5 Fundamentals That Make A Great Horror Game Great

Frights are like a curry. Some people like a korma, nice and mild or a balti with a bit of a kick. Others prefer their horrors stronger like a vindaloo, both though still require a change of underwear. We all have limits though when it comes to them. Today I want to look at key components of horrors, the spices if you want to keep with the curry analogy. While all these components may not always be featured in every horror, when used well they can be good enough on their own.

Sounds

What goes bang bang bang in the night? My neighbours! Not the fun kind even, I mean stomping round like T-rex’s trying to squish a flea. Sound is among one of the strongest senses. If someone tries to describe a smell to you, a flavour or even a texture, it’s not an easy thing to replicate in your mind. We are more visual and sound based when it comes to imagination. It’s easier to associate that with a previous noise or image we’ve seen.

When it comes to imagination and horror games like to feed off of that talent of ours. Imagination is our own worst enemy at times and to be quite frank I thought of giving it its own space on this list but it factors into so much of horror games that it needs to be broken down with these choices I’ve made.

Sounds in games don’t have to do much. We do the rest. *Tink*, as something hits the floor in a game, I stand completely still and stare into that vicinity for minutes until I’m brave enough to move the character closer. What is there is a pesky rat, what I imagined, was 3 shark toothed goblins riding spiders. And I don’t mean 3 spiders, I mean a swarm of millions of arachnids lifting the goblins up with their long, black legs. Feeling itchy yet? Thank your imagination for that.

Dread

Now with sound and imagination, comes the dread. A typical horror will have sprawling levels with lots of nooks and crannies. More than likely the game will be dimly lit and lighting used effectively to bring the shadows out to play. That’s when the dread will set in.

This usually occurs happens pretty quickly in horror games. It doesn’t give you time to relax, especially in the beginning. At the start everything is new to you, you don’t have a lot of weapons or a weapon at all. The beasts or dangers lurking ahead may not be revealed yet and so whatever your mind concocts will be primed to your personal fears.

The start of the game is usually bombastic in the beginning. Something needs to set the pace and similar to books, games need to make a good first impression. The dread you feel imbues you with curiosity. You want to play the game and dread is similar to ripping off a plaster (band-aid), get it over with and hope for the best. But, a game done well will then lead to……

Build up

A horror game needs to retain its scare factor. Otherwise it isn’t a horror game any more. The original Bioshock had that issue for me. The first couple of hours I was a twitchy mess. After a certain point though and once I had more guns than the army I wasn’t phased any more.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing as Bioshock is a great FPS as well as a horror but a full horror needs to build on what it starts. From start to finish the player needs to nearly always be on edge. Having lulls is a good tactic though when used well, it doesn’t need to be 150mph every second. A haven is also a great time to do a cheap scare. Like Dead Space (2?) having a save spot with a surprise Necromorph. Cheap but memorable.

Resident Evil does a fantastic job of this with the safe rooms. That calming music, the opportunity to save and the brightly lit room give a chance of respite. Every player gives a sigh of relief when they find a new safe room. They can calm down for a bit but then they have to go back out into the mansion. That’s the build up aspect again, because if you’ve found a new safe room, that means you haven’t seen what is to come. The new horrors around the corner, which…..

Monsters

…….are waiting in the shadows for you. Monster designs are crucial. If a monster isn’t scary, it’s not a monster. There don’t need to be thousands of monsters or monster designs in your game. One truly terrifying beast can carry it.

What makes a good monster? The unknown or something so mundane that when it’s different it’s unnerving. Resident Evil Remake does a great job of this is my mind. Zombies on their own are a classic horror enemy. Slow, lumbering and resilient. That aspect of them is scary but the fact that they can infect a person so easily is where I think their terror stems from. Similar to how Dracula was an analogy to STI’s, zombies represent a sickness. Nobody wants to get sick. It’s practically universal among all life and so everyone fears that aspect of zombies.

But zombies are a tried and tested monster which some may be a bit bored with, that’s where the Crimson Heads come into play. We became so use to the zombies of Resident Evil that when a variation is thrown in, it scares the bejesus out of us. Me especially. It’s a classic monster taken to a new level. Slow is now fast, easy to dodge is now horrifying to run from.  That shake-up keeps things fresh and taps into a particular fear. We all fear something. Monsters are just things that take advantage of those fears.

Scares

It’s obvious really. Be it a diary entry detailing a man’s personal transformation into a brain dead zombie or a mechanical bear lunging at the screen. A horror game needs to be full of scares. They can be subtle and intended to get under your skin, or a full on jump scare.

While some may call jump scares cheap and I will admit the Five Night’s At Freddie’s series isn’t really my thing, they still get me good. They’re effective but not long lasting in my opinion. Resident Evil has very few jump scares and is remembered as one of the best horror series. Again, that is the dread and build-up in big effect.

But everyone who played the original RE remembers the dogs jumping through the window or the time in Resident Evil 2 where there is a zombie in the door transition screen. The entire game before it didn’t have that and so everyone assumed the door transition was a sanctuary. Wrong! Heart attack city that was. So jump scares are just as good but a balance is the perfect recipe.

You need the calm before the storm to truly appreciate the savagery of the storm.  But anyway I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and feel free to let me know yours in the comments. Did a particular monster scare you or what scares you the most in games? Halloween season is upon us, let’s get scared together.

 

5 Locals That Never Fail To Scare Me In Games

That’s Low-Cal’s not Low-Cul’s although Low-Cul’s are pretty terrifying too but don’t tell them I said that. But that’s a list for another day! Today is all about places of fright. The locations in games that require multiple sets of boxers to get through. So let’s start at something we’re all familiar with.

Schools

Yes, scary then and scary now but for different reasons. Back then it was just the fear of a test or the being the latest happy slapping victim. Honestly, happy slapping, what was that about?!

But as adults, why are we scared of schools in games? I believe it’s because we know what classrooms are like, bright and full of noise. In games they tend to be dark and silent. Or brightly lit but empty. We never see classrooms like that in real life. It’s unusual for it to be like that.

The best part of our childhood’s are sat in class and those memories are ingrained in our minds. And so in games when they aren’t portrayed like that, it’s unnerving. Also, because dead Japanese girls with long hair seem to live there.

Fairgrounds

Similar to schools, we see fairs and circus’ as lively and colourful places. They are lit up like beacons to the gods and full of a cacophony of sounds. In horror games those elements tend to be subdued to the point of almost non-existence.

The colours will be gone from the tents and rides. The swarms of people will be silent or a faint whisper. And the heaving circus will be a desolation to only you. That is why I believe it is effective in horror games. A place that is usually full of life is just plain eerie when viewed the opposite way. And then there are the clowns.

Clowns are abominations. If you’re a clown reading this, I am terribly sorry to insult your profession but you scare the hell out of me and everyone else. A clown’s persona is fake. Nobody is ever that happy. Humans, we are perceptible to lies. We have to be, it’s survival of the fittest and the unfit will use tactics to get the upper hand. Lying is a handy tool there.

Clowns are scary because we can detect that something isn’t right. Something in the back of our brain says that the thing that is before us, isn’t what it’s pretending to be. That feeling intensifies if you make eye contact with a clown. When you see it with people around it’s off putting but whatever you’re at the fairground. If the clown looks at you though, your mind starts freaking out. It knows that this fake thing knows you are there. And if you’re ever alone with a clown, well…..let’s hope that never happens. *Honk honk*

Underwater

I’m a bad swimmer. I’ll be the first to tell you that. The water makes me feel helpless. Not showers though, showers are fine, I love showers! I put my hands a certain way and water shoots from my finger tips like I’m bloody Waterman, aquatic hero number 1.

But the ocean? That large expanse where my speed and strength are dulled and the things in the ocean are faster and stronger than I am on land. No thank you! As humans, we are constantly looking forward. To the future and literally. How often do you look above? Not a lot right, why would you, it’s not like a lot of things can attack you from above. But in the ocean though, there are so many fast things that love to shoot up from the dark depths and nibble at your toes. Your feetsies are never safe. Just remember that the next time you go for a leisurely swim.

Couple that with the fact that in video games the controls tend to be inferior to the main gameplay. That definitely doesn’t help. You know what else doesn’t help. Goddamn playing an increasingly stressful and quickening piece of music that makes me forget how to play as a blue hedgehog. You struggle to wake up in the mornings? Put that Sonic is about to drown music as your alarm and you’ll have a heart attack every morning.

Space

In space, nobody can hear you scream. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said that. A very wise man. Space is like being underwater but cranked up to 11. In the ocean at least you can be naked. In space you need tons of heavy equipment and technology. Too much hassle.

But space is very similar to the ocean. It’s a vast emptiness with very little room for error. Not only that but we don’t know what space hides. The deep abyss that is our ocean we have a rough idea of what dwells there. Freaky light show jellyfish and ugly fish with razor sharp teeth and hundreds more of natures rejects. Space though, different story.

In fact, many stories, the stories that we humans have created. And let’s be honest, most of them aren’t nice. Space is an unknown and we don’t like the unknown. Our imaginations thrive in the unknown and so over the decades, in media we’ve concocted many beings of pure terror. The stuff our nightmares have nightmares of. And where do we say they live? In space. Why not?! We have no idea if a Xenomorph is a real thing. The universe is forever growing and so if we say there is an alien that bleeds acid and lays its brood inside our flesh, the sheer odds are that that does exist somewhere. Let’s just hope in our lifetimes we never find out if that is true or not.

Dreams/Hallucination’s

Dreams/hallucination’s. Is there a thing as a bad dream or does a bad dream just automatically become a nightmare? I’ve had dull dreams before and then I wake up so I suppose that’s a nightmare. Living a dull experience subconsciously and then waking up for work. Yeah that’s pretty scary.

In dreams (one of my favourite songs by the way, funnily enough it featured in Alan Wake, a horror series. See it all ties back together), we are ourselves but not ourselves. We are in places we know but they’re different. Everything is off in dreams and even hallucinations. Sometimes we realise that, other times we know there is an anomaly but we don’t know what it is. Other times we believe the world we are presented with is the correct one. That unknown state of being is terrifying to me.

In dreams, sometimes, you having marbles for eyeballs and tongues for fingers seems perfectly acceptable until you wake up. And when you wake up, are you sure you’re awake? You thought in the dream that tongue fingers were the norm so what’s to say that what seems normal to you now isn’t really normal? Are you reading this article now? There’s only one way to be sure, leave a comment and check back tomorrow.

No I’m kidding, you’re fully awake and you just read my innate ramblings about dreams. Scary thought though isn’t it! I’ve just noticed actually that dreams aren’t used as often anymore as hallucinations are. Batman and Spiderman come to mind of the titular characters seeing things when awake. It’s basically dreaming though, it’s all in the mind. Anyway, just a random thought. I hope you enjoyed the read and feel free to drop a comment and let me know what places in games give you the heebie jeebies. Thanks for reading.

My Top 5 Games of 2017

Ignore the date! It is NOT late March and therefore this article is NOT long overdue.

5. Puyo Puyo Tetris

Puyo Puyo logo

I’m actually surprised this is in my top 5, but looking back over all the games I played of 2017, this one I’ve kept coming back to. Puzzle games aren’t even a genre that I have much love for compared to others but Puyo Puyo Tetris is just so easy to love. Tetris is universal, I don’t need to explain that as anyone having an interest in gaming and reading this knows how Tetris works. Puyo Puyo is something I’d never played before and when I got the game I figured I would just play the Tetris modes and that’s it. Puyo Puyo is similar to popular Facebook and mobile phone games. You have colours, you line the colours up and score points and clear space. Setting off a chain reaction of disappearing Puyo’s will grant more points and space as well as obstacles for your opponents.

The game does a great job of explaining the gameplay mechanics of both modes and it’s Frankenstein of a mode where they merge the two. What follows is a simple concept but hard to master package that has a mode for everyone. The chaos that ensues when four people play against each is hilarious especially with modes like Swap, where each player has to play Tetris for a set time and then swap to their own Puyo Puyo game and the pattern continues until a victor remains. A great game with a lot of replay value and perfect game for a Nintendo Switch as the portability is a huge bonus.

4. Stardew Valley

Stardew valley

I own this on 3 platforms. I’ve put over 100 hours across all 3 and yet I still haven’t finished a single playthrough. It’s one of those games that I’m sure everyone has experienced. You start it, you play it for hours a day, you spend dozens of hours getting the result you want and rather than finish your current run, you decide to start again. Not due to boredom or unhappiness with your current run. But due to that simplicity and addictive nature of the beginning of the game. The thing that enraptured you in the first place.

Achieving an ideal farm and a peak routine that yield’s the most profit and productivity is fun. It’s great fun and very therapeutic. On the other hand, a simple basic farm has my pitiful mind brimming with potential. Do I focus on animals? How should I organise my crops? Do I want a cat or dog on my farm? How do I improve on what I did previously? There is so much choice in this game that I think I’ll be playing it for another 5 years before I finish a run. And I am completely okay with that.

For more on how I feel about Stardew Valley and a more in depth look at an average 20 minutes on the game, feel free to check out a feature I wrote a while back. Here is the shill….I mean, link! Shill

3. Mario Odyssey

mario

This is a fun game! It gives me a warm, happy feeling when I play it. I know that sounds all touchy and overly sentimental for a game but it’s the truth. Mario games in the main series have always held that power over me but Mario Odyssey might be one of the prime examples. Everyone and their gran knows what Mario is and how it plays so I’m not going to explain that.

Mario Odyssey has what makes a video game a classic. It’s beautifully colourful, has fluid gameplay, an amazing soundtrack and has many moments that planted the stupidest smile on my face. This game is a stand out in Mario’s long history. From the beginning to the end of this adventure, humour and nostalgia are injected into every corner of this game. Nintendo set out to make the most fun and Mario filled Mario game and I believe they done that spectacularly. Sheer fun on a cartridge.

2. Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath-of-the-Wild

Breath of the Wild has spoilt me. Why can’t I climb all mountains in all other open world games? I’ll be the first to admit that I have an issue with open world games. There is usually too much to do and the world in question is a lot of the time, devoid of personality or enough personality to fill its scale. Breath of the Wild laughs at that problem. I loved exploring this world. There is so much to find and see that I never tired of climbing mountains. Not only is Hyrule a treat to traverse but the actual traversal mechanics are a delight to play.

This Zelda is a tricky one to place. It’s number 2 on my list and I believe it deserves that spot. Saying that though, it’s one of the weakest 3D Zelda games in my eyes. I always loved Zelda’s dungeons and bosses and this game lacks in that area severely. On the other hand though, it still deserves the number 2 spot and is still the best realised open world game I’ve played. I think this is an amazing game and an amazing series. Even when Zelda is at its weakest it is still head and shoulders above most of the video game industry. So even though I just said this is a weak entry in the series, I still recommend buying this game 100%. A superb game.

My game of the year is………..

1. Persona 5

Persona 5

For me this was the clear winner. I loved the others on this list and when I wrote down my preliminary top 10, Persona 5 was placed at number 1 and it stayed there. Others I swapped and ummed and ahhed about but not Persona 5. That speaks volume to me and hopefully to you about how I feel about this game. This was a stellar year in gaming but this quirky high school sim/JRPG/heist game takes the grand prize.

I’m not a stranger to the Persona series or even the Shin Megami Tensei series. I remember buying Persona 4 for £10 for my PS2 back when PS2 games were no longer the key market. The next gen had come along but I saw this strange game with these fantastic reviews and gave it a go. My mind was blown. It is still my high point for JRPG’s, a genre that I’m not the most proficient in besides the odd Final Fantasy game.The Persona series is like no other series I’ve played. It’s tone and weird nature are enveloped by solid characters, unique storyline’s and a combat system that I care for with a passion. It’s essentially Final Fantasy turn based combat with Pokemon chucked in. There are so many aspects of this game that I could write paragraphs about.

In the end though, it’s style that is all over this game that I love immensely and the reason it is my number 1 of 2017. The look, the music, the character and Persona design. Even the menu screen is a joy to view. It has pizzazz all over the place and it’s not a style over substance game. The world and the characters that fill the world are rich in detail and care. Every aspect of this game took time and consideration. If you haven’t played or seen footage of this masterpiece then please go on YouTube and have a look. Just at the menu screen or the end screen of a battle. To me the end screen of a generic battle is a classic. It’s up there with the Final Fantasy victory fanfare (the one that you just sang to yourself). That is only a small detail of this game but that flare and flourish is cascading through this game.

There is nothing else like it at the moment in my opinion besides other iterations. Persona 6 can’t come soon enough but I’ll gladly accept Shin Megami Tensei on the Switch till then.