The horror genre has increasingly improved over the years with titles like Amnesia, Slender and early-Silent Hill to name a few. These games tick most of the categories which make you feel uneasy the whole time you are playing. 2013 is also full of upcoming horror titles which look to be truly terrifying: Daylight, Outlast and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs are a few worthy mentions. But what does a horror game need to make itself scary? Here are
six factors a horror game needs to do right:
Atmosphere- This is arguably the most important aspect to a good horror game. You want the player to feel dread, to always feel uneasy. It is what makes the aforementioned titles stand out, they all have an unnerving atmosphere. It is important, however, to insure gamers have moments of respite, as constantly flooding the player with a feeling of dread can make
players only want to play for a short period of time. The way you see the game is important too. I find the First-Person perspective to be the scariest as you see through the eyes of the character. It makes the atmosphere all the more intense, rather than watching over the shoulder which can detach you from the experience. One of my most anticipated titles of the year, Outlast, looks like it will use these elements to great effect.
Audio – There is nothing that can shatter a horror game more than filling it with unnecessary music. Seeing the game is one thing, but hearing is what creates the tension. Most of the game’s audio should revolve around natural sound effects– the heavy breathing of your character, unerring silence or creaking
floorboards. A good horror game should have strong ambient sound effects; it is a huge must if a game wants to give a player that feeling of unease. Music in horror games is a make-or-break aspect, if done well it can drastically improve a game’s atmosphere, but done wrong and it can shatter it. The music needs to build you up alongside ambient sound effects, it can really make horror games stand out.
Less is often more – Whether it is less visibility like in Silent Hill or the monsters in Amnesia, the imagination of people can drastically improve a game‘s scariness. Most of Amnesia revolved around ‘thinking’ something will be around the corner, even though throughout the game you don’t see a huge deal of monsters. The same goes for jump-scares. Too often horror games try to constantly scare you and just rely on that kind of scary. It limits the game, a horror game needs variability in how it scares a player, and this is where imagination comes in. For example, if you are in a room or corridor and you can’t see the end of the area, but you hear footsteps walking towards you, your mind races as to what it could be. If you hand over the right tools, people can terrify themselves without the need to constantly flood the screen with monsters.
Puzzle-solving – This is something you might not necessarily think would be an important addition but it is actually a huge asset for a horror game. Puzzles force you to interact with the world and face what might be around the corner. It means players can’t always just run and hide and miss out on half the game. It can either give you a break from the chaos, or thrust you straight into the reach of a hell-bent creature. It adds a feeling of unknown as well, you won’t know if the puzzle will aid you or kill you and provides a good variance to the game.
Vulnerability – Combat falls into this category simply because the type of combat, or lack of combat, can define the type of horror experience you get. In games like Amnesia or Slender, the only defence you have is the ability to run; you never feel safe. On the other hand,
games like Dead Space or Resident Evil (which lacks horror these days) give you a vast arsenal to fight off whatever creature is coming your way. Dead Space handled it well in the first game, but drifted to a more action game in the latter part of the series.
However, ruling combat out of games entirely can mean that a game can fall into a certain pattern. For example, in Amnesia you eventually know when an enemy is coming and when to run. An upcoming title looks to have hit the sweet spot between no combat and having combat, that title is Evil Within. From what I understand the game won’t allow you to have heavy weaponry, rather providing pistols and limited ammo. This now gives you two options, do you stay and fight and risk wasting ammo, or do you just bail and preserve your ammo.
Use clichés, but don’t – The most used trick in movies is when a person is standing in front of a medical cabinet, they open it to grab something and close it with usually something appearing behind them. These type of clichés should be avoided, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used. Everyone expects something to happen when they see a horror cliché appear, but when it doesn’t is usually where the scare happens. If there is anything clichés do now it is that they either build up tension, or make a player careless.
They are a perfect tool to get a good scare out of someone; as they approach the cliché they will either be terrified or know nothing will happen, and when that rush or lack of rush is over, is when you throw in your scare. This can apply to the monsters in a game as well. Avoiding common monsters and implementing more unique creatures can separate certain horror games from others.
If you enjoy horror games as much as I do, let me know in the comments below your most anticipated horrors for this year or if you feel I missed a certain element.