When humans get scared, our bodies prepare to take action. Adrenaline courses through our systems, our heart rates skyrocket, and certain bodily functions like digestion get suspended entirely. This is commonly known as the body’s “fight or flight” response. But while “fight or flight” may have a nice ring to it, the terms suggest a simple duality that doesn’t quite mesh with the reality: our fear response covers not just fight OR flight, but every combination of the two. Furthermore, the fear response varies between people. How you react to something scary may not be how I react to it.
Horror game developers are aware of this range of response, and they design their titles to fit a certain segment of it. Some horror fans prefer games that trigger their “fight” reaction. Others prefer games that trigger their “flight” response. Neither is a more valid horror experience than the other, and, contrary to popular belief, titles like Resident Evil 5 and Amnesia can occupy the same market space.
Enter the Dead Space series. The first game appealed to both “fight” and “flight” enthusiasts with its mix of extreme player vulnerability and engaging dismemberment. The second game ramped up the intensity in all respects. The hero, Isaac Clarke, is faster and deadlier, but so are the bladed undead necromorphs he faces. With added environmental hazards, the player is thrust into situations that constantly challenge him or her. Despite all these new features, the developers at Visceral knew they needed something extra to combat the greatest enemy of fear: familiarity. As the second game in the series, Dead Space 2 would automatically start off in a weaker position. Thus, a new difficulty was included. Hard Core mode would give the player only three saves for the entire game. Checkpoints would be disabled, and death would return the player to his last save, regardless if that was 5 chapters ago.
Hard Core offers players quite a different experience than usual. The cost of failure is not a few rooms’ worth of progress, but rather, entire chapters and multiple hours of gameplay. Similar difficulty modes have appeared in other games, but it’s particularly suited to the survival horror genre. The player is already used to being extra careful about enemy encounters, and the more serious consequences serve to heighten the tension. All this is just fluffy theory until you actually screw up, however.
Then the game changes.
I’ve always been a massive wimp when it comes to horror movies, games, what have you. Still, I love them in a small, masochistic way. I’ve been a big Resident Evil fan since the originals on Playstation. As a 12 year old playing these games at night with the lights off, I have never forgetten those bloody dogs!. After Resident Evil 4 and 5, though, the games lost the ‘horror’ feel and became more action oriented–thus, my faith in a good horror game was lost. For me, a Horror game is about using your limited resources wisely, being alone in an unfamiliar territory with no form of help and no hand holding. Many horror games have lost sight of what that all truly means, opting, like Resident Evil 4, for more action-packed forms of combat. This typically means more resources, less darkness, fewer fear-inducing sections of games. In essence, with over-addition action into horror titles, they became Action games with a horror influence. Adding the ability of being able to fight back removes the fear you feel, the necessity of getting away, and instead replaces it with a small boost of adrenaline. This makes it less about survival and the “true” aspects of horror and more about seeing how many creatures you can kill. Eventually I lost my love for the genre and moved on to other waters that were calling my attention.
Recently though, a new horror game has taken the gaming world by storm. Amnesia: The Dark Descent makes us all feel insecure about being in the darkness once again thanks to developers Frictional Games. Although they’ve created previous games in the fantastic Penumbra series with similar mechanics, they hadn’t gotten much interest from the public until Steam sales and youtube reaction videos thrust the game into the public eye.
I love indies, especially indies who put out super high quality, retail type experiences, but I can’t play horror games. This has made me something of a cheerleader for Frictional Games, whose Amnesia: The Dark Descent was, by many accounts, one of the best games released last year that I absolutely couldn’t play. This hasn’t stopped me from encouraging others to buy it, and enjoying fantastic videos like the one above. To quote one of my friends, who deals with horror so I don’t have to, Frictional make “the only genuinely frightening games available.” Trust him, he is a doctor, and has seen pretty much every horror film in the world. They make good games, those guys. I bet they’re even good guys.
So it does my heart good when I read things like this, which says that Amnesia has sold over 200,000 copies. While that doesn’t seem like a major success compared to console blockbusters, it’s quite a bit, as their blog post explains. Without a publisher collecting on an advance and then taking 75% of royalties from each sale, a developer can succeed quite comfortably selling 200K units, especially with a small team (whereas, if a game that required 50 people and had a publisher sold that many, they’d be up shit creek without a paddle).
No word on what sort of terrible horror that I will never, ever play they will release on the world, but I bet it’ll be a good one. And guys, one day, make something that won’t scare the pants off of me, so I can play your brilliant games. Thanks.
I’m done. I quit.
When Dead Rising came out, zombies were a cool but slightly overused phenomenon, a fantastic enemy who allowed for the creation of a lot of interesting game types. Making a zombie game out of personal favorite RPG Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (the obvious, overlooked inspiration for Dead Rising) seemed to open a lot of possibilities. Following that were Left 4 Dead and Plants vs. Zombies, two interesting takes on zombies that took their positivie traits (the slow, shambling nature, the overwhelming nature) and combined them with other good ideas. Plants vs. Zombies built on the overwhelming invasion idea, while Left 4 Dead took them and made a cooperative, “hey guys let’s survive the apocalypse” experience out of them.
Then Call of Duty happened. I’m going to blame Call of Duty: World at War for everything in the world being wrong. World at War took a good game and appended zombies to it, for the sole purpose of being memorable. No innovations, no good ideas, just…hey guys, look! Fucking zombies.
And now they’re everywhere. They’re taking formerly respectable franchises and turning them into zombie apocalypse titles (Yakuza). They’re invading DLC of proud franchises, and shitting all over them. Most damningly, we have Red Dead Redemption, a fairly serious western, now having…zombies. Why? Because zombies! Zombies sell! Focus groups like zombies.
I’m done. I’m done. The presence of zombies, those once exciting enemies, is now a deal breaker to me. I can’t take them. This is worse than World War 2 shooters four years ago, because at least then you didn’t have every fucking game with Hitler plastered on the walls. Now, you have to look to find a franchise that doesn’t have zombies.
And I’m sick of them. I’m really, truly sick of them.
The hardest part of this post was finding something more horrible than the things that are below, beneath the cut. It was hard work, dear reader! Fortunately, the above picture was provided for me, and off we’ve gone.
Now, you might recall that other new Pokemon have been announced, and were universally terrible compared to the guiding light of Smugleaf. Now, new, horrible Pokemon exist, and we will continue to judge them against the glory that is the Smug one!
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