremely impactful.
The same can’t be said when developers decide to shove in gross or shocking imagery just for the absolute sake of it. The pool of dead fetuses from Outlast 2 or the fact every single enemy in Hollow is a mutated female with her breasts out add nothing to the experience besides a collective “why is this here?”
Forced Survival Mechanics
Since Resident Evil, the flagship horror game franchise, features lots of survival elements such as limited saving, item scarcity and an overall weak protagonist, a lot of people feel psychologically forced to include similar elements into their horror games. I’m not saying “don’t include survival mechanics” in horror games, far from it. What I’m saying is: if there’s no reason to do so, don’t do so. Don’t include some annoying survival mechanic just to tell players there’s some kind of resource you need to keep an eye on at all times.
The main offender I can think of is the one game I’ve been praising a lot during this article: the original Outlast. There’s no way to recover your health, there are very few items you can collect. You do have, however, to keep a constant eye on your camera’s battery, as its night vision function burns more energy than the U2 Edition iPod I bought way back in 2006 (somehow, that thing still works). It doesn’t feel like an aspect inserted into the game in order to provide some sort of micromanagement and tension, it actually feels like a nuisance.
Running as Slowly as a Snail
Scientists have proven time and time again that the human body produces a lot more adrenaline at the smallest sign of fear or unease. Said adrenaline is used in order to help the body perform at higher rates than usual, in order to protect itself from upcoming threats.
In simple terms, when you are scared or being chased, you tend to run. Sadly, that’s not something every single horror game developer is aware of. Hollow, for instance, features one of the slowest protagonists I’ve ever seen in a video game. Even when he’s being chased by a horde of mutated naked ladies, all he can do is either choose between a lethargic snail pace or his much faster casual walking speed. Running away from monsters? Pfft, why bother? Layers of Fear also featured a protagonist with a limp. A boring walking simulator with ridiculous slow walking speeds is a match made in heaven. . .
Just Because You Have Zombies and Monsters, It Doesn’t Mean You’re a Horror Game
This is more of a jab at a specific type of game: any Resident Evil released after 4 and before 7.
If you have played any of those games, like Revelations or the hilarious Resident Evil 6 (one of the best comedy games ever made), you know that Capcom still tried to market them as horror titles. Capcom dear, just because those games feature zombies and other monsters, it doesn’t mean they are horror games! Revelations is as much of a third-person shooter as it can possibly be, for instance.
You don’t see Bloodborne trying to market itself as a horror title, and that game surely has a more terrifying atmosphere than all of those pre-RE7 games combined!
So there you have it! Did we miss something? Is there anything else that really gets on your nerves when it comes to modern horror gaming? Let us know in the comment section below!